A Texas woman is the host who can boast the longest radio career. Mary McCoy began in 1951: she attended a talent show on station KMCO and told the hosts that she would like to host her own show someday. Four months later she began presenting her own program, continuing uninterrupted to this day. Today she is 85 years old and for nearly 72 years behind a microphone she has entered Guinness World Records. In her interview with the Guardian, she recounted her passion for radio and career memories, such as sharing the stage with Elvis Presley, whom she considered one of the kindest and most polite men she had ever met. Today Mary McCoy is on KVST K-Star Radio, broadcasting on 99.7 from Montgomery, Texas.
The allocation of licences is approaching and we asked an expert what will happen. Pending final guidelines, as of today, those who broadcast on FM can participate (as members of a consortium, otherwise they will compete for the remaining space). Those who only operate in the digital band, on the other hand, have two options: buy an FM frequency or buy half the band that will be allocated to a radio station that is entitled to it
The allocation of DAB frequencies in Italy is approaching and the scarcity of radio resources will not allow all consortia to obtain them. As a result, not all radio stations will be able to have a channel, particularly those that do not have FM frequencies. With Massimo Lualdi, who with Consultmedia has been assisting hundreds of publishers on regulatory issues for almost thirty years, we take stock of the situation regarding the prospects and steps to be taken by traditional publishers and those who have taken advantage of the current availability of channels to bring their web radio to DAB.
A premise: in Italy, the digital band has two limits: the unused channel 13 (reserved by the Ministry of Defence for the VHF links used by the Army) and the interference problems raised by neighbouring countries, which limit the number of channels that can be used, aggravated by the Ministry’s absence at the coordination tables over the last decade, which have left Italy with ‘the crumbs’.
What timeframe is envisaged for the contest and the subsequent allocation?
It is difficult to answer since the final guidelines for participation in the calls for tenders have not yet been published by the Ministry of Enterprise and Made in Italy. It was thought that they would be published by the end of February 2023, resulting in the publication of the calls for tenders in the current month of March and with the deadline for the submission of applications within the following 30 or 60 days (it is not even known how long this will be), but this has not happened. I assume it will be soon so we can estimate that by the beginning of the summer, the ministry will be able to start the screening and, barring any surprises, conclude the allocation by the end of the year.
For how many broadcasters will there be space on DAB?
Since the draft guidelines indicated a maximum limit of 72 CUs (capacitive units: allows 12 channels with a bitrate of 96 kbps on a multiplex) for each broadcaster, but (rightly, to avoid DTT errors) not a minimum, it is difficult to answer. Theoretically, 36 CU (equal to 48 kbps per channel) is considered a suitable value to carry the existing analogue to digital. But since not all broadcasters will give up the maximum due, the picture is still undefined.
Will those operating on FM have priority in the allocation or only a higher score?
They will have it to the extent that only analogue licensees can participate in a consortium as partners. But if they have not done so before the tenders, they will have the same chance as independent, i.e. digitally native, providers.
Will a radio born on DAB still be able to broadcast? What steps will it have to take to avoid having to switch off and protect the investments made so far?
A few digital natives acquired analogue dealer status (by taking over the concession and FM plant in the region of interest). A few others have secured a 50% share of the 72 CUs due to an analogue dealer (allowing them to cut costs pro rata in the consortium). For the others, it will depend on the remaining spaces. As Consultmedia, we are convinced that the market will stabilise in the use of 36 CUs, which, if handled well from the point of view of the audio chain (source files, high-quality sound processing and Fraunhofer codecs), guarantee more than decent sound quality. With this in mind, all current independent providers in the experimental muxes should be able to survive.
Buy a concession and an FM channel? Some have already done so: will this new interest in FM drive up prices? (Which, as you write in the Newslinet magazine, have plummeted by 90% in recent years)?
