‘The radio saved my life. By listening to doctors being interviewed on the radio, I discovered that I had Covid-19 symptoms and managed to be treated in time and recover’. This is the opening statement in the Asian Review’s report on the role played by the Indian community radio stations, which are often the only means available for millions of people to access information in the most remote rural communities. During the pandemic the usual programmes speaking about agricultural techniques were substituted by explanations of how to put social distancing into effect and how to recognise Covid-19 symptoms. Together with the government authorities, they also helped to coordinate the distribution of food and medicines. This was an enormous job considering that there are only 276 community radio stations in the whole country. The government’s intention was to see an increase to 4000 broadcasters, which is a number equal to the commercial stations, but the main obstacle to this is the cost of equipment, which is very high for a community (starting from INR ₹ 1.9 million, which is more than US $ 25.000), as explained in detail in this article.
After replacing their transmitters (we spoke about this here) they are tackling organisation, radio formats and regional radio stations.
The public radio station has an antiquated, boring style. Their news reporting is not very objective and they have lost 10% of their listeners in the last 10 years. This is a summary of the grim analysis in the presentation given by Grant Thorton, the international consultancy firm chosen to guide them towards the future (see PDF below).
Compared to the 2009-2010 budget, the 2020 budget has been halved (from € 300 million to € 150 million) and investments have been decreased (with the exception of sport). The personnel has been reduced by over 50% (from 4,550, 1,000 are on open-ended contracts, to the present 2,180) and this is in line with other public broadcasters. However, the average age of the staff is high (50 years old), and they are not very flexible. The organigram also needs to be reviewed. It is not easy to recruit competent managers because manager salaries have been cut by 200-300%, thus losing appeal.
The aim is to increase advertising by 50%
According to the Thorton consultants there is a great deal to do in order to capture the public’s attention and gain their trust. The broadcaster’s image needs to be changed, starting from the logo (tenders for redesigning it have already been called) to the formats of the television channels and radio stations. The organisation will be completely overhauled. Six divisions will be set up to produce a more dynamic structure. The objective is to increase advertising by at least 50% by 2022. Today the public broadcaster has only a 3% share of the pie chart comparing advertising volumes (investments in the media in the country), covering only 5% of the costs, whereas other public broadcasters in Europe cover about 20% of their costs with advertising.
In 2020 the personnel nearing pension age will be offered incentives to take early retirement so that the broadcaster will be in a position to recruit between 100 and 150 applicants on fixed-term contracts. Following this, they will try to attract competent managers by offering special benefits packages. Regarding the format of the TV channels, ERT 1 will be a general channel covering information and entertainment, ERT 2 will concentrate on the arts and culture, and ERT 3 will be dedicated to information about Greece. The radio stations will see fewer changes, apart from ERA2 which will play Greek music of all genres, and ERA Sport which will no longer only talk about football. The regional stations (19 today) do not risk closure but will be subdivided into 11 administrative regions. Time will show: Since the 2009 crisis Greece has become a case study and the population has made enormous sacrifices to stay attached to the European train. The country has picked up and is now trying to make up for lost time. Covid-19 permitting.
When Guglielmo Marconi started practical experiments with wireless communication, he had a problem to solve: How could one communicate with ships on sea, or with a remote place somewhere on this planet, where no cable telegraph line had yet arrived? Fast communication already then was essential for business because a lot of time could be saved. The first „radio“ transmissions were business communication, in the form of telegrams transmitted in Morse code.
Marconi’s practical work started in 1895 and was based on research by Ferdinand Braun, Heinrich Hertz, Nikola Tesla and Alexander Popow. In 1903, the first trans-Atlantic messages were exchanged.
On Christmas Eve 1906, the first program consisting of talk and music was transmitted by researchers in Brant Rock (Massachusetts). Listeners were seamen on ships in the Atlantic.
Tube-based transmitters were patented in 1913, and the first real radio programme was broadcast in November 1919 in the Netherlands, from a private apartment. Commercial radio started 1920 in Pittsburgh (USA), and Westinghouse provided the first receivers. Between 1920 and 1924, radio transmissions started also in Europe. This website has many dates and details from this period.
In the beginning, the number of listeners was really low. Not only did you have to buy or construct the equipment, but in some countries you also needed a license to be allowed to listen. By 1926, easy-to-use tube-based receiver had replaced the “crystal detector” which had required some patience in tuning and a headphone for listening.
