Within six years, more than 90% of Japan’s commercial stations (44 out of 47) will leave medium-wave to switch to frequency modulation. In September 2028, only three stations will remain active in northern Japans Hokkaido and Akita Prefecture. But the airwaves will begin to empty from next year: the first channels will be turned off in the fall of 2023. The advertising crisis has prompted broadcasters to ask the communications ministry to migrate to FM to reduce operating costs: AM systems are energy-intensive, maintenance expenses are high, and antennas at least 100 meters high are needed to transmit. The last to leave the airwaves will be three Tokyo-based broadcasters-TBS Radio, Nippon Cultural Broadcasting and Nippon Broadcasting System-and some will continue to keep AM transmitters on after 2028. In Japan, the FM band goes from 76 to 95 MHz because the higher channels, before the digital switchover, were occupied by television. Written by Fabrizio 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 As was the case in Norway, where it was public radio that decided to switch to DAB (also not to renew an outdated and expensive ground network: commercial and community broadcasters are still active) and the loss of audience five years later has still not been fully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).
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.
While in Europe people are thinking about digital radio and turning off FM, in South America, broadcasting in frequency modulation (FM) is still alive and well. In Peru, the MTC (Ministerio de Transportes y Telecomunicaciones) is promoting the opening of new FM stations in rural areas. In May, it assigned 54 frequencies in 17 locations in the regions of Áncash, Apurímac, Cajamarca, Cusco, Huancavelica, Junín, La Libertad, Piura, San Martín and Ucayali. These will benefit 607,000 inhabitants. Two localities, Pueblo Libre (Áncash) and Pacaipampa (Piura) will open their first ever FM radio station. On June 2, 2021, it was the turn of another 11 channels in the regions of Arequipa, Apurímac, Ayacucho, Puno y Madre de Dios. In all the concerned locations, FM was “virgin”: Tarucani de Arequipa (2 frequencies), Andarapa de Apurímac (1), Socos de Ayacucho (2), Copani de Puno (2), Tocota de Arequipa (3) and Nueva Arequipa de Madre de Dios (1).