Rassegna Stampa mensile a cura di Giampiero Bernardini.
Radio. Sbagliato vivere nel passato, ma anche solo nel futuro. La Radio esiste nel presente. A breve novità regolamentari per DAB+ e web radio
(E.G. per newslinet.com 20/8/2019) Sbaglia l’editore radiofonico che pensa si possa vivere di solo web, nella convinzione (pur corretta) che questo è il futuro. Ma sbaglia anche quello che pensa che la rendita del posizionamento in FM sarà infinita. Come in ogni modello socio-economico quelli passati e futuri sono di ispirazione, ma è sul momento attuale che si regola l’esistenza e l’affermazione di paradigma. E, per quanto riguarda la radio, il presente si chiama multipiattaforma, cioè la coesistenza delle quattro piattaforme che veicolano oggi i contenuti radiofonici: FM (ancora primaria per tre/cinque anni), il DAB+ (diretta discendente della FM), il coacervo DTT/Sat (le piattaforme tv che contraddistinguono l’ibridazione radiofonica con la televisione, la cd visual radio) e, ovviamente, il web, l’indubbio futuro, dove entro 10 anni si andrà a terminare l’evoluzione.
Ha senso quindi investire ancora in impianti FM? Sì, se si ha la ragionevole speranza di ammortizzare l’investimento in un lasso di tempo inferiore ai 10 anni. No, se si pensa di farlo solo per speculare sfruttando il crollo dei valori del mercato, perché le quotazioni sono destinate a scendere e mai più a salire. “Ad essere precisi, l’acquisto di un impianto FM dovrebbe essere ammortizzato in 5-7 anni, perché quello è il momento in cui l’incidenza delle altre piattaforme si incontrerà con la svalutazione dei diffusori