The transition to digital requires investments that not all broadcasters can afford. Especially community radio stations, which have little advertising (or are self-financing) and therefore lack the necessary resources. This is a common situation in many countries, but in Belgium, the association of independent voices Radio Z has launched a petition to urge the government of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation to take action. The stations it represents are followed by hundreds of thousands of listeners in the region, employ more than a thousand volunteers who inform, entertain and promote the territory and the community; and above all train presenters, technicians and journalists. Unfortunately, these independent voices are financially exhausted and would need to double their revenues to survive. Despite warning signs, the Wallonia-Brussels Federation is not taking action and the diversity of the radio landscape is in danger of being destroyed. By 2030, in fact, 50-60% of them could disappear, due to the lack of economic, technical and logistical aid and a penalising digital frequency allocation plan.
A four-point plan
The association calls for annual funding for independent radio stations, similar to that provided for the press and local television, which receive, respectively, 10.9 and 10.4 million EUR a year, not counting municipal, provincial, Brussels region and French Community Commission (Cocof) subsidies. More support and flexibility is also needed from the operators who will carry the DAB signal to avoid any stations being excluded. It is also necessary to immediately optimise the frequency plan, which today does not allow the proper broadcasting of independent radio stations. Finally, the procedure for allocating funding to guarantee the transition to digital broadcasting must be reviewed.
The intention of the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) to leave the medium wave band in Perth (western capital of the continent and fourth-most populous city with over 2 million inhabitants) in favour of FM is seen as a threat by commercial radio stations. Five public channels would move into the FM band: 6PR, 6iX, ABC Radio Perth, Radio National and ABC News. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is exploring different solutions, but the commercial stations are against this migration. They do not find it acceptable that the ABC does not pay licensing fees to carry out this move, given that the public broadcaster receives funding of more than one billion Australian dollars a year. Radio operators complain of their own difficulties: the advertising market, still under the effects of the pandemic, does not yet allow for a return to 2019 revenue levels and having to share advertising resources with five new heavyweight competitors would be a problem.
The world of radio has accustomed us to the craziest stories. And this one certainly deserves a prominent place. Accomplice technology and probably… a tourist. Wirtualnemedia, a Polish site specializing in media and broadcasting, has discovered that Tunisian broadcaster RM FM had infringed copyright by using jingles from Polish radio station RMF. And in a very detailed report the site interviews an audio producer who explains technically how the infringement took place: the jingles, perfectly identical in melody and singing, are one second shorter, as the final part of the song has been cut to remove the F of RMF, since the Tunisian station is called RM. You can also see that the sound is compressed, a sign that the jingles were recorded from the net or downloaded from YouTube (where they are available) or from the site of the prestigious American production studio that made them.
A few days after the article RM no longer aired jingles
Wirtualnemedia monitoring the audio streamed by RM, and a few days after the article was published, they discovered that the counterfeit jingles were no longer being aired. So it approached the Polish network to see if it had warned the Tunisian station, but the station would not provide details. RMF is Poland’s largest network, with 30.1% of listeners between March and May 2021, according to the Radio Track survey conducted by research institute Kantar.
With the opening of six more stations, whose broadcasts aim to consolidate the country’s peace process, the turning point has been completed: the target to be reached by 2026 (twenty stations) is now closer
Announced last summer, the six new peace stations went into operation on 21 May 2021. They are stations that teach the pedagogy of peace, trying to mend the divisions caused by fifty years of armed conflict between the army, guerrillas and mercedarios in the pay of drug traffickers. Last year, the locations where they were to be transmitted were defined, then the frequencies were assigned, the equipment installed and the studios set up. These are the frequencies and the localities (department in brackets) 92.6 Algeciras (Huila); 88.9 Arauquita (Arauca); 98.5 Bojayá (Chocó); 92.0 Florida (Valle); 90.1 El Tambo (Cauca); 102.7 Puerto Leguízamo (Putumayo). They join the five other stations already active (there will be 20 by 2026): 103.5 Chaparral (Tolima); 92.3 Ituango (Antioquia); 94.7 Convención (Norte de Santander); 92.2 Fonseca (La Guajira) and 89.8 San Jacinto (Bolívar). All of them depend on RTVC (Radio Televisión Nacional de Colombia) and are professionally organised.
