As small and slim as an MP3 player, it attaches to the air vents or dashboard (various adapters are provided), and connected via Bluetooth to the phone opens the door to Spotify, Sweden’s market-leading music streaming platform. This small device could revolutionise music listening in the car. The price is low ($79.99 to the public), and in the United States the first units will be given away for free: you register on the site and pay only shipping: $6.99.
With this move, Spotify is skipping all the middlemen and attempting to deal a heavy blow to its competitors: car manufacturers, streaming platforms and, above all, radio stations, especially those that have recently landed on digital DAB. Car radios, on the other hand, are complicated, due to their ever-increasing integration with the on-board computer. Spotify, on the other hand, promises to simplify the relationship with music by offering a simple device that can be controlled by voice. Streaming platforms (such as TuneIn) have also been penalised, even though they are well integrated into cars, given that the “hunger for content” had prompted manufacturers to sign collaboration agreements with audio content aggregators.
But the blow could be very hard in view of the innovation that everyone is waiting for, Spotify Hi-FI, the high-performance format expected in the second half of 2021. Subscribers will be able to listen to their favourite tracks in CD quality with a bitrate of 320 kbps, something that not even Dab offers today: it could do so by drastically reducing the number of broadcasters currently hosted in a dab bouquet: in Italy, only the ADN group’s broadcasters in Calabria and several RAS channels in Alto Adige go at 128K, generally all of them, like those hosted by DabITalia, broadcast at 64 kbps (one fifth of the definition of Spotify Hi-Fi).
Spotify is also on a roll: its Q1 2021 report states that it has 158 million premium users (users who pay for all features without advertising), a jump of 28 million subscribers on a year earlier. There are 356 million active users globally (including those who use the free service: 198 million). In Italy, a study carried out by research institutes Kantar and ComScore on behalf of Google found that of the nine out of ten Italians who listen to music online, Spotify is in second place (54%) after YouTube (90%). This is followed by PrimeMusic (34%) and Apple Music (9%). While web radios account for only 15%.
Between May and June 2021 the British public broadcaster will switch off the medium-wave transmitters of another ten local radio stations, because the installations on this frequency range “no longer offer an advantageous quality-price ratio for British citizens”. The migration to digital had been announced ten years ago (in 2011): the first closures began in 2018, followed in 2020 by further deactivations in Scotland, Wales and England. Today, all BBC local radio is receivable on digital terrestrial TV and local DAB multiplexes, on FM or online (via smartphones, computers or smart speakers). Abandoning amplitude modulation will be: BBC Essex; BBC Radio Cambridgeshire; BBC Radio Devon; BBC Radio Leeds; BBC Radio Sheffield; BBC Hereford & Worcester; BBC Radio Stoke; BBC Radio Lancashire; BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Radio Foyle. Two other stations, however, will reduce their coverage area: Radio Wales and Radio Gloucestershire. Listeners are provided with a website https://www.bbc.co.uk/reception/ with alternative listening options, a help line and a telephone for listening advice.
As we anticipated in 2019 (news here), Ireland’s public broadcaster (Raidió Teilifís Éireann or RTÉ) will switch off the DAB channels on 31 March 2021, but will not close the RTÉ Gold, RTÉ 2XM, RTÉ Radio 1 Extra, RTÉ Pulse and RTÉjr Radio channels, which it will make available on other digital platforms. The decision was taken for three reasons: to reduce costs, the small number of listenersin the DAB band and the fact that RTÉ is the only Irish broadcaster in the digital band. The majority of Irish people (77%) listen to FM radio, compared to 0.5% for DAB. This is according to the latest radio listening survey (JNLR, Radio in a Digital World), conducted by market research institute Ipsos MRBI.