During WW2, radio was popular – not only because it was the cheapest form of entertainment – but as it reached everyone, it was used as a means of mass communication and propaganda. After the war, radio continued as mass media, entertaining, informing and educating the listeners. While tube radios were still used in the 1960s, the invention of the transistor allowed small receivers that could run on battery, and the radio made its way into the car and into our pockets.
President Nicolas Maduro’s regime holds broadcasters in check by imposing sanctions or closures. Hence journalists are self-censoring to avoid trouble. The radio stations are kept a check on by Conatel (Comision Nacional de Telecomunicaciones), the Venezuelan telecommunications regulator, which is very quick to revoke broadcast licenses of ‘rogue’ radio stations. They closed over 60 broadcasters in 2018. The Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores del Prensa has reported that another 27 radio stations have suffered loss of equipment due to theft.
Rumbera has relocated to the Internet
The latest broadcaster to end up in the sights of the inspectors is a radio station of Rumbera Network (one of 21 stations) that transmitted on 106.9 FM from Los Valles del Tuy, in the state of Miranda. In February 2020 their antenna was damaged and then on May 15th, 2020 Conatel closed them down because their broadcasting license had expired. This was a decision that the owner, Eliu Ramos, deemed discriminatory because a large number of radio stations transmitting in the country have not been authorised and are not sanctioned. He added that he had applied for a renewal of the license several times, but the application had always been declined. Transmissions now continue on the Internet.
To find out more
The Venezuelan periodical, El Carabobeño gives more details on the situation of broadcasters here. It was published on May 20th, 2020, on the occasion of National Radio Day which was established in 1926 when the country began radio transmissions on mediumwave. FM transmissions, on the other hand, began on January 1st, 1975.
Even in the midst of a global crisis, deals continue to happen. French mass media conglomerate, Vivendi, recently acquired 10% of Lagardère; a move that helped to strengthen the French position in the market. Following Vivendi, Groups Arnault also enters into Lagardere.
In Italy, the Agnelli family holdings company sealed the deal on the acquisition of Gedi, endowing them with three radio networks.
After acquiring the initial 10% in Lagardère, in May 2020 Vivendi increased its shareholder equity to 16.4%. The move strengthens the position of Arnauld Lagadère, in control of the group, that had just foiled the attack of the Amber fund. The firm, and Lagardère’s biggest stakeholder, had accused him of bad management and wanted to change directors.
After the sudden death of Lagadère’s founder, Jean-Luc, in 2003, the multimedia empire has since shrunk. The following quote from Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera in the article ‘Francia, Sarkozy e Bolloré salvano (per ora) l’erede del regno Lagardère’ sums up the move well:
‘This acquisition is a long-term financial investment reflecting Vivendi’s confidence in the future prospects of the French group which enjoys international leadership positions in its businesses and which, like many others, is experiencing difficult times at the moment.’
To give some context to Vivendi’s owner, Vincent Bolloré is an accomplished leader. In December, 2016, he attempted to buy out the Italian Mediaset channel (publishing, three TV networks, pay TV and five radio stations), gaining up to 25.75% of the share capital and 26.77% of the voting rights.
Change of ownership for Italian radio networks
With the purchase of Gedi by the Exor group, three radio stations, (m2o, Radio Capital and Radio Deejay) will be passed onto the Agnelli family holdings company.
Based in the Netherlands, Exor has a capital worth € 24 billion. In addition to owning Ferrari, they are also the largest shareholder of the FCA-Fiat Chrysler Group.
Families that cannot afford a decoder, political instability and broadcasters’ inertia are all slowing down the change to digital. It is a situation that, considering the proximity of the Presidential elections, is convenient for the political parties.
However, political instability in the Republic of Moldova complicated everything when nearing the deadline. In June 2019 President Igor Dodon was suspended by the Constitutional Court due to him not being able to form a government within 90 days following the elections. After this a combined diplomatic intervention by Russia, the United States and the European Union led to a partly pro-Russia and partly pro-Europe coalition government being formed. However, the pro-Europe, liberal Prime Minister, Maia Sandu lasted for only five months and was replaced by Ion Chicu, a technocrat supported by the Socialist Party. If you are interested in reading more about the specific phases of the crisis please click here.
Families do not have the money for a decoder
The main hurdle to transition, according to the Minister of the Economy and Infrastructure, Anton Usatii, is that a large number of families simply cannot afford to buy a decoder (the country has a population of 3.5 million and one of the lowest GDPs in Europe). In 2018 the government gave away 8,922 decoders but this supplied fewer than 20% of the families that receive social assistance (more than 51,000).
