The relative ease (budget permitting) of opening a national digital broadcaster in Italy is leading to the emergence of several stations. Thus, after Aci Radio, of the Automobile Club d’Italia, the Roman Radio Cusano Campus Italia, the Venetian Canale Italia and Canale Italia+, all hosted on the RAI-Radiotelevisione Italiana multiplex, now a football radio station could arrive. The possibility of communicating without filters with the more than 20 million Italian fans, in fact, tickles Serie A, the association of football clubs, as revealed by the business daily Milano Finanza. For the production of the programmes, contacts have reportedly been initiated with RTL 102.5 and RDS, while the broadcasting on DAB could be entrusted to RTL 102.5 (which has a national multiplex where it already carries the BBC World Service) or to RAI, even if the coverage by the public broadcaster is less capillary. Also to be understood is the content of the programmes since RAI has exclusive rights for Serie A radio broadcasts until 2024. The investment, estimated at between 4 and 5 million euros, would be recovered through advertising, given the very favourable market trend and the appeal the broadcaster would have.
From being a multi-regional broadcaster, Radio Zeta has become national, with the purchase (on May 25) of the concession that gives it the right to broadcast its signal no longer over certain regions but throughout Italy. The authorization to broadcast the signal nationwide was held by Monradio, a company in the Mediaset galaxy, the second-largest television hub after RAI (with the Canale 5, Italia 1 and Rete 4 brands) and which through Mediaset Radio owns four radio networks (Radio 105, R101, RMC – Radio Monte Carlo and Virgin Radio) and the superstation Radio Subasio. To keep it from lapsing, the concession had been used for years to broadcast (lately from a single facility located in Valtellina, in the province of Sondrio, in Lombardy) Radio Orbital, a Portuguese broadcaster. Why a foreign broadcaster on Italian soil? Because the concession had been created in the 1990s (requested from the then Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications) by Radio Milano International to repeat a foreign broadcaster, VOA-Voice of America. And when Monradio took over the RMI network (which has since become Radio 101-One O One) from bankruptcy in 2005, turning it into the current R101, it found itself with a second valuable concession to use.
How many national radio stations are there?
The announcement of the acquisition was made by Lorenzo Suraci, president of RTL 102.5, during the press conference of “Future Hits Live 2022,” a festival promoted by Radio Zeta. In Suraci’s statement reported on the website of the association Confindustria Radio TV, of which the publisher is also a director, it is stated that “Radio Zeta to all intents and purposes is the 18th national radio station.” However, the same Confindustria, in a study on national advertising some time ago, had published the list that we reproduce, which counts 21. Since then Radiofreccia has turned into a commercial radio station (in 2021) thus leaving Radio Maria as the only national community radio station, while Radio Radicale, which has a commercial concession, does not carry advertising.
Radio Zeta can now complete its national coverage. It has 256 repeaters, less than half the number of Radiofreccia (the group’s other station has 545) and one-third of flagship RTL 102.5 (which can boast 765). After all, the radio station had to concentrate only on certain regions in order not to exceed coverage limits, which the law sets at 15 million potential listeners for superstations (broadcasters with multi-regional coverage). To reach uncovered areas, the broadcaster is acquiring dozens of new frequencies in different regions, either by taking over redundant channels from other broadcasters in the group or by purchasing them. This could revitalize somewhat the frequency market, which has been depressed by the crisis and with prices in free fall. This is a typical anomaly in the Italian market, in that no new authorizations have been issued since 1990 (pending regulation that never happened), so they must be purchased from other publishers.
The study office of Confindustria Radio Televisioni, the association representing the main Italian commercial radio and television networks, has published a chrono table with the significant events in the radio and television sector. The graphic formula is interesting: it represents, divided by year, the main events in the sector: industrial operations, commercial agreements (from the launch of new national broadcasters to acquisitions or sales of shareholdings involving national radio networks). Regulatory or normative interventions in the sector in recent years are also mentioned, including (in the lower section) on-demand streaming services.
RTV San Marino will get frequencies from Rai to cover the Italian territory. During a meeting of the board of directors of the Italian public broadcaster, held on June 30, 2021, the proposal to transfer frequencies to the San Marino station was unanimously approved. The general manager of RTV San Marino, Carlo Romeo, recalls that thirty years ago it was the then general manager of Rai Sergio Zavoli who aired this possibility. The agreement between the two governments is now awaited, essential for the decision to become operative. It will probably have to wait until 2023, when, with the passage to DVB T2, Rai’s increased availability of transmissions will allow it to host the San Marino station in its multiplex, thus enabling it to serve the peninsula.
