By on February 9, 2022

There’s a gaggle of Mazda owners in Seattle, Washington, that have reportedly been stuck listening to National Public Radio (NPR) over the last few weeks. The manufacturer has addressed the problem, saying the local affiliate had broadcast images files with no extension causing an issue on some 2014-2017 Mazda vehicles with older HD radio software. This effectively bricked the infotainment system on some vehicles, locking them into listening to NPR and out of literally everything else. 

KUOW-FM has issued a response, saying they’ve been getting letters from drivers living in the Puget Sound region about their cars. While it only cited a single 2016 Mazda CX-5, the outlet was aware that it had become a widespread annoyance for locals. It also reported that three nearby Mazda dealerships have been getting angry calls about the problem for the last three weeks.

Michaela Gianotti, a spokesperson for the station, said that the company had contacted Xperi (the company responsible for HD radio) and given it complete access to its transmitters in an effort to determine what happened. The NPR affiliate also noted that it had swapped from 3G to 5G within the last few weeks.

With the United States shutting down 3G cellular networks this year to make more room for 5G, there has been loads of speculation about how it might impact the infotainment systems of various automakers. Like other brands, Mazda has previously acknowledged that some models would be losing features (e.g. Mazda Mobile Start) sometime between late 2021 and early 2022.

There’s presently a thread on Reddit where owners are sharing stories about corrupted displays being stuck on 94.9 FM. While standard radio frequencies were not supposed to be impacted by the end of 3G, several commenters have suggested it could have still done something to Mazda’s infotainment. As evidence, they cited that the impacted vehicles all fall within the model years Mazda previously said could lose some features. Ditto for the relevant timeframe.

The Seattle Times likewise reported that a data packet sent from the station appears to have been the culprit and provided some additional firsthand accounts. Most impacted drivers stated that the center screen was flickering and constantly trying to reboot itself, creating a strobing effect comprised of garbled image data and the Mazda logo. While the radio volume could always be adjusted, every other feature became totally inaccessible.

“The lower right field of my vision was seeing like a TV screen going on and off,” explained Dave Welding, adding that he ultimately had to cover the screen in his Mazda because of how distracting it was.

From The Seattle Times:

Welding says that when he contacted Lee Johnson Mazda of Seattle, “They told me that there’s nothing they can do about it, that I needed a new CMU unit, that it cost $1,500 and that they didn’t have the part.”

The Mazda dealer referred calls for comment to Mazda corporate headquarters.

Lorenzo Pieruccioni, service manager at Mazda of Olympia, says he’s had seven to 10 customers with the rebooting problems. He tells them their CMU is corrupted.

That stands for “Connectivity Master Unit,” and it controls the video and audio signals to that infotainment system. That’s the $1,500 gizmo that is not available and who knows when it will be.

His assessment: “It’s just weird.”

With Car Talk having ended in 2012 and most affiliates dropping The Best of Car Talk since then, I’m not sure why anybody would intentionally listen to NPR anymore. But, even if you were an ardent supporter with the branded bags and coffee mug as proof, you’ll probably want to adjust the tuner in your car occasionally. It also might be nice to use the other features you paid for and to have an infotainment system that won’t give you a seizure.

Mazda has confirmed it issued service alerts to dealers this week. Affected customers should contact their local dealer “who can submit a goodwill request to the Mazda Warranty department on their behalf, order the parts, and schedule a free repair when the parts arrive.”

[Image: Colin Hui/Shutterstock]

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44 Comments on “Whoops: Some Seattle-Area Mazdas Are Stuck Listening to NPR...”


  • avatar
    ajla

    I’m excited to see what a 2022MY “wonder-tech, always online” vehicle is like in 2029.

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    The Clockwork Orange Special Edition models.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Could be worse…you could get stuck on Radio Disney. Hannah Montana and the Cheetah Girls 24/7. Lord, keep me away from the sharp objects.