Absolutely not. This is a transitory phenomenon related only to participation in tenders. In fact, we will see a new collapse immediately afterwards. I’ll say more: it is very likely that incentives will be provided at the ministerial level (at the instigation of Agcom, which has already expressed its opinion on the point) for the voluntary decommissioning of installations in exchange for a guarantee that analogue status will be preserved in digital form (hence the possibility of competing for contributions and other support measures, and of course of participating in consortia as members).
(Written by Fabrizio Carnevalini)
Despite being one of the founding members of the British streaming platform, the British public broadcaster has removed its radio channels from RadioPlayer since January 2023. Listeners now only have to use ‘BBC Sounds‘, which is available as an app and can be accessed on the web in a special area of the British broadcaster’s official website. Retaining control of content with a proprietary app is a trend that is spreading especially among large broadcasters. In the UK, it was already put into practice by Global (owner of seven stations including Radio Capital, Heart Radio, Classic FM, and LBC), which created its own ‘Global Player‘ in 2017, while Bauer Media Group (owner of 150 radio brands in nine countries) has never directed listeners to the UK streaming platform.
The company is doing just fine! (but has few radio stations)
The founder and CEO of RadioPlayer downplays. On the contrary, he raises the bar: Michael Hill says that the company is booming (the nineteenth foreign office was opened in March, with the launch of the app in Luxembourg). The platform, which claims to contain the best of radio, hosts the most important networks and commercial radio stations. These, however, are only a fraction of the stations that exist in each country. Two examples: in Luxembourg, you can listen to only ten, half of which belong to the RTL Group. In Italy, there are over 1100 active radio stations, but with RadioPlayer, you can listen to 125 of them, which is just a bit more than 10% of the mentioned number. This also includes 107 radio stations that only broadcast on DAB.
Written by Fabrizio Carnevalini
Among the many infrastructures damaged by the conflict in Ukraine, there is also the link network that enabled the connection between the regional TV offices and the central newsroom in Kyiv. The main antenna was on the capital’s broadcasting tower, which was damaged in March 2022. Since then, mobile crews who rely on the cellular network to send video footage have been handicapped due to the use of portable equipment which only allows for low-resolution transmission. To solve the problem, Japan thus donated a number of portable mini-repeaters to the public broadcasting company Nacional’na Suspil’na Teleradiokompanija Ukraïny.
(Written by Fabrizio Carnevalini)
Minsk launches a clone of the British aggregator. In defiance of copyright
As of February 2023, Belarusian citizens also have an app for listening to radio stations on the web, mobile devices, and smart TVs, Radio Player‘s website explains. Promoted by the Belarusian Broadcasting Industry Association, however, the app is a copy of one launched in 2010 in the United Kingdom and which has since spread to 13 other countries, not only in Europe. It allows listeners to listen only to radio stations based in the country, a feature designed by the British to protect copyright, but which in an authoritarian regime also allows citizens’ freedom of choice to be restricted. It is unclear whether it allows content to be sent to car infotainment systems-the Belarusian version’s website makes no mention of it. But how is it possible to violate copyright? Thanks to an “ad hoc” law that allows Western content to be used without the rights holder’s consent and without paying royalties. Approved on December 21, 2022, by the Belarusian parliament and signed by President Aleksander Lukashenko.
(From a post by Michel Fremy on Linkedin, edited by Fabrizio Carnevalini)
On 23 January 2023, DAB broadcasting began on Martinique, an island of the Lesser Antilles, one of the French overseas departments. The multiplex, operating on channel 5B, is managed by I-Médias Group, a company that owns several stations in the Antilles and Guyana. For the time being, the bouquet, which will operate on an experimental basis for nine months, comprises five stations: Fusion DAB+, Fusion Gold, Fusion Salsa, Fusion Compas, and Fusion 100% News, all thematic channels of Radio Fusion, of the I-Medias Group. But four more will be added: Radio Evangile Martinique, Radio Identité, Mixx FM, and Maknet Jazz. The intention of I-Médias is to arrive, when fully operational, at 12 channels (French legislation provides for a maximum of 13 per multiplex). In the region, four multiplexes are planned, with a total of 50 stations.
