UK: HEART ATTACK LIVE

Suffolk's GenX Radio presenter Tim Gough dies on air
The BBC website dedicated a lengthy article, with testimonies from former colleagues who remember him for the time they spent together behind the microphone
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It’s as good a day as any in Ipswich, a Suffolk town where GenX Radio is based, a web station that within a year has been so successful that it has taken the leap into the airwaves, submitting an application to Ofcom to open a DAB channel (the authorisation will come a few days after Tim’s death). Even though it has no competition, because it is the only commercial station in the region, it needs to upgrade its palimpsest in order to land in the digital band. So it recruited a veteran of the airwaves for its most important programme: the breakfast slot, which between 6am and 9am takes listeners from waking up to resuming their activities. And Tim Gough is an exceptional presenter: he has decades in the business behind him and, above all, began his career in 1986 at Radio Orwell, a station based in Ipswich (transmitted on 1170 kHz on medium wave and 97.1 MHz on FM).

A morning like any other

A still from Green Day's video clip, in which Madness depicts the daily grind of getting up to go to the office even when you got home very late.
A still from Green Day’s video clip, in which Madness depicts the daily grind of getting up to go to the office even when you got home very late. But work calls!
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The sun rose at 7.37am. The sky is grey but not cold, it’s 13 degrees. It’s Monday, a new week begins and it’s time to get the energy going. Tim is happy. These are the first broadcasts he is conducting after ten years away from the microphones. He lives 30 km from the station and to avoid travelling to the studios before dawn he has equipped himself at home. He has been on the air for almost an hour when he plays Grey Day by Madness, a ska group that in 1981 with this song parodied a grey morning like that, but in which you still have to get up and drag yourself like zombies to the office after a night of revelry.

Suddenly the music stops

In the BBC report, there is an image taken at Saxon Radio (used to broadcast on 96.4 FM, and merged with Radio Orwell) showing a Tim in his early twenties preparing the setlist
In the BBC report, there is an image taken at Saxon Radio (used to broadcast on 96.4 FM, and merged with Radio Orwell) showing a Tim in his early twenties preparing the setlist (he made his debut at the age of 19, in 1986)
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Grey Day is a track full of energy, evoking for Tim the years when he took his first steps at Radio Orwell, in 1986, and he thinks it’s the right push to face a new cloudy week. But shortly afterwards, at 7.50, the music suddenly stops: Tim is taken ill, probably from a heart attack. The ambulance arrived and the paramedics tried to revive him, but after 25 minutes of effort, they had to throw in the towel. Tim left live. As soon as the news spreads, the emails start arriving: hundreds of messages of love. After all, Tim is a well-known personality: after his debut on Radio Orwell in 1986, he became a specialist in morning host. He moved on to Saxon Radio and SGR-FM and made appearances on Smooth Radio, several stations in the East Midlands and other national radio stations. The BBC article collects several testimonials from former colleagues, who agree that he is a friendly, funny and very talented guy. (Written by Fabrizio Carnevalini)

SPAIN: WILL THE CONSTITUTIONAL COURT OPEN UP TO DIGITAL RADIO?

The Collserola tower, a daring construction designed by British architect Norman Foster in 1992 for the Olympic Games, is 288 metres high and also houses the antennas of the DAB multiplex for Barcelona
The Collserola tower, a daring construction designed by British architect Norman Foster in 1992 for the Olympic Games, is 288 meters high and also houses the antennas of the DAB multiplex for Barcelona

The Iberian country is lagging behind in the transition of radio to DAB. Eighteen years after the activation of multiplexes, digital broadcasting seems not to have emerged from the experimental phase: they are active in Madrid and Barcelona, and a few other cities, still broadcasting in the old standard DAB and not in DAB+. The few programs carried are those of Radio Nacional de Espana (Radio 1, Radio 5: Radio Clásica, and Radio 3 remain excluded), and the main networks (the missing ones are, for example, Cadena Dial, Los 40, Rock FM). Similarly to FM, where inertia in granting authorizations has proliferated illegal frequencies, to which networks also resort, unauthorized multiplexes have been turned on. The number of official ones active mainly in tourist areas (the Costa del Sol and Canary Islands) is doubled.