The State is going to buy them at € 12.50 each
The Minister set the deadline for the month of May 2020, also in order to resolve the problem of the national TV stations being behind schedule. Click here for more technical details by a media expert.
He then invited families to make an official request for decoders and called for a tender in order to purchase 30,000 at the price of € 12.50 each. For further details click here and here.
But then politics interfered
A new crisis then changed the political framework. The government was led by the democrat, Ion Chicu (pro-Europe and centre left, but near the controversial oligarch, Vlad Pllahotniuc). Curiously, the government was sworn in on March 16th, 2020, the closing date for bids for the supply of decoders. The Ministry of Economy and Infrastructure went to the democrat, Sergiu Railean, who was to evaluate the bids (there were two). But notwithstanding the Covid crisis, even if the contract had been signed immediately, it would have taken two months for the decoders to have been supplied and they would have been distributed in the middle of the summer. The Minister has not spoken about a new deadline.
So the political parties are behind ‘the slowdown’?
The opposition fears that the delay is due to the fact that the TV stations that still transmit in analogue are those near the two parties in government. It would be convenient to not have competitors until November, when the new President of the Republic should be elected. However, even the stations are also reluctant because they believe that the rent for the band in the only national multiplexing transmission system is too high to support in absence of a switch off. They are talking about € 6,000 a month.
But they cannot go beyond 2021. 5G is on its way!
According to the pro-Russian press, on the other hand, everything is OK. In February 2020 the Secretary of State for IT & C, Vitalie Tarlev, asserted that the only DVB-T2 national multiplexing system had a 97% coverage of the country. And regarding the switch off, the date December 2020 is being thrown around because from 2021 even Moldava has to release frequencies that will be used for 5G.
Find another article here.
Franco Martelli in collaboration with Sergiu Musteata.
Cuts for five major broadcasters in Europe are on their way. While in Italy some radio stations are asking their listeners for help.
Austria: ORF is cutting outgoings
The director general of ORF, Alexander Wrabetz, has announced cuts of € 75 million are to be made by the end of 2021. These will be implemented in all areas in the company, from equipment to the cost of personnel. This year the broadcasting station is predicting losses that go from a minimum of € 28.6 million to up to € 54 million, should the worst scenario play out. The budgets allocated for major events will not be touched (€ 40 million for the rights of the European Football Championship and the Olympics). This is also the case for other investments which include digitalisation. Click here for more details from the article on Horizont.
France: Cost cutting plans for the public radio causes controversy
Cuts in the budget had already been decided on in 2018, in a period long before the present crisis. The Government had demanded a reduction of € 190 million in funds to public broadcasters (by 2022). € 20 million of spending cuts were destined for Radio France and in 2019 the CEO Sibyle Veil had prepared a plan that involved cutting 250 jobs. This provoked the longest strike in the history of public radio. The strike lasted 63 days (in total) during the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020. The trade unions consider the cuts unjustified and after a period of truce due to the Covid-19 crisis, the unrest could restart.
Germany: NDR raises the crossbar by € 60 million
The German broadcasting company Norddeutscher Rundfunk, NDR, wants to cut € 60 million more than the € 240 million that had been already decided on for the next four years.
The director, Joachim Knuth, is not going to reduce personnel but will not be employing new staff for 200 vacant positions. Furthermore, programmes and a series of events will be cancelled. Among those to go are crime series, entertainment and game shows on TV. Click here for more details from the article on Der Spiegel.
Italy: Onda d’Urto is banking on subscriptions
Radio Onda d’Urto in Brescia has launched a campaign for subscriptions to compensate for the missing revenues caused by the probable cancellation of the Festival of Radio Onda. The event, that is to be held in August, is the main source of finance for the broadcaster and even if it is not cancelled, it will be much smaller.
United Kingdom: £ 125 million have gone ‘missing’ at the BBC
The coffers of the public broadcasting station, BBC, are down £ 75 million due to
a delay: Listeners over seventy five were due to pay TV fees from June 1st, 2020, but this has been postponed to August 1st, 2020. This amount rises further because of losses caused by a drop in advertising and the postponement of a plan to reduce the workforce by cutting 450 jobs. According to the director general, Tony Hall, the cuts need to total £ 125 million. Upper management salaries will be frozen until August 2021 and a freeze will be put on all recruitment that is not indispensable. Other TV stations are not doing any better. ITV, free-to-air, has made a cut of £ 100 million to their budget and Channel 4 (a public broadcaster) has made a cut of £ 150 million. Further details can be found here.
