The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has sparked a resurgence of interest in shortwave broadcasting, as nations strategically harness this medium to serve their individual interests. As in the case of the newly founded Ifrikya FM, which operates from Algeria to sub-Saharan countries.
While the transition to digital is being considered for FM, the war in Ukraine has shown that the ‘old’ short and medium waves are the only ones capable of bypassing the blocks that freedom of information might suffer from an authoritarian regime. By launching the signal from thousands of kilometers away, they cannot be countered except by jamming transmitted in isofrequency by the other side’s transmitters, a practice much used during the Cold War but now almost in disuse. So much so that many broadcasters, from the BBCto RFE-Radio Liberty and Vatican Radio, have dusted off old transmitters or created new transmissions aimed at crisis areas. But international services are also at the service of political propaganda, as in the case of Algerian Ifrikya FM.
The multi-ethnic editorial staff and correspondents in nine countries
Inaugurated in Algiers on 3 May 2023, to coincide with World Press Freedom Day, Ifrikya FM was created ‘to give a voice to African listeners‘ and its slogan is ‘The African voice’. It is actually a strategy of rapprochement with the sub-Saharan area, supported by the relaunch of new air and sea lines between Algeria and Senegal, a country with which diplomatic relations have been renewed. The station broadcasts 24 hours in French, Arabic, Targui, Hausa, and Bambara and has a staff of young journalists from Algeria, Burundi, Chad, Lesotho, Mali, Cameroon, and Niger as well as a network of correspondents in nine African countries. It broadcasts on shortwave on 13790 kHz, on the AlcomSat satellite, and on FM on 105.6 MHz (Algiers/Bouzaréah, replacing Radio Coran) and 98.4 (Tamanrasset, replacing Radio Sahel, which goes off the air).
Schedule and frequency updates for the shortwave service are available through WRTH (World Radio TV Handbook) at https://wrth.info/news/.
Artificial intelligence is the topic of the moment: it will change the world of work and also radio. Two American companies already propose AI-based programmes not only to automate functions, but to create content and free up energy for programming.
In Italy, the m2o network has called it the radio killer, but American Futuri says that with RadioGPTTM it wants to simplify program creation and create local content suitable for any radio format. The U.S.-based company was the first to gain publicity by capitalizing on the chatbot’s notoriety launched in November 2022 (as of March 14, 2023 to version 4). Futuri combines three AI-based software: GPT-3 writes program texts based on stories and trending content that the Topic Pulse software extracts from the web (it scans Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and 250,000 other sources), and finally has them read by a digital voice. One can choose from a catalog of entertainers, create shows with two or three hosts, or instruct the software to “copy” radio speakers.
Today, two out of three programs are automated
But the platform does more than just create the schedule (which can be customized for any area, leveraging news fished from the Web). It can automate other processes for the station to interact with listeners: such as feeding a blog on the website, creating social media posts, making short videos, and then converting program content into podcasts. Daniel Anstandig, CEO of Futuri, says his company created RadioGPT to save radio because in many stations 70% of broadcasting is already automated. While with the help of artificial intelligence, live and local content can be increased. A demo can be heard at this address. Impressive!
Program Director is more management-oriented
On a different front is American Super Hi-Fi, which offers Program Director to automate scheduling and reinvent the traditional workflow. Based on artificial intelligence, among many things it curates playlists, does intelligent music rotations, creates shows with artificial voices, and visually shows how the time slot is scheduled. It manages music catalogs, tags songs, and can run an unlimited number of stations simultaneously (useful, for example, for broadcasters who offer dozens of thematic web radios on their site to build listener loyalty). Designed for professionals, it has features that can manage stations operating in different time zones, syndication of stations, and the flow of advertisements.
Released in a free edition, thanks to a collaboration with the EBU, the study produced by RAI’s research office, where experts, professors and researchers of different nationalities draw the future of radio
Presented on March 29, 2023, in Rome, at the Universi Sonori conference, Audio-Sound Ecosystem is the English summary of the volume Audio-Sound Ecosystem published in July 2022 by Rai Libri, the publishing division of Italian public radio and television. Italian and European experts, professors, and university researchers shared their perspectives on their areas of expertise, drawing future scenarios of the radio and audio landscape in Europe and North America (USA and Canada). Collaboration with the EBU-European Broadcasting Union (an association representing various public and private operators), made it possible to produce an English summary of the publication (230 pages, compared to 512 in the original) to make it available to the entire industry. The book can be downloaded for free at this link.
The competition is getting tougher and tougher
Although radio is the most listened-to source of sound (over 50% of daily listening time, in Europe and North America), it must evolve to respond to competition from increasingly sophisticated audio products. It knows how to stand up for reliability and authority: ingredients that during the pandemic have allowed it to maintain important listening shares, and combined with the ability to entertain that have allowed it to consolidate a strong bond with audiences bombarded by bad news. And for years it has also innovated, creating a new editorial product, radiovision, which in Italy and Belgium has been developed in an original and more mature way. However, the situation is different in France (where it remains unconvincing in terms of ratings) and the United States (which does not consider it fundamental) or Sweden (which has excluded it from its strategies).
The big players
But the challenge coming from the network giants (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) is insidious: these platforms, which act as intermediaries between the public and radio stations, structure their offerings based on the enormous amount of information collected from users. To counter them, operators need more effective and detailed listening detections that deepen the knowledge of their audiences, and new professionals who can make information adapted to the digital challenge: streamlined but dense and producing a positive feeling. Network presence can be leveraged to increase notoriety, but there is a risk of losing control of programs, so much so that major broadcasters are creating proprietary platforms to establish direct contact with audiences.
Podcasts and streaming
In the (steadily growing) podcast industry, radio stations are prominent publishers, particularly in Europe, which allows them access to a younger audience, including children and Generation Z. However, the music streaming market is highly competitive, with platforms witnessing increasing consumption among the 16-34 age group. This demographic is gradually shifting away from radio, though the pace of this trend varies across different countries. Despite the challenging market conditions, leading broadcasters like BBC and Radio Canada are taking measures to counter the trend by launching their proprietary platforms.
Changing modes of listening
If the car today is the main listening space for radio, it is increasingly undermined by other media, accessible from the infotainment system. And when all cars are connected, it will have to contend with Google, Apple, Amazon, and Spotify. To meet the challenge of mobile listening, the main weapon is digital radio (DAB+ orHD Radio in the United States), which with its improved sound quality allows it to keep up with technological innovations, such as those in sound reproduction (spatial and immersive) from Apple and Sony and which will innovate fiction and other areas of entertainment. Regarding home listening, smart speakers will supplant traditional receivers: EBU research estimates that 60 percent are already being used to follow radio. To take advantage of this trend, some broadcasters are making specific and often interactive programs specifically for these listening devices.
A company that assists radio stations to climb the ratings charts publishes on its website the share of the top radio stations
Which radio stations are the most listened to in New York, Paris, or Sydney? To find out, consult the rating page of Radio Intelligence, a radio consultancy that has put online the rankings extrapolated from audience surveys in thirteen markets. For the United States there are: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and Miami (Nielsen Audio data); for Europe: France (Médiamétrie); UK and London (Rajar); Italy (TER); Berlin (Media-Analyse); Holland (NLO) and Spain (AIMC). Last but not least, the Australian hit, with the city of Sydney (GFK). A useful resource provided by the consultancy, which wants to ‘ensure that every minute of programming is focused on the broadcaster’s audience’ and cites success stories in which it has helped clients quickly climb the rating charts.