Avalanche of appeals

Panorama Audiovisual to reconstruct the situation interviewed Jaime Rodriguez Diez, the lawyer who advised the radio stations to file the appeals
Panorama Audiovisual to reconstruct the situation interviewed Jaime Rodriguez Diez, the lawyer who advised the radio stations to file the appeals
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Given the competition made to official radio stations by unauthorized ones, many broadcasters interested in digital broadcasting have appealed to the Spanish Constitutional Court, which between September and October 2022 upheld sixteen “recurso de amparo”, which added to those already pending bringing the total to 22. This ”recurso” is a legal formula that allows Spanish citizens to appeal to the supreme court when they believe constitutional norms have been violated. Giving an accurate picture of the situation is the magazine Panorama Audiovisual, which reconstructs its evolution since 2018 when broadcasters began turning to autonomous communities to apply for authorizations. Since some regions have refused, despite having an obligation to grant them, even though they did not proceed with the allocations, a law firm has recommended appeals to the Constitutional Court. Will they be upheld? Let’s keep our fingers crossed! (Written by Fabrizio Carnevalini)

TECHNOLOGY: RADIO IN TUNNELS/Part 1

If a tunnel is not equipped with appropriate communication systems, the car radio remains mute
If a tunnel is not equipped with appropriate communication systems, the car radio remains mute
Source: Photo by Stain_Marylight from Pixabay

When travelling by car and driving through a tunnel, the signals picked up by the radio are quickly attenuated. Only when the repeater is close by or has its antennas pointed towards the longitudinal axis of the tunnel, the waves are able to make their way through and you can keep the station tuned for longer, but then the signal disappears. Those travelling by car may also like a few minutes of silence, but in the event of an accident, the signal blackout would prevent the rescue vehicles from communicating with the outside world. Therefore, for safety reasons, communication systems are installed in the longer tunnels that can carry emergency signals and allow FM and DAB radios to be heard.

What the law says

If a vehicle stops in a tunnel due to a breakdown or following an accident, emergency vehicles must be able to communicate with the outside world.
If a vehicle stops in a tunnel due to a breakdown or following an accident, emergency vehicles must be able to communicate with the outside world.
Source: Photo by Torsten Simon from Pixabay

The problem of communications has been addressed by the legislator, who in Europe has stipulated (with Directive 2004/54/EC) that in tunnels longer than 500 metres the minimum safety requirements of the trans-European road network must be met. If the tunnels exceed 1,000 metres in length or are located on particularly busy arterial roads (with more than 2,000 vehicles passing through), the road manager is obliged to install special radiocommunication systems that allow contact between emergency vehicles (ambulances, breakdown vehicles, fire brigades, road maintenance company vehicles) and the police.

Technology

The cable carrying the radio signals was severed by a TIR, interrupting radio listening
The cable carrying the radio signals was severed by a TIR, interrupting radio listening
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Cable or radio wave transmission systems are used for communications. In the first case, ‘slottedcoaxial cables (with openings drilled at regular intervals, from which the signal comes out) are laid along the tunnel. The system has the advantage that it can be used to simultaneously transmit and receive on the different frequencies used by emergency vehicles, and to allow to listen to radio in the car. But since signals propagate differently depending on their frequency, corrective measures must be taken and amplifiers are introduced at regular intervals to compensate for attenuation. This requires careful design and a lot of maintenance (with increased costs). However, the system is delicate and vulnerable to fire and accidents, and there is a move towards radio wave transmission. (Written by Fabrizio Carnevalini)

NEW ZEALAND: ENHANCED SHORTWAVE BROADCASTING FOR THE PACIFIC

Radio New Zealand's current outdated transmitter will be replaced: the New Zealand government allocated NZ$4.4 million (about US$2.5 million) in May
Radio New Zealand’s current outdated transmitter will be replaced: the New Zealand government allocated NZ$4.4 million (about US$2.5 million) in May 2022
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As of September 2022, New Zealand’s public broadcaster (RNZ) has increased its shortwave broadcasting hours aimed at the Pacific region. The four morning hours, suspended in 2016, restarted thanks to new government funding, on three frequencies: at 5 a.m. local time on 7425 kHz, 6 a.m. on 9700 kHz, and 8 a.m. on 11725 kHz. The most listened news program is also repeated by the BBC Pacific Service. Shortwave broadcasting, largely abandoned since the 1990s at the end of the Cold War, still remains the most effective means of covering very large areas. As in the Pacific Ocean archipelagos, where many communities still use the old analogue radios with the SW (Short Waves) band to inform themselves.