Further details on the project can be read in our article from last year.
We continue our journey through the airwaves of Eastern European countries where the “old” FM OIRT band (between 65.8 and 74 MHz) is about to be completely abandoned. The situation in this band in Ukraine should be examined taking into account the presence of three public radio channels and some private broadcasters, of religious or informative nature. The head of the organization responsible for the development of the radio and television networks, National Radio and Television of Ukraine (NSTU), Dmytro Gruzynsky, in an interview in December 2020, affirmed the intention of the organization to soon dismantle almost all the installations still operating in the OIRT band.
The situation of the public broadcaster’s national programmes
In the plans of the company, about ten transmitters should have remained on air for Persha Program, as many for Radio Promin’ and 15 for Radio Kult’ura. The reason for the cuts was, on the one hand, the obsolescence and inefficiency of many systems, and on the other hand the possibility of being assigned FM frequencies in the same basins. Typically, new concessions are awarded through a tender and the state broadcaster must always beat competition from the numerous commercial radio stations. In some cases, the authorized powers have proved to be insufficient to satisfactorily cover the service area, so much so that NTSU asked to increase the power of a concession for UR1 from 500 watts to 1 KW). The fact remains that the presence of the three Ukrainian public broadcasters in the OIRT band is destined to be increasingly residual.
Commercial radio stations in the OIRT band?
As far as private broadcasting is concerned, both OIRT band frequencies of Yaskrave Radio and two out of three OIRT band frequencies of Hromads’ke Radio have been switched off. In addition, at the end of 2020, RadioM let lapse the concession for 68.36 from Odessa, which was the only OIRT band frequency of the station.
Two religious radio stations broadcast only in the OIRT band
The installations of two religious radio stations remain active; at the moment they only have frequencies in the OIRT band and therefore it is likely that they will not be switched off, since listeners still have devices and car radios to receive the programs broadcast in this band. To date, the Catholic Radio Mariya has 11 different frequencies, Svitle Radio Emmanuyil (close to the Pentecostal Church) has 8, while Golos Nadiyi (“Voice of Hope“, an Adventist radio station) has only 4 in the OIRT band and 3 in the “new” FM band and it can be assumed that it takes over some of the licenses issued by the NSTU.
Analogue TV channels remain on air – for political reasons
As a curiosity, the OIRT FM band is adjacent to a band used for TV and there are still some analogue TV channels on air, and can be received on 65.75 MHz (the audio frequency related to the TV channel R2). It seems in fact that not all analogue Ukrainian TV stations have completed the switch off; moreover Ukrainian authorities intend to keep on analogue transmissions serving the Donbass area and in several settlements in the Kherson region near occupied Crimea (for obvious political reasons).
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 pandemic does not seem to have had much effect on the listening habits of Poles, 72% of whom tune into a radio station every day, while another 19% turn on the device once a week. On the other hand, the ways in which radio is enjoyed have changed, with 60% following it in the car in 2019, a percentage that has been drastically reduced due to the limitations imposed by Covid-19. Almost one in three Poles choose RMF FM (29.49%), a leading station whose followers increased by an additional 1% during the pandemic. Second in terms of audience is Radio Zet, albeit at a considerable distance: it has almost a third of listeners (12.48%) but its site (radiozet.pl) is the most followed, with over seven million users.
Catholic radio stations are also very popular
Diocesan radio stations are also gaining an audience (but with very different numbers), but they have been overtaken byRadio Maryja (one of the seventy affiliated to the “World Family”, an association that promotes its development throughout the world) which, with a total audience of 1.73%, is in fifteenth place in the ranking. And to think that space on the media for programs of a religious nature was prohibited until 1980: it was the Solidarity movement that imposed on the authorities free access to all religious denominations, previously prohibited by censorship. So much so that today religious programs are very much present in the programming schedule of broadcasters: even the state TV broadcasts the rosary live every day in connection with the sanctuary of Divine Mercy in Łagiewniki. More details about Poland’s leading Catholic radio stations can be read in the article published by the Catholic news agency Sir.
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 pictureof 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.
A summary of key trends can be read here, while the full volume can be downloaded here.
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.
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”.