The Confindustria Radio Televisioni association has published the “Economic study of the private radio and television sector“, which from 2020 presents in a single volume the national and local radio and television operators (previously two publications were prepared). The study examines the financial statements filed with the Chambers of Commerce by joint-stock companies (thus excluding community broadcasters, which are not required to publish them), providing a picture of the most structured part of the radio and television industry, within which very different companies coexist. The sector is in a stabilization phase, after two economic crises (2008 and 2012), the entry of some reforms (including that of the fee and contributions to local broadcasting) and a changed competitive environment, due to the rise of OTT platforms that (like Netflix) distribute content via the internet. The financial statements are for 2018, as it was necessary to wait until a fair number were available for the study to be representative.
Berlin-based Schlager Radio has announced the launch of its own visual radio station, which will be receivable via satellite on Astra and with a smart TV connected to the internet. The station’s intention is to offer additional information, such as displaying the title of the song being broadcast. “The aim”, says press spokesman Heiner Harke, “is to offer our listeners visual added value without being a TV programme“.
Boom in Italy
In Italy, on the other hand, live video broadcasts from radio stations are almost like television programmes and are becoming increasingly popular. In fact, around 19 million Italians now follow them on a screen (TV, smartphone or PC), 11 million of whom use TV. And according to the Censis research “La transizione verso la radiovisione” (“The transition towards radiovision”) “visual radio is strongly in tune with the expectations of Italians: 52% declare that they would like to have more and more the possibility to enjoy radio contents on different devices also in video format. And 50% of those who follow radiovision find it pleasant, 27.5% engaging, 24% innovative”.
Public radio also adapts in Switzerland
The 50 million EUR allocated by the Italian government to support broadcasters affected by the drastic drop in advertising due to the pandemic have not been distributed fairly. Stopping the decision of the old executive (Conte II) is Agcom, the Italian Communications Authority. The “Fund for emergencies relating to local broadcasters” had been established by Article 195 of the Decree Law of May 19, 2020, but the implementing decree had been issued by the Ministry of Economic Development only on October 12, 2020. The text defined the procedures for the allocation of the contribution, reserving 95% of the resources for the first hundred television stations in the ranking, and dividing the remaining 5% among those from the hundredth place onwards. This choice, which had already aroused controversy, was rejected by Agcom because it could create market distortions, and the authority hopes to divide it into two portions: one among all the broadcasters meeting the eligibility requirements, in proportion to the score in the ranking list, and the other, in equal parts among the broadcasters, taking care to ensure that the latter portion of resources has a sufficient amount to guarantee adequate subsidizing for the smaller broadcasters.
It was February 12, 1931, when at 4:49 p.m. the first broadcast of the station was aired from Vatican City. On the notes of Christus Vincit, the “Statio Radiofonica Vaticana” thus emits its first wail. In the first message, “In Nomine Domini” (In the name of God), Pope Pius XI recited a prayer-appeal in Latin that called upon creation and the suffering, God and rulers, rich and poor, subjects and workers to gather before the “admirable Marconian invention”. The transmitter was designed by Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of the radio, whom the Pope named a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Pius XI had already been thinking about providing the Church with a radio station since 1925, but this was made possible by the Lateran Pacts of 1929, which entrusted the Italian State with the commitment to provide the Church with radiotelegraphic, radiotelephone, telephone and postal services. The management was entrusted to the Jesuits and the direction to Father Giuseppe Gianfranceschi, rector of the Gregorian University and scientist.
More details in the service of La Voce e il Tempo.
Although in December 2020 he told Prima Comunicazione “it is not a gift”, Lorenzo Suraci, publisher of nationwide RTL 102.5 and Radio Zeta (a so-called “superstation”), then took advantage of the opportunity offered by Law 176/2020, which allows a national network to transform a community licence into a commercial one. It thus had Radiofreccia purchased by RTL 102.5, making it its second licence and transforming it from a national community radio station into a commercial one. This removes the advertising limit of 10% per hour, which can be raised to 20%.
Reconstructing the history of the broadcaster7
In July 2016, Mediaset took control (72.12%) of the Finelco Group (owner of Radio 105 and Virgin Radio) and formed a partnership with RMC-Radio Monte Carlo (later acquired in 2018), exceeding 10 million listeners on the average day (including R101, already owned by the group). Suraci, who can count on the 7 million listeners of RTL 102.5 (first in Italy for ratings) and Radio Zeta, found himself bypassed. In order to counter the firepower of Mediaset, which can sell advertising on its radio stations on a “package” basis, he tried to grow his group by buying Radio Padania (a Lega Nord station with a national community licence) for 2.1 million euros, transforming it into Radiofreccia, a station with a rock format. The community licence allows the broadcaster to turn on hundreds of repeaters without buying them from other radio stations (the law was tailored to favour the Lega Nord and allow it to extend Radio Padania’s coverage throughout the Peninsula), but limits advertising to 10% per hour. Now the “cap” has been blown off, and the only national community radio station remains Radio Maria, which has never used this loophole to turn on new equipment.
A boomerang effect has been caused by the government decree 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.