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.
A few months after entering the capital of the Lagardère group, Vivendi aims to take control: in recent days it has announced its intention to acquire the package of 18% owned by the Amber Capital fund and that it will then present the Opa. Vivendi, which already has 27% of Lagardère’s shares in its portfolio, has set December 15, 2022 as the time horizon, offering 24.1 euros per share, thus recognizing a premium of about 20% compared to the quotations. However, the transaction must obtain the green light from the CSA (Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel), the Autorité des Marchés Financiers and the European Commission. In order to finance the acquisition, Vivendi’s owner Vincent Bolloré sold shares in Universal Music (retaining a sufficient 10% to maintain control), before listing the music giant on the Amsterdam stock exchange. The listing was a success, because compared to the placement fee set at 18.5 euros per share, the shares rose to 26.45 euros (+35%), giving the group a value of around 45.5 billion euros compared to 33 at the placement.
In 2017, news that Norway was the first country to switch off the FM band in favour of DAB grabbed headlines. The idea tickled the imagination, so few verified it. But it was a hoax: the sensationalism of the news had overshadowed the reality. What abandoned FM was public radio NRK and, above all, the commercial networks. NRK occupied two frequencies out of three of those active in the country: 2000, compared to 1000 of all other radio stations, networks included. The main beneficiary of this operation was public radio: concentrating in a single multiplex four national networks, divesting hundreds of transmission sites (they were 700) and decommissioning FM transmitters nearing the end of their life, would have realized great economies of scale.
Towards a five-year extension
Of the remaining frequencies, 40% (400) have been switched off by private networks and large commercial radio stations, especially in the capital and in large urban areas. But the others are still on the air: 552 (data from www.fmlist.org) used by 100 radio stations, many of which declare on their website that they are proud to continue in analogue. Some stations have also switched on DAB muxes (there are several used by a single station, which at most host two or three thematic channels) to keep up with the news. Broadcasting will continue until at least 2026: Mari Velsand, director of the Norwegian Media Authority recommended the government extend the FM licenses another five years, believing that media diversity would be compromised if the shutdown occurred at the end of 2021, as planned.
The exit from the scene of one of the last community stations in Finland is analyzed by Medamonitori, a site about Finnish media, which takes stock of the situation of community radios in the country. Pispalan Radio, which used to broadcast on 99.5 MHz near Tampere, has leased the frequency from July 2021 to Radio Pooki, a music channel of the Bauer Media Group (leader in Europe with more than 57 million weekly listeners in eight countries), which will use it until the end of the license period, expected in 2029.
According to Tero Toivonen, curator of the site, Pispalan Radio has lasted a long time on the airwaves, despite the difficulties in finding volunteers, thanks to the good coverage of the south and south-east area of Tampere (the country’s third-largest city with over 220,000 inhabitants). But the difficulty in finding those willing to “do radio” precipitated the crisis and Pasi Komsi, a co-founder of the radio station and editor-in-chief, resigned himself to closure. Toivonen, however, points out the contradiction that prompted an association radio station to lease the channel to a commercial station.
The broadcaster funded by the US Congress to “promote democratic values and institutions” has racked up fines of 169 million roubles ($2.277 million) for violating rules governing the presence of foreign media in Russia. This is an order issued by the Roskomnadzor (Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Connection and Mass Communication), which as of 23 September 2020 has required foreign media to preface messages and materials broadcast with the indication that they are produced by a foreign media outlet. The broadcaster has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to verify the legality of the application of Russian legislation for foreign media against them and says it intends to appeal all court decisions.
More details in the Interfax article.
More than 60,000 Swiss citizens have signed a petition to hold a referendum to block the switch-off of FM radio channels, scheduled to start in 2022. Switzerland was following in the footsteps of Norway, which was the first country to choose to migrate to Dab in 2017 (although there are currently more than 100 FM radio stations and 552 transmitters on air in the Scandinavian country). The initiative’s promoters cite an article published in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung by media expert Urs Saxer, which states that SRG SSR, as a public service, has a clear mandate to guarantee a basic service to the entire population, and switching off FM would have no legal basis. The switchover is planned to take place in two stages: the public broadcaster SRG SSR will switch off its transmitters in August 2022, while the private broadcasters will have time until January 2023. According to a survey conducted last year by the Swiss branch of the market research institute GFK, only 29% of Swiss listen to terrestrial radio (FM and/or DAB) and only 13% of the Confederation’s citizens use analogue FM radio only.
A fire that broke out on Friday 23 July 2021 in the province of Oristano devastated Punta Badde Urbara, one of the island’s nerve centres, interrupting many radio and television signals broadcast in central and northern Sardinia. Audio and video links to important stations such as Monte Limbara, Monte Ortobene, Monte Oro and many secondary stations departed from the mountain in the Oristano area, with the result that many stations were mute and the TV signals were absent. The most difficult situation occurred on Saturday evening, when even the RAI signals disappeared for a few hours, while private broadcasters had to wait until Monday morning to return to normal.
As the images from the site and satellite analysis show, the entire Badde Urbara broadcasting centre was surrounded by flames, with the buildings outside closest to the vegetation having the worst of it. The problems were probably also exacerbated by damage to the power lines, and the emergency generators held out until they ran out of fuel. For the radio stations, the interruptions lasted only a few minutes. On Sunday, Radio 105’s 99.30 MHz, Rai GR Parlamento’s 106.70 MHz, Radio Planargia’s 88.60 MHz and Radio Barbagia’s 99.90 MHz were occasionally without a signal.
The television situation is more critical, with more consistent interruptions: first to disappear Saturday evening, along with the mux1 of RAI, were the channels hosted on the multiplex Videolina. On Sunday, several broadcasters throughout central and northern Sardinia disappeared: among them Canale 9, Telesardegna, Paramount, Real Time, RTL 102.5, Giallo, K2, Frisbee, Boing Plus, Super!, Spike, DMax, HGTV, Motor Trend, Supertennis, Alma TV, VH1, Deejay TV and Radio Italia TV. The emergency lasted until Monday afternoon.
From our correspondent in Sardinia Cristian Puddu
RTV San Marino will get frequencies from Rai to cover the Italian territory. During a meeting of the board of directors of the Italian public broadcaster, held on June 30, 2021, the proposal to transfer frequencies to the San Marino station was unanimously approved. The general manager of RTV San Marino, Carlo Romeo, recalls that thirty years ago it was the then general manager of Rai Sergio Zavoli who aired this possibility. The agreement between the two governments is now awaited, essential for the decision to become operative. It will probably have to wait until 2023, when, with the passage to DVB T2, Rai’s increased availability of transmissions will allow it to host the San Marino station in its multiplex, thus enabling it to serve the peninsula.
The UGT (Sindicato Unión General de Trabajadoras y Trabajadores de España) has formally asked public broadcasting to modify its strategic plan, providing for new measures to plug budget losses. RTVE lost 31.6 million euros in 2020, and by the end of April 2021, the debt had reached 184 million euros. The main demand concerns advertising, which the union is asking to reintroduce, at least in a limited way, also to re-establish competition, today very limited because in fact 95% of the market is controlled by a duopoly. An article published in the economics section of the newspaper El País goes into the details of the proposal, analyzing the similarities with the “French model”, which inspired the financial law of the Spanish government, which provides four channels of financing for public radio and television.