(Written by Fabrizio Carnevalini)
Radio is also a passion, for those who make it and listen to it. Among those who ‘turn the knobs’, Dario Monferini has left an indelible mark: in almost fifty years he has listened to and visited thousands of radio stations
His unmistakable look sticks in the memory of thousands of radio operators who welcome him into the studios. He is well-informed about all radio stations, not just the ones he listens to. He visits as many as possible to get to know them better, to ask for information and, above all, for gadgets. He dreams of a museum that tells the history of stations all over the world. To do so, he collects everything that bears witness to the radio epic: newspaper cuttings, specialised magazines, books, stamps, coins and phone cards with station logos, programme schedules, and photographs. In the pre-internet era, he created a network of hundreds of correspondents scattered all over the world, who, like him, hunt for material and exchange it. Swirling.
The picture above shows him on an overseas trip. It’s the nineties: Dario poses in front of the trademark and slogan of a Venezuelan Circuito Nacional Belfort, closed in 2009 when President Ugo Chávez withdrew the concession from radio stations opposing his regime. The shot is by Marzio Vizzoni, a passionate photographer who follows him on the South American stage. Almost everyone welcomes this curious Italian who knows frequencies and radio names inside out, even though he lives on the other side of the ocean: in the analogue era, he has the memory of a computer. In his hand he holds PlayDx, a fanzine edited every Sunday morning with a typewriter. Uninterruptedly until 2012, when the tapes become unavailable. He published more than 1500 issues before migrating to digital, helped by friends.
Fifty years of travel
In almost fifty years, Monferini travelled the length and breadth of Europe and the American continent. He visits thousands of stations. Some interview him live, and air the recording of the programme he received in Italy. Friendly, he dispenses vitriolic jokes in various languages. He learns them as an autodidact, to decipher the details of programmes that often arrive with a signal at the limit of comprehensibility. He listens to everything, on short, medium and long waves. He approached radio listening at the end of the 1960s: passion, intelligence and willpower immediately made him excel. He became an institution and actively participated in international conventions of enthusiasts’ clubs, representing Italian radio listening.
The trophy room
He becomes a leader. For him, listening is also redemption. Polio has left heavy marks: he wears orthopaedic shoes and has to get help from friends to open drinks cans. But his will makes up for the gaps and drives him to wear out the soles of his shoes by travelling the world far and wide. He throws himself into his hobby and renounces starting a family. He marries radio. In just a few years, he has hit the ground running and is a cut above other enthusiasts: he writes to every radio station he can tune into. In the first four years, he gets 1,200 replies. A record. He listens to practically everything that reaches Italian latitudes (disadvantaged by propagation, which gives northern Europeans exceptional openings, thanks to the earth’s magnetism and the many hours of darkness). He compensates for the lack of propagation with commitment.
From North American medium wave stations to FM
He runs on the bands every night until the wee hours to receive South American stations. And when the cone has no more secrets, he switches to North American medium-wave stations. He wakes up between four and six o’clock to take advantage of the cone of shadow that precedes the rising of the sun and that favours reception. He identifies favourable days by phoning the observatory in Boulder, Colorado, every day, which broadcasts a recorded message with the solar activity values. These were the roaring years of radio on short and medium waves. And, when the liberalisation of the Italian airwaves began in 1975 and frequency modulation became populated with broadcasters, he also devoted himself to FM. The wave of freedom spreads over the band and crosses Europe. It sweeps away the dreariness of state radios and brings a generation of youngsters onto the airwaves, some of whom are still in the saddle today, almost fifty years later, but just as passionate as they were then. Thousands of broadcasters were born: an opportunity not to be missed to gather material to document them.