Boom Radio is a new British radio station that aims to intercept the tastes of Baby Boomers, the generation of over 57s (born between 1946 and 1964, now aged between 57 and 75). The station offers a mix of music, characters and conversations and will be on air on DAB (digital radio) in London, Bristol, Birmingham and Glasgow. The radio station is the brainchild of two radio managers, Phil Riley and David Lloyd, who after realizing that the baby boomers audience, while listening to the radio a lot, did not have a station that intercepted their musical tastes, set out to fill this gap. Their biographies are interesting, both are driven by a sincere passion for radio. Despite the long career behind them, which began as a disc jockey, they decided to get involved (they are also baby boomers), also committing financially in this adventure. But if they have been able to realize it, as they themselves have declared, it is because as soon as they started talking about their idea they immediately had a great response from radio hosts and especially financiers.
RadioZ, the federation that brings together some 30 independent stations from the Walloon region and Brussels, has appealed to the authoritiesnot to halve funding for the transition to digital radio and to simplify procedures. Independent radio stations are a resource for the media sector: they provide information, support culture and municipal administrations, but above all they are a breeding ground for talent that can then aspire to work in more professional broadcasters. A training job that costs the state nothing, because it does not receive subsidies as, for example, in France. On the contrary, RadioZ denounces the fact that this year several radio associations were refused the annual FACR (Fund for Radio Creation) subsidy due to a lack of resources, used to finance the transition to DAB, which, however, only benefits private networks and the public broadcaster RTBF, which have been broadcasting in digital for more than a year.
A boomerang effect has been caused by the governmentdecree that, in order to promote the development of DAB radio, requires radio manufacturers to stop selling devices in 2021 if they were not equipped with a digital receiver. This includes smartphones equipped with an FM tuner. Samsung (which has almost 40% of the market) has circumvented the regulatory requirement by deactivating the FM receiver with a change to its operating system. Moreover, the legislation (which applies only in Italy) would have required manufacturers to fit a digital receiver and antenna only to devices sold in Italy.
While this may seem a necessary action for newly sold devices, it seems pretty strange that it is applied to devices that have been sold before the law came into effect.
At 5pm on 5th of January 1971, FIP started to broadcast in Paris on mediumwave 585 kHz as “France Inter Paris”. This was the beginning of an incomparable radio station, which has still no limits in musical variety. You can hear classical music followed by rock music and afterwards some French chanson – but it is never incoherent or without a transition between the songs. It is a surprising and refreshing station that has survived several belt-tightening moves from Radio France.
And there were quite some changes and cuttings in the past 50 years: a lot of local stations of FIP closed in 2000 and the remaining local outlets had to close at the end of 2020. Several outstanding shows were cancelled (like “Dites 33”, where all songs were played from vinyl), the news flash and the traffic information were removed in the last years. Fortunately, they never removed the good music choice and the female announcers, called “Fipettes”, with their famous voices.
But there are some positive developments since FIP started to broadcast on DAB from Lille, Lyon and Paris. With only ten FM frequencies in bigger cities like Paris, Strasbourg and Marseille, FIP is the smallest FM network of Radio France. In the regions where FIP can be received, they have a big audience – hopefully growing with the upcoming nationwide transmission on DAB.
The 50th anniversary will be celebrated by FIP in its programme with a lot of shows and historical music. Today, between 5 pm and 7 pm, the history of FIP will be narrated with music and anecdotes. Starting on the 9th of January at 8 pm, 50 years of music in 50 hours will be presented each Saturday for 50 weeks at this time.
In a study by the British public broadcaster, the energy impact of radio broadcasts on all bands was calculated: Medium Waves, FM, DAB and digital terrestrial TV. In addition to the consumption to produce the programs and distribute them on the different platforms, the research also estimated those to listen to them, then linking them (for each medium) with the hours of listening, to quantify the hourly energy consumption. This highlighted the key points where to concentrate efforts to reduce the energy footprint.
BBC radio attracts over 30 million listeners in the UK every week through live stations, podcasts and other on-demand content. Unlike TV, which completed the digital switchover in 2012, the BBC still provides analogue radio services that continue to make up a considerable portion of the audience. While broadcasters are discussing whether radio should switch to digital, the media industry has been studying the possibility of migrating to distribution exclusively over the Internet. Both of these approaches would have inevitable environmental impacts that have yet to be quantified. The research then assesses the effect that a digital radio switchover or a transition to IP-only services could have on energy consumption, and addresses also alternative scenarios.
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.