A new technology unveiled Tuesday would show what's being said on the radio using a receiver with a screen that would scroll text much like closed captions roll by on TV.
No manufacturer has yet committed to bring the technology to market. It is backed by National Public Radio and Harris Corp., a major supplier of broadcasting equipment, as well as a new research center at Towson University near Baltimore.
NPR and its partners displayed a prototype text radio Tuesday at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Mike Starling, NPR's chief technology officer, said by phone that the group hoped to bring in commercial broadcasters, radio manufacturers and other industry players.
Starling said he hoped text-based broadcasts would become a new standard in radio, just as digital broadcasting — known as HD Radio — did several years ago.
The text service will rely on HD Radio technology, which allows broadcasters to split their signal into multiple transmissions. Some stations use the extra capacity to broadcast additional music or talk radio channels, which can be heard on HD Radio receivers.
The new scrolling-text service would also use the extra capacity made available through HD Radio, but instead of broadcasting music it would send out streams of data that would be converted to scrolling text by the receivers and then displayed on the screen.
HD Radio itself is still in its early stages, but stations are embracing it. About 1,500 now broadcast in HD Radio in the United States, the consortium said. The technology has come down in price, something that had been holding up wider adoption, and some units now sell for under $100.
Initially, the radio text service would operate like closed captioning, where someone types what's being said on the radio into a computer system in real time.
The consortium eventually hopes to find software to translate speech into written text and automate the service and reduce the cost to provide it so a wider variety of radio stations can offer it.
The text-scrolling feature is one of several technologies that NPR, Harris and the new research center at Towson University are developing to make programming more accessible to deaf and blind people.
The group also is working on making radios able to provide audio cues for the blind and visually impaired that would indicate what frequency the radio is tuned to, among other functions, and giving greater access to services such as InTouch Networks, which provides broadcasts and online audio feeds of volunteers reading from newspapers and magazines.