An immense collection… dispersed
To collect a memento on each radio he makes whirlwind exchanges with enthusiasts all over the world. In fifty years he created an immense collection and filled a flat with stacks of boxes reaching up to the ceiling. Unfortunately, the unforgivable decision of the tutelary judge (two years after a heart attack in 2021 and the first stroke) and the insensitivity of the support administrator sent everything to the scrap heap in order to sell the flat and pay for the retirement home. A pity. But if the collectors at the time and the radio editors, all now in their old age, join forces, they can realise that dream they perhaps shared in their hearts. Something that tells their story. It would be an opportunity to reconstruct their memory since the publicity materials collected by enthusiasts are often the only evidence of many of the more than 12,000 Italian radio stations that have been in existence since 1975. To organise the materials, valorise them and organise travelling exhibitions instead of letting them get mouldy in some cellar. Or have them end up in a landfill. Dario left us on 17 October 2022 before dawn, in the health facility where he had been hospitalised for months in Milan.
Written by Fabrizio Carnevalini
It took a good investigation by the Daily Express to bring to light how much the BBC had spent on the ‘digital rebranding’ of its TV and digital channels. A six-figure sum, over £7 million, strenuously denied perhaps because it was difficult to justify, given the painful cuts made by the public broadcaster, such as the closure of many regional branches passed off as a ‘reshaping of the offer’. The BBC put up a wall for months, despite the fact that the newspaper invoked the Freedom of Information Act, a law that has guaranteed the right of access to information held by public authorities since 2000. So, in the end, the Daily Express submitted a formal complaint to the ICO (an independent body that upholds information rights in the UK) and at that point, the BBC capitulated: eight months had passed.
Too much opacity
The opinions collected by the Daily Express seep into the arrogance of the public broadcaster and its opacity. As in the speech by Dennis Reed, director of Silver Voices, a not-for-profit organisation of over-60s that aims to convey their opinions to political parties to improve legislation. According to Reed, the £7,261,039 spent could have cleared 45,000 subscription fees for the public broadcaster, thus helping most families with an elderly person with dementia, or relieving those struggling with energy bill payments. The BBC has also been reticent with Silver Voices, which, when asked how many over-75s previously exempt from the license fee had come clean, denied having a list. Yet, Reed points out, families who should be regularised continue to receive regular threatening letters ordering them to pay up. Let us hope, therefore, that light will be shed on this too.
Written by Fabrizio Carnevalini
Two years ago we spoke (see here) about the frequency allocation plan wanted by the government to free up channels and allow new broadcasters access to the FM band. But once the channeling was done, the wave of protest from the radio stations mounted, struggling with more interference than before. So the regulatory authority (Macra) froze the allocations and is reviewing the authorisations, removing the channels requested but not activated, and checking the payments of the concessions. As Red Tech magazine explains, there is now an attempt to make room by ‘tightening the bolts’: six radio stations in arrears with their license fees (Angaliba FM, Capital Radio, Sapitwa FM, Joy Radio, Ufulu FM, and Galaxy FM) have already been affected, but this could become 23 of the 54 actives in the country. But couldn’t this have been thought of earlier, saving the consultancy costs?
Written by Fabrizio Carnevalini
Experimental digital DAB+ broadcasting has begun in the Baltic country. On November 28, 2022, channel 10A was switched on from the Tallinn broadcasting tower, and on December 22, 7A from the Levira Koeru location, which with its 300-meter height extends coverage to the central part of Estonia. Pehka, in the municipality of Haljala, was added on January 11, 2023, also on 10A. The multiplex currently hosts six channels from Duo Media Networks (Raadio Elmar, Raadio Kuku, Raadio MyHits, Raadio Duo, Narodnoe Radio, and DFM), one from MTG (Power Hit Radio), and four other stations: Star FM Eesti, Klassikaraadio, Äripää Raadio, Tre Raadio.
Co-operation between ‘bigs’
It is managed by Levira, the main network operator for TV and radio stations in Estonia, which has one of the largest data centers in the country. The company cooperates with Duo Media Networks (the largest media company in the Baltics, which owns seventeen TV and six radio stations) and Mediainvest Holding (a subsidiary of Sweden’s MTG Modern Times Group, which owns Power Hit Radio). Levira is controlled by the Republic of Estonia but 49 percent of the shares are held by the French telecommunications company TDF.
Written by Fabrizio Carnevalini