It also broadcasts digitally

Shortwave radio is radio transmission using shortwave radio frequencies
RNZ’s shortwave broadcast schedules can be seen on this page. The programs are also distributed via satellite
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In the middle hours of the day, however, the station broadcasts with the DRM standard: a digital transmission system that eliminates all the typical hissing due to atmospheric and electromagnetic interference. The audio is stereo, but it is out of reach of the old analogue radios. In order to receive the DRM you have to buy a receiver that is set up to decode the digital signal, which costs between 50 and 100 euros. Alternatively, the signal is broadcast by satellite from Intelsat 19 on C-band: coverage extends from Singapore eastward to the Cook Islands, including Fiji, Tonga, Niue and Samoa. (Written by Fabrizio Carnevalini)

SPAIN: TURNING OFF FM AND MW TO SAVE ELECTRICITY?

Citing the examples of Switzerland and Norway, the Compromís party has asked the Pedro Sanchez government to consider switching to digital broadcasting by abandoning frequency modulation
Citing the examples of Switzerland and Norway, the Compromís party has asked the Pedro Sanchez government to consider switching to digital broadcasting by abandoning frequency modulation
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To cope with a possible energy crisis, Compromís, a political party in the Valencia region, has asked the government to consider among emergency measures whether to change the broadcasting technology for radio stations. Switching to DAB, as Norway did in 2017 and Switzerland plannes to do at the end of 2024, could reduce electricity consumption by up to 90 %, according to Carles Mulet, the party’s spokesman in the Senate. But first Mulet proposes rationalizing the medium waves by employing the savings in the implementation of a DAB network and finally turning off FM. He then cites the costs declared by Radio Nacional de España after the parliamentary question submitted by the party in March 2022: between maintenance and expenses at transmitters in 2021 the medium waves absorbed 6,823,026 euros, and 6,287,503 euros were spent for the FM network.

BETWEEN SAYING AND DOING

Research by OFCOM (Swiss Federal Office of Communications) shows that in the last quarter of 2021, three out of four people listened to radio digitally while FM continues to lose importance
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Shutting down a band takes years of planning (while the energy crisis could occur in a few months, with the arrival of winter) and if the transition is not well managed it can cause ratings to plummet. As was the case in Norway, where it was public radio that decided to switch to DAB (also not to renew an outdated and expensive ground network: commercial and community broadcasters are still active) and the loss of audience five years later has still not been fully recovered. Switzerland, on the other hand, is a small country that between public and private radio does not reach 200 stations but has been preparing for the switch-off for years, with advertising campaigns in favour of digital radio so much so that now only 14 out of 100 people listen only to FM. In Spain, on the other hand, there are 163 medium wave transmitters (of which 103 are public and 60 commercial) and approx. 2,500 radio stations with over 6,000 transmitters on FM, of which it is estimated that at least a thousand are unlicensed, and only a few experimental DAB radio stations in Barcelona, Madrid and in a few cities (as well as a few unlicensed private muxes).

TECHNOLOGY: The evolution of receivers

The evolution of receivers
An old vintage radio from Philips, a company that began producing tube radios in 1927 and became the world’s largest manufacturer of medium-wave radios. Photo by Gerhard C from Pixabay
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An article written by a researcher from EuroScience (European Association for the Advancement of Science and Technology), traces the evolution of radio receivers. Debojit Acharjee, a software engineer and “geek,” as the author likes to call himself, starts from the prototypes invented by Guglielmo Marconi to digital ones. Novelties that have come since the 2000s: from the first pocket radio for listening to the DAB digital band (launched by Pure in 2003), to one for listening to broadcasters streaming on the Web (3com’s Kerbango, which debuted in the 2000s). To arrive at those without the tuning knob, there are the SDRs (Software Defined Radio): receivers that in their more advanced versions (but sold at a price comparable to that of the “transoceanic” radios of the 1970s, such as the Grundig Satellit) allow you to see the full spectrum of the FM band and record 24 MHz. The impetus to innovate? Behind every discovery is the improvement in listening quality, such as that which prompted General Electric in 1940 to invent frequency modulation, demonstrating that it was less susceptible to electromagnetic interference than amplitude modulation, used on medium waves.