Spain: SER cuts cost of personnel
Spains main network, Cadena SER, owned by the Prisa group (they own the daily newspaper El Pais and have business interests in 24 countries) is reducing the cost of labour. Of the personnel employed by the radio, 256 workers have been laid off until July 12th, 2020, (on unemployment benefit) while another 924 have a salary reduction of 10% until December 31st, 2020. Cadena Ser has 202 stations and the Prisa group also owns Cadena 100 and Los 40 Principales.
Click here for details in the article of El Español.
Everything will fade into past memories, but it is worth seeing some of the photographs taken in these last few months again. They include announcers and journalists broadcasting live from home, and courses for listeners on how to make their own radio programmes. It is also worth mentioning the vade mecums that have appeared in online magazines and on the websites of various associations. Their advice goes from how to choose equipment and software for a home studio to the procedures needed to protect radio station studios from contagion. There are even broadcasters that have put their studio disinfection procedures on show or have used their facemasks for self-promotion.
Radio stations broadcasting live from home
Belgium: While a lot of broadcasters, in spite of homely backgrounds, are narrowing the field of view with close-ups to give a professional touch, with the photographs of VRT Studio Brussel, a Flemish speaking public radio station, your eye tends to be drawn to the furnishings which reflect the personality of the announcer and goes from the large philodendron in the foreground to the bookcase on the right, and the door opening onto another room, making you wonder where it goes to.
Italy: When Roberto Zicchitella was conducting Radio3 Mondo live from his flat, his curious cat leapt onto his desk to sniff his tablet. The international news programme is on air on the public radio station, Rai Radio 3.
Spain: The SER network teaching listeners how to make a radio programme
The journalist, Pedro Blanco of Cadena Ser (a network of 202 radio stations we have spoken about in a previous article) on air with a radio workshop teaching listeners how to make their own programmes to then send to the radio station.
Canada: How to go on air from a distance
ARC, a Canadian alliance of community radio stations, explains how to equip yourself to produce your own show from home without excessive costs. They suggest a selection of hardware and software, some free of charge.
An antivirus guide for radio stations
This guide in the American magazine ‘Inside Radio’ lists 12 things to do in order to prevent contagion in radio stations.
And in Italy?
After disinfecting the Milan studios of Radio Millennium, the ‘ghostbusters’ pose for a photograph.
Radio Rock ‘designer’ masks:
Back in the golden years of free radio, listeners used to stick adhesives of their favourite radio stations onto their cars. Today the Roman station, Radio Rock, has made face masks with their own logos on them. Will this become a fashion with other stations?
The ‘Relaunch Decree’, published late in the evening on May 19th, 2020, contained a wonderful surprise. The radio and TV stations, that have been broadcasting information on the pandemic, will be receiving € 50 million (in the first draft it was 20 million, which became 40 after protests made by the broadcasting associations). The allocation of the funds will be according to a points system, which is used by the fund that has the task to promote pluralism and innovation of the media. The only obligation for the broadcasters is to put government information campaigns on air during the Covid-19 health crisis. In addition, in order to relaunch advertising (that saw a fall of up to 80%) companies that buy radio and TV spots will be able to deduct 50% off their taxes (€ 20 million have been allocated, but considering that the deduction has been extended to national TV stations, the effectiveness of this measure will be largely diminished).
More advantages and simpler procedures
The decree includes other concessions for businesses which the broadcasting stations will be able to benefit from. For example, a tax credit of 60% on rents in March, April and May 2020 (for both studios and repeater stations) if revenues are not over € 5 million and there is a drop of 50% in turnover compared to the same period last year. There is also a postponement of tax deadlines from April 16th to May 16th, 2020, for companies with a fall in turnover of at least 33% in the months of March and April 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. Furthermore, companies will not be obliged to pay IRAP (Italian Regional Production Tax) in June 2020 (balance and advance payment for the following year) if turnover is not over € 250 million. The procedures for applying for furloughing of staff and for having a reduction in the electricity bills will be simplified. Some expenses (cost of energy transport, electricity meter management and general expenses) will be reduced for three months (May to July 2020), but this will not affect energy consumed, which would have been welcomed by the associations.