To inform millions of refugees, who have arrived in neighbouring countries, Poland has been broadcasting Українське Rадіо (Radio Ukraine) on a DAB channel since 4 March to inform Ukrainians in their mother tongue. The digital network reaches 70 per cent of the Polish population, focusing on urban areas and main communication routes. Similar situation in the Czech Republic: Radio Ukraine has been included in digital radio multiplexes since 11 a.m. on Friday, 4 March and is repeated on the website of the national radio station, Český Rozhlas. Pictured is a coverage map showing where the digital signal can be received on Czech territory.
Longwaves cover the whole of Ukraine and the Russians can’t “switch them off”
But Poland has done more: Polskie Radio Jedynka (the first Polish public radio programme), shortly after the invasion, started broadcasting news items in Ukrainian, produced by the native speakers working on the international radio programmes. The channel is also broadcast on long waves, on 225 kHz, from the Solec Kujawski/Kabat broadcasting centre, which with its 1200 kW of power (reduced to 700 at night) covers most of the Ukrainian territory. In this way, the population in war zones can be informed even if the telecommunications networks are interrupted.
Despite the fact that DAB+ signals already reach 99 % of the population in Switzerland, as required by the Federal Office of Communications (OFCOM), the public broadcaster has further expanded the digital network in Italian and French-speaking Switzerland. Between 2020 and 2021, ten new transmitters were activated and twelve others were optimized. Improvements were made in the cantons of Jura, in the northwest of the country, and Ticino, located almost entirely south of the Alps, where the network was further expanded at the beginning of 2021 with the activation of the installation in Cardada. In Switzerland, the digital signal is also broadcast in tunnels longer than 300 meters: the list of the 193 road tunnels covered by DAB+ signals can be consulted on broadcast.ch.
Czech public radio ‘Český Rozhlas‘ is stepping up its information campaign for listeners receiving mediumwave programmes, ahead of the planned switch-off of transmitters by the end of 2021. Since 1 November, more announcements have been broadcast to warn users and a call centre has been set up to explain the possible listening alternatives (from FM to DAB). In the run-up to Christmas, public radio will launch an intensive advertising campaign in the print media and online magazines on 22 November to promote the purchase of digital DAB receivers to replace analogue radio. The shift away from medium-wave has been underway since the 2000s, affecting countries that have an alternative FM network or are in the process of creating one in DAB. But AM (amplitude modulation) still remains a resource for countries with large territorial coverage that can reach the entire population with a few installations.
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%.
To celebrate the centenary of the first radio broadcast and the 40th anniversary of the liberalisation of the airwaves, the CSA (Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel) has organised a festival to be held between 31 May and 6 June, 2021. Launched by the authority that regulates the French media system, the initiative will involve public and private broadcasters. 2021 marks the centenary of the first broadcast from the Tour Eiffel (24 December 1921) and 40 years since the liberalisation of the FM band (9 November 1981). But innovation will also be celebrated, as the first national multiplex in the digital band (DAB+) will be launched this year. History and archives, special programmes, media education seminars, lectures, open studios: many events will be organised during the week. Information is available here.
The annual report on the information industry in Russia covers many aspects of the media. Among these, we have focussed our attention on the move to digital TV, FM band migration and the increase in numbers of transmitters, and digital radio coming to a stop.
Analogue TV is dead! (but still operating alongside digital)
The switchover to digital was completed in 2019. It was proudly announced that the transition took ten years, which was faster than the United States (11 years), Australia (12) and Great Britain (14). In addition, with 98.4% of the population being able to tune in, Russia beats France (97.3%), Austria (96.0%), Switzerland (*) (95.0%) and Portugal (92.7%). However analogue TV is not totally dead. The national channels have been switched off, but the regional channels are still operating. And there are quite a few of them. Our FMLIST correspondent in the Republic of Karelia (east of Finland) confirmed that there are a good five of them in the city where he lives.
(*) Switzerland has switched off terrestrial TV via DVB-T in summer 2019
Radio stations move to FM
The state radio network will be moving from broadcasting on the OIRT band (between 65.8 and 74 MHz) to the European FM band (87.5-108 MHz), where the commercial radio stations are already present. New licences will be granted to Radio Mayak and Vesti FM in order to allow them to broadcast in all cities with over 100,000 inhabitants. In order to manage the increase in number of channels, they are studying isofrequency networks used abroad in countries like Moldavia, where the radio station Inter-FM can be received with traffic information along the motorway. A solution based on a lot of low power transmitters would also not infringe health regulations that limit the use of high power transmitters.
‘The market is not ready’ for DAB
The development of digital radio in Europe is analysed in the report. But this ‘revolution’ will not be happening in Russia. Even though frequencies for DAB+ transmissions have been allocated, this does not mean that they will be activated. The Ministry of Communications believes that the advertising market is not mature enough yet to justify the increase in the numbers of radio stations that can use updated technology.
St. Petersburg is experimenting with DRM+
Therefore the aim is to develop broadcasting systems such as DRM+ that allow a radio station to also transmit digital channels on the same FM frequency, leaving listeners free to equip themselves to receive transmissions in high quality sound, but not being obliged to replace their radio with a new one (estimated cost of about $10 US). In July 2019 Comedy Radio carried out tests in St. Petersburgby digitally broadcasting three channels on 95.7 MHz FM. The first one was a repeat of their analogue channel with a bitrate of 33 kbps, the other two were Avtoradio (43 kbps) and Evropa Plus (20 kbps).