      • 0 avatar
        Superdessucke

        Have you listened to NPR lately? I am fairly certain that would not be worse.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          I don’t listen to any radio anymore…I’ll take your word for it.

          • 0 avatar
            theflyersfan

            Radio exists? I thought ClearChannel/iHeartRadio bought all of the stations, fired all of the local DJs, and in return, forced everyone to listen to the same music coast to coast while their version of “The Morning Zoo” assaults our ears with forced banter, canned laughter, and two guys with a long-suffering female sidekick tries to sound relevant to a radio station both in New York and in Tulsa. And then act surprised when the numbers come out and find fewer people are listening to what they consider good radio.

            Radio sucks. Have your music app of your choice go out and randomly find some good music for you. Best way to hear something new that isn’t so corporate that it makes your ears bleed. (I’m looking at you Maroon 5 and Coldplay.)

          • 0 avatar
            Lorenzo

            I’m glad I salvaged the 8-track from my ’66 oldsmobile. Luckily I scored several tracks of classical music, otherwise I’d have been limited to Lawrence Welk’s Polka Album, and Pat Boone’s Greatest Hits.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Are the radio stations required to switch from 3G to 5G and if so when is the deadline? Can hardly blame NPR since they were ahead of the curb by switching to 5G.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      This is just one affiliate of NPR and they wouldn’t be ahead of the curve since 3G support is being discontinued this year. We’ve covered the death of 3G and how it pertains to cars here:

      thetruthaboutcars.com/2021/12/report-the-end-of-3g-could-leave-your-vehicle-with-fewer-features/

      • 0 avatar
        Jeff S

        Yes I remember that article but have any other radio stations converted to 5G and if so are there any problems with the Mazda HD Radios with those stations? I have an older Garmin navigation system so it will probably effect that as well and I just did a software update to the navigation system on my wife’s 2013 CRV. I will try those out to see if there is any effect on those and if so hopefully we can use our I Phone 8s.

    • 0 avatar
      jalop1991

      ahead of the curb

      dude, it’s AHEAD OF THE CURVE

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Eh, they were all listening to NPR already, no big deal.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Scary.

      • 0 avatar
        jkross22

        You have to hand it to NPR. Their transformation from news to propaganda has gone really well. They haven’t had any Chris Cuomo moments. They haven’t had any big controversies.

        They’ve just quietly become the news (lol) arm of big business.

        • 0 avatar
          Rick T.

          On the other hand, listeners know the true story of the truckers behind the strikes. The core group are all racist, anti-Semitic, right wing, anti-democratic miscreants. There are possibly a few misguided innocents that have been swept up in it.

          I kid you not. Those are all descriptions used over the last couple of days by their reporters – without evidence – I might add. I listen sometimes just to hear what kind of crap they are shoveling at the usual suspects. It explains a lot.

  • avatar
    sgeffe

    I wonder if pulling the fuse and replacing it, or disconnecting the battery and grounding the cables together, would help? If you weren’t tuning into the station when the crap data went out, how can the system get borked in the first place?

    At the risk of playing into political stereotypes, I’d expect something like this from Subaru or the like, not Mazda! J/k!

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Sounds like the problem is with the HD radio, so it should be fixable by going into the radio’s menu and switching the radio to analog-only. I could do that on my old car. Sound quality will suffer a bit.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        You can tell the difference between normal FM and HD, definitely! It’s more noticeable than the transition from stereo to monaural sound as you drive away from a station’s signal.

        I don’t have FM on except during my morning slog on a station without HD, but when I get a dealer loaner, the SiriusXM is usually disabled, and I was taken by surprise as I was driving back to the dealer in Bowling Green, OH the other week (which is roughly twenty miles south of Toledo) and the HD signal on a different station dropped out on the infotainment of the Honda Insight I was driving.

  • avatar
    tsarcasm

    1) would that be ‘cruel and unusual punishment? or

    2) would NPR drivers, be lulled into a coma…promptly crashing into a brick wall?

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      All things considered, I’d have to think about that!

      I’m here all week — try the Chicken Marsala!

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      They will be brainwashed into anti-diet

      “Diet culture is everywhere. Here’s how to fight it – NPR”

      They can also tell you that men can give birth

      “Transgender Men Who Become Pregnant… – NPR”

      Basically, yes – this IS cruel and unusual punishment

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    So, if the problem pertains only to HD radio, that seems like an easy fix – switch off the HD radio and go analog. My old Audi had that option.

    • 0 avatar
      sayahh

      Assuming that they can access the menu in thr first place. I’m wondering if everyone who is experiencing this problem is having their radio automatically tune to 94.9 or if it only gets stuck once if they actually switch to that frequency, i.e., do other drivers have it stuck on a different station?

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I listen to NPR a lot, until I want to scream. (It’s good to know what the other side thinks, and it’s not all bad). Then it’s on to classic or alternative rock to calm me down.

    As for the Mazdas, I’d be pretty heated about this problem.

  • avatar
    SPPPP

    Based on additional reporting, it seems the radio station inadvertently hacked the Mazda’s infotainment by transmitting a logo image or something without the proper extension. This led to some kind of buffer overflow or whatever on the Mazda’s end, and corrupted some kind of file, so now the system can’t start correctly.

    It seems like this should be very fixable, but maybe Mazda finds it easier to send out new units. Still, what will stop this from happening again if this station, or any other station, makes this mistake again? Has Mazda really issued a software fix so quickly?

    • 0 avatar
      bradfa

      These Mazda head units also have a problem with the “%” character, which has been reported in the past. It just seems like a systemic problem in Mazda radios that no validation of the input from outside sources is performed and this leads to the radio crashing. It’s just shoddy software all over in this generation of Mazdas.

      • 0 avatar
        zerofoo

        It’s scary how many programmers rely on someone else’s structured data and do not perform sanity/bounds checking on their own.

        Thank god we don’t build buildings and roads like we build software.

      • 0 avatar
        SPPPP

        Yes, I was reading about that podcast with the “% In” that crashed radios. Not just Mazda – also some Nissans, because they both used the same code libraries or something.

        I am glad to hear the newer radios work better. If I owned one of the bad ones, I don’t know what I would be feeling. It’s not easy to just “buy an Alpine” anymore.

    • 0 avatar
      Varezhka

      I am a Mazda fan but this generation of Mazda infotainment system was just bad. Super slow and buggy.

      If I remember correctly the main connectivity suite was by a Seattle based firm outsourcing main dev to Hungarian software house, with the firms going through multiple M&A throughout the development. I recall Mazda VP saying outright that it was a nightmare full of spaghetti codes from which they learned a lot.

      Now the current MazdaConnect 2.0, jointly developed with Toyota, is thankfully million times better.

  • avatar

    Why NPR and not Fox News? Or heavy metal trash?

  • avatar
    Eliyahu

    What if it were Rush Limbaugh reruns in Subarus? Or???

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I don’t have a Mazda and sometimes I do listen to NPR when I am in a vehicle without Sirius. Sirius I listen to the 50s, 60s, Blues, and Sinatra channels. As for Rush Limbaugh he is dead and I don’t miss him. My Maverick won’t have Sirius so I will listen to the Oldies and NPR.

  • avatar

    When I am behind the wheel listening to NPR puts me in the sleep mode. Ask me how I survived so far.

    • 0 avatar
      theflyersfan

      Lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, auto braking and traffic assist, and parking assist. And you added the KITT option with a Super Pursuit Mode that lets you outrun everyone. Or you got the KITT driver’s seat double option where you have the guy dressed up as a Pontiac seat who actually drives the car.

  • avatar
    zerofoo

    Programmers not bounds checking their inputs results in Mazda owners being forced to listen to government propaganda.

    That’s enough for me to cross Mazda off the potential car list forever.

  • avatar
    don1967

    Those responsible should be given televisions that only receive CNN.

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