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
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.
Cable or radio wave transmission systems are used for communications. In the first case, ‘slotted‘ coaxial 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 byFabrizio Carnevalini)
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
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).
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 Purein 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 Electricin 1940 to invent frequency modulation, demonstrating that it was less susceptible to electromagnetic interference than amplitude modulation, used on medium waves.
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.
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.
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.
FM tuners showing the logo of the broadcasters are being used in the cars. For broadcasters who manage to make the most of technology, it is an opportunity to increase ratings. But some systems rely just on RDS, which was not designed for this purpose: This can create serious image damage to a broadcaster. But to eliminate them you can turn to the experts.
L’articolo (In Italiano)
Si diffondono sulle vetture i sintonizzatori FM che mostrano il logo delle emittenti. Un’opportunità gratuita che aiuta gli editori ad aumentare la notorietà e gli ascolti. E quando il marchio non appare o è sbagliato ci si può rivolgere agli esperti
Nel 2013 sono apparse le prime autoradio che consentono di scegliere la stazione preferita in FM cliccando sui logo visualizzati sullo schermo. La funzione, ispirata dai sintonizzatori Dab (che mostrano i marchi delle radio ricevibili), rende l’impianto multimediale più accattivante e aumenta la sicurezza di guida, perché al conducente basta un colpo d’occhio per individuare la stazione preferita, e non è obbligato a distogliere lo sguardo dalla strada per leggere dall’RDS che radio ha sintonizzato.
Questa innovazione dà un vantaggio non indifferente agli editori, perché offre gratuitamente la possibilità di diffondere il proprio marchio e di farlo riconoscere (la brand awareness, uno degli indicatori che misurano il successo di un’azienda). Se il marchio è ben progettato, infatti, è facilmente riconoscibile e viene memorizzato con facilità. E se poi è accattivante, può attrarre l’attenzione e consentire di intercettare nuovi ascoltatori.
Un’immagine ad hoc per ogni sistema
Per sfruttare al meglio queste opportunità, va tenuto conto che ogni sistema ha caratteristiche diverse, e alcuni parametri (come i colori dello sfondo) non devono essere trascurati nello studio della grafica. Occorre inoltre privilegiare la leggibilità, eliminando elementi che nelle dimensioni del piccolo schermo non risulterebbero decifrabili (come lo slogan o la frequenza, se scritte molto in piccolo). Meglio optare per un simbolo grafico o un disegno, purché stilizzato e ben riconoscibile.
E se il logo non appare?
Alcuni sistemi, pur essendo molto diffusi (come quelli montati sulle vetture del gruppo Volkswagen, che comprende le vetture Porsche, Seat, Skoda e le Audi prodotte fino al settembre del 2019), sono soggetti a dei problemi tecnici che possono penalizzare gli editori. Le anomalie in genere dipendono dal fatto che questi apparecchi non utilizzano il Gps (o appositi algoritmi, previsti negli apparati più evoluti) per evitare i conflitti tra le emittenti. Non sono rari anche gli errori dovuti all’aggiornamento del database: come quando non viene visualizzato il marchio dell’emittente o ne viene mostrato uno ormai datato.
Per chi non c’è è un serio danno d’immagine
Ma l’anomalia più grave si verifica quando lo schermo mostra l’RDS dell’emittente abbinandolo al logo di un’altra stazione. Un problema serio, perché l’ascoltatore può essere indotto in errore: potrebbe pensare che la radio non sia ricevibile e orientare la propria scelta su un’altra. Per cercare la radio preferita e memorizzarla dovrà ricorrere alla sintonia manuale della frequenza, e comunque vedrà sempre il marchio di una radio concorrente al posto di quella che ha scelto. Questa incompatibilità si può eliminare, ma non può prescindere da un’analisi preventiva dei database della vettura dove si verifica per individuarne la causa e le soluzioni.
Il supporto degli esperti
Per eliminare le incompatibilità ci si può rivolgere a un gruppo di esperti. Radio Data Center, società tedesca leader nel settore, con otto marchi automobilistici supportati, su richiesta di diversi editori che volevano limitare i danni di immagine, ha analizzato il problema dei sistemi Volkswagen (che non assiste direttamente). Gli editori che notano dei problemi (direttamente o attraverso le segnalazioni degli ascoltatori) dei problemi, hanno la possibilità di chiedere una consulenza breve, un’analisi approfondita delle problematiche e l’individuazione delle soluzioni. Per farlo possono accedere alla piattaforma Etermin, dove è possibile prenotare ciascun servizio all’indirizzo E-Termin Radio Data Center GmbH.
Eleven years after the last authorizations, new medium wave (AM) and FM radio stations will be opened in the South American country. The intention, for the Minister of Telecommunications Karen Cecilia Abudinen Abuchaibe, is to “strengthen this means of communication, recognizing it as a tool that consolidates the spread of regional culture, social responsibility and facilitates the development of the regions”. The project is divided into several phases: after the submission of the application, expected by September 17, 2020, the availability of the channels will be verified and the project can be submitted. Then the assignment and the feasibility statement will follow. Details will be added to FMLIST and MWLIST as soon as the information becomes available.
To date the United Arab Emirates ministry of health has opened 24 drive-through centres enabling them to carry out 115,000 coronavirus tests per week. Coinciding with the mass screening campaign launched by the DoH (Department of Health) in the United Arab Emirates, a number of radio stations broadcasting on the FM band have also been opened. A welcome message is broadcast on air as citizens arrive at the centres in their cars for a throat swab (free of charge for those at risk, otherwise it costs 370 AED, equivalent to US$ 101) to check if they are positive for Covid-19. At the first centre, opened in Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi, messages are transmitted on 104.6 MHz. The acronym SEHA (the Abu Dhabi Healthcare Company that manages the tests) appears in RDS.