UKRAINE: MEDIUM WAVE SWITCHED BACK ON TO SUPPORT FM NETWORK

The map drawn up on the basis of data from the FMLIST-FMSCAN database shows the map of repeaters broadcasting Ukrainian radio (UR1 Pershiy Kanal). In addition to those on Ukrainian territory, there are also DAB channels activated by Poland and the Czech Republic to inform refugees
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To counter possible damage to its FM repeater network, Ukraine has switched back on some radio stations operating on medium waves. They had been switched off in 2018, like so many energy-intensive installations supplanted over the years by the frequency modulation network, which has the advantage of offering better audio quality. But reactivating them has become strategic because they are installations that can serve large areas of the country and are often located in areas far from those affected by the conflict, and could operate undisturbed. Of the six reactivated, mainly between 24 and 26 February 2022, only one was damaged. They all broadcast the first programme (UR1 Pershiy Kanal).

Rumours coming from the back

The reactivation of the medium waves makes it possible to serve the areas of Kirovohrad, Mykolaiv, Odessa lacking good FM coverage, especially in rural areas
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549 kHz from Mykolaiv (Миколаїв) (100 km east of Odessa) with 400 kW: reactivated on 24 February 2022, on air until 6 March 2022 (it had been off since 1 January 2022).
657 kHz from Chernivtsi (Чернівці́) (400 km south of Kiev, near the border with Romania) with 25 kW: reactivated on 26 February 2022 (no longer active since 1 February 2018).
837 kHz from Kharkiv (Ха́рків) (150 kW): on-air since 25 February 2022, discontinued the next day (had ended broadcasting on 1 February 2018, broadcasting the cultural programme UR 3 Radio Kul’tura).
873 kHz from Chasiv Yar (Часів Яр) (25 kW): this is in the Donetsk region, in the self-proclaimed Doneck People’s Republic (it had been off the air since June 2017).
1278 kHz from Kurisove (Курісове), near Odessa (100 kW): reinstated on 8 March 2022 (it had been broadcasting the cultural programme UR 3 Radio Kul’tura until 1 February 2018).
1404 kHz from Izmail (Ізмаї́л) (in the Odessa region, but close to the border with Romania): restored since 26 February 2022.

UK: NO FM SWITCH-OFF UNTIL AT LEAST 2030

 NO FM SWITCH-OFF UNTIL AT LEAST 2030
In the media ministry’s report on new rules for smart speakers, the future of radio is also discussed with predictions for the next ten years
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In the UK, frequency modulation will not be switched off, at least not for the next ten years, media minister Julia Lopez said a few days ago. Although it is estimated that analogue radio will only account for 12 to 14% of all radio listening in 2030, FM remains popular with many listeners, particularly the elderly or vulnerable, who drive older cars or live in areas with limited DAB coverage. The fate of mediumwave broadcasters is sealed: with 3% of all listeners, they will have to plan to switch off, to reduce the costs of a substantially duplicated network. There are currently more than 300 analogue stations operating in the UK and over 570 in DAB. Sixty percent of all listening comes from DAB or other digital platforms. Programme offerings are expanding as new franchises in DAB are giving many small local stations the opportunity to broadcast.

GERMANY: Bye Bye manual tuning. The car radio decides

Among the car radios on display at the IAA Mobility in Munich, this model of Volkswagen offers a unified list of programmes for FM stations, DAB and web radio.
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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.

More details and photos of the new receivers can be found here and here.

I want my radio on DAB!

The petition in favour of independent broadcasters promoted by the Belgian association Radio Z on the website Change.org
The petition in favour of independent broadcasters promoted by the Belgian association Radio Z on the website Change.org
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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

Radio Z brings together licensed independent radio stations operating in the Wallonia-Brussels Federation
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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.

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