In the UK, frequency modulation will not be switched off, at least not for the next ten years, media minister Julia Lopez said a few days ago. Although it is estimated that analogue radio will only account for 12 to 14% of all radio listening in 2030, FM remains popular with many listeners, particularly the elderly or vulnerable, who drive older cars or live in areas with limited DAB coverage. The fate of mediumwave broadcasters is sealed: with 3% of all listeners, they will have to plan to switch off, to reduce the costs of a substantially duplicated network. There are currently more than 300 analogue stations operating in the UK and over 570 in DAB. Sixty percent of all listening comes from DAB or other digital platforms. Programme offerings are expanding as new franchises in DAB are giving many small local stations the opportunity to broadcast.
While at the end of 2020 the Uruguayan government had averted the closure of Radio Clarín, the historic broadcaster of tango, folklore and typical Uruguayan music, Radio Ciudad de Montevideo did not make it. The historic station (which has been on the air since 1930 on 1370 kHz on medium waves) was nicknamed ‘La 42‘ because of the identification code CX42 assigned to it (a code of letters and numbers, also known as “call sign”, inherited from the days of the telegraph, which in many countries of the American continent is attributed to authorised radio stations). Several burglaries to the transmission system brought the station to its knees, making the crisis irreversible. Programming ranged from tropical music to sports and summer theatre, and for 43 years the radio followed the Montevideo carnival.
The Central American country is one of the most dangerous in the world for journalists: an estimated 200 have been murdered in the last 30 years, not counting hundreds of attacks and intimidation. To defend them, and to prevent attacks on them and the media from going unpunished, thirteen Mexican media groups have formed an alliance. Its members are: El Universal, Proceso, Cámara Nacional de la Industria de la Radiodifusión (CIRT), Eje Central, El Heraldo, Organización Editorial Mexicana (OEM), La Silla Rota, Publimetro, El Dictamen, Politico Mx, Vanguardia Mx, El Economista y Debate. The association (Alianza de Medios Mx) not only defends, promotes and protects the rights of freedom of expression, but also offers support to file complaints on freedom of expression and requests assistance in case of attacks.
The Superior Court of Justice of Madrid (Tribunal Superior de Justicia – TSJ) annulled the dismissal of a sound technician of Cope (Cadena de Ondas Populares Españolas, owned by the Spanish Episcopal Conference), and ordered the company to reinstate him and pay his back wages. The employee had written a comment on Twitter about a Spanish satirical film where Jesus is portrayed as a homosexual. The court upheld the appeal because an employee is not obliged to share a company’s ideology or decalogue of good practices and cannot be expelled for this reason. Moreover, he was not a journalist, broadcasting news or opinions, but a sound recording assistant; his Twitter profile was personal and did not indicate that he was an employee of the Catholic radio station. Therefore, the followers of the post could not have damaged the company’s image, as they were unaware of who he worked for.
The economic crisis triggered by the pandemic (over 600,000 people have died in the South American country) has brought many broadcasters to their knees, and they have asked to reduce their transmission power in order to cut operating costs. So the Ministry of Communications has allowed radio and TV broadcasters to reduce their authorised watts by up to 30% for six months, at times when the audience is less busy. The president of the Brazilian Association of Broadcasters (Abert), Flávio Lara Resende, was satisfied and said ‘by accepting the sector’s request, the Mcom is showing itself sensitive to the moment of a financial crisis that the private sector is going through, driven by the coronavirus pandemic‘.
India’s broadcaster Prasar Bharati has ordered the Doordarshan television division, which is also in charge of infrastructure, to switch off analogue TV transmitters by March 2022. Channels have already been switched off in large cities, and in areas where the switch-off is planned, financial aid will be provided for the switchover. However, it has been calculated that by now 98% of the population already use digital channels or DD Free Dish satellite TV. With the switch-off, Prasar Bharati will be able to auction the frequencies that become free, thus increasing the supply of digital channels. The analogue frequencies will remain on air only in strategic areas: Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh, Sikkim; the Andaman Islands, Nicobar and Lakshadweep. The shutdown will also have an impact on employment because the staff is redundant: 50% of the technicians will be dismissed and only a fraction will be replaced by more qualified elements.
Markus Weidner, an editor since 1999 of the telecommunications site teltarif.de, has published on his blog a report on the new car radios on display at the IAA Mobility in Munich, the fair that replaces the biennial Frankfurt Motor Show, overwhelmed (like the Geneva Motor Show) by the pandemic. According to Markus, after having integrated the car radio more and more into the car (making it difficult to replace with third-party products), car manufacturers are now limiting its functionality. In the most recent models, the receivers offer a list that integrates FM and DAB stations, updated in the background. The function is useful because it avoids searching and memorizing the station, which can be recalled (more and more often) with a voice command. Such an organized list is convenient for those who listen to the most powerful radio stations, but it limits the choice: if the signal is not strong enough or slightly interfered, or without RDS (in FM there are still some) it is completely ignored. Weidner suggests an expert mode that enables the old manual tuning in FM and DAB. Otherwise, this “rationalization”, prevents you from freely choosing the radio of your heart.
The transition to digital requires investments that not all broadcasters can afford. Especially community radio stations, which have little advertising (or are self-financing) and therefore lack the necessary resources. This is a common situation in many countries, but in Belgium, the association of independent voices Radio Z has launched a petition to urge the government of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation to take action. The stations it represents are followed by hundreds of thousands of listeners in the region, employ more than a thousand volunteers who inform, entertain and promote the territory and the community; and above all train presenters, technicians and journalists. Unfortunately, these independent voices are financially exhausted and would need to double their revenues to survive. Despite warning signs, the Wallonia-Brussels Federation is not taking action and the diversity of the radio landscape is in danger of being destroyed. By 2030, in fact, 50-60% of them could disappear, due to the lack of economic, technical and logistical aid and a penalising digital frequency allocation plan.
A four-point plan
The association calls for annual funding for independent radio stations, similar to that provided for the press and local television, which receive, respectively, 10.9 and 10.4 million EUR a year, not counting municipal, provincial, Brussels region and French Community Commission (Cocof) subsidies. More support and flexibility is also needed from the operators who will carry the DAB signal to avoid any stations being excluded. It is also necessary to immediately optimise the frequency plan, which today does not allow the proper broadcasting of independent radio stations. Finally, the procedure for allocating funding to guarantee the transition to digital broadcasting must be reviewed.
In anticipation of the switchover to digital terrestrial TV in 2023, three of the Asian country’s major broadcasters have teamed up to operate the national digital TV platform. After signing a memorandum of understanding in February, the agreement was finalized in August by Bayon Media High System Group, Hang Meas Group and Cambodian Broadcasting Service Co Ltd (CBS). The partnership resulted in the Cambodia TV Alliance, a public-private partnership (PPP) company that will manage the transition phase. The broadcasters will transmit in DVB T2 but will also keep analogue signals on the air for a few years, which are scheduled to be switched off by the end of 2025.
More details and statements from the presidents of the broadcasters in The Phnom Penh Post article.