It’s been months of unrest for workers at RTVA-Canal Sur, Andalusia’s public radio and television station. At the end of November 2020, 400 workers had signed a manifesto against the budget cuts decided by the regional government. To support his argument, the president of the Andalusian junta Juanma Moreno Bonilla had stated several times in interviews that regional television was expensive. But he was defeated by a recent study by the University of Santiago de Compostela, carried out in collaboration with the universities of Valencia, Malaga, Castilla-La Mancha, Barcelona, Madrid, Vigo, Carlos III of Madrid and A Coruña. The report, “Current Panorama and Trends in Public Radio Television in Europe”, shows that the cost for Andalusian citizens is only 16.16 EUR per year, the lowest in Europe. As a whole, Spanish public TV costs citizens 44 EUR per year compared to 160 EUR in Denmark and 113 EUR in the UK.
Radio Nacional de Espana has lost 190,000 listeners in just a few months, and now has around one million. It is an unprecedented collapse that emerged from the General Media Study (EGM) audience survey at the end of the third round of surveys. Compared to the first quarter (the survey was suspended in the second quarter due to the pandemic), the drop was 15%. And the drop does not only affect the flagship network, but also (although to a lesser extent) the other public networks.
Economía digital (Spain’s fifth largest news group, a native of the network) points the finger at the redundancies, resignations and new appointments made this year in the TV and radio networks. Changes made by Rosa María Mateo (RNE’s interim sole director) and Enric Hernández (news director) have triggered a reaction from the trade unions.
SER (+241,000) and, marginally, COPE (+20,000) gained. COPE is also the first in terms of digital audience: the Cadena de Ondas Populares Espanolas (also owner of Cadena 100, Rock FM and Megastar FM brands), has exceeded twelve million unique users, outstripping rival SER by over 600,000 followers.
If in 2018 it was the PP (Partido Popular) that sank DAB, it now was the Socialists of the PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero Español) who rejected the bill presented by Compromís, a political coalition from Valencia, to the Senate. The spokesman in the Senate of the Valencian political coalition, Carles Mulet Garcia, points out that from next December in Spain all cars will have digital radio (as required by European regulations) but that owners will not be able to receive programs, turning the nation into “a technological island of Europe”. In Spain the technical plan for the development of digital radio was launched in 1999. It foresaw the coverage of 80% of the population in 2005, then reduced to 20% in 2011. Today listening is limited to Madrid and Barcelona, although there are unauthorized transmissions on the Costa del Sol and the Canary Islands.
Listeners consider radio as a trustworthy source of news, at times much more so than other forms of media, in contrast to the fake news that is going around on the web
Various market research companies have carried out surveys on the reliability of the means of communication during the pandemic. In Greece, according to a survey by Dianeosis and Metron Analysis, the winner was radio. In answer to the question ‘How much do you trust each of the following types of media’, radio got 56.4%, followed by the internet (46.5%), newspapers (33.8%) and television (32%). The complete results are here. The Spanish have a different opinion according to UTECA (an association of commercial TV stations that transmit in the clear on DTT), that commissioned a survey carried out by Barlovento Comunicación and Deloitte. On the Iberian peninsula the most trusted means of communication is television (55.3%), followed by the press (36.3%) and then radio (24%). Here is a PDF with the results.
Wireless, a programme produced by John Walsh on Flirt FM in Galway, 101.3 FM, is back with a special edition on the crisis, that radio is facing because of the pandemic. They are presenting an overview of how European broadcasters in France, Spain and Italy are dealing with the impact that the crisis is having on radio stations. Their previous transmission covered the situation in Ireland which we spoke about in one of our recent articles.
Click here to listen to the Wireless podcast.
Everyone who had a chance to listen to Spanish radio programmes, especially the ones on Radio Nacional de España or the private stations Cope and Cadena Ser (on FM and medium wave), has noticed that one of the most common commercials talks about the “cupón de la ONCE”: a ticket of a very popular lottery managed by the homonymous organisation, managed by blind people. Created in the 1930s as a non state lottery, it was promoted by some blind people associations in Andalusia, Catalunya and Levante, which merged in 1939 in the official national organisation that started calling the ticket “cupón”.
The 80s boom
With the advent of democracy in Spain, also the organisation renews itself: the lottery becomes national (1984) and the prize reaches 100.000 pesetas (1987), multiplying by a million the ticket’s value, sold for 100 pesetas. Since then, the lottery took off, becoming more and more popular, and radio broadcasters started being flooded with commercials promoting the tickets’ sale. Lottery’s proceeds, from the 60’s, are invested in the opening of educational centers and libraries, to promote cultural events, and to finance fundamental services such as rehabilitation.
Digital transmissions on DAB waveband, channel 9C, started in Tenerife in December 2019. The transmitter is located on the Teide, the highest active volcano in the Atlantic ocean and also the highest mountain in Spain (3.718 m). In total there are nine programmes transmitted: Axel24, BBR and XPR2 are exclusively aired on the Canary Islands, whereas Coast FM, Energy FM, Europa FM, Loca FM, Loca Latino and Magica FM, are also transmitted in Spain. Since February, Gran Via Radio from Barcelona has been added, a well-known station on 91.2 in the Catalonian metropolis.
The installation, made by Techworld Sur from Tenerife, uses a technology called BCAST, by a Polish company which provides small and medium sized radio transmitters and the software platform DABCAST for the digital transmission. In this way, the radio station is just paying a fee for the service without the need of buying any hardware equipment or the transmitter (an initiative funded by European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme). The radio station uses the software Virtual Studio to put together the audio stream with other elements that must be transmitted, such as album covers, the logo and extended text information. Then, the signal is sent to the cloud where it goes through the multiplexing process, it is encrypted with an algorithm that protects it from losing data and then is submitted to the transmitter.
Illegal vs. legal match ended 4-3, but Navarra started a “remuntada”
At this stage seven multiplexes are active in Spain, but only three of them are official: the ones presumably without a license are those located in Costa del Sol (channel 7B in Marbella) and on the Canary Islands (7B in Gran Canaria, 7D and 9C in Tenerife). But Navarra’s government is going to even the score: on January 8th, 2020 it announced a call for the release of six licences for DAB transmission. A regional block, on channel 11D named FU-NAV, with 6 regional channels and another 72 channels for local broadcasters divided into two blocks made of 6 broadcasters in Pamplona, and 10 local blocks. Navarra is the first autonomous community granting regional licenses for digital radio: are other regions going to follow this path?
Ransomware, a software that prevents the use of computers (by blocking them or encrypting files until you pay pirates a “ransom”), has paralysed the Cadena SER production system on November 4, 2019. To prevent risk of further infection, the computers connected to the network were turned off. However, since the Redacta platform (which assembles audio and text) could not be used, the journalists wrote the articles on sheets of paper or used word processing apps on their smartphones. Only after four days the 202 radio stations of the network were able to take up their work with their usual facilities again.
Services skipped, but no interruptions
Among the setbacks, the services on the MTV Awards, held in Seville the night before, were not broadcasted. On the other hand, radio hosts could provide a summary of an important electoral debate, by recording the audio from the TV (reduced quality). ‘El Confidential’ dedicated an extensive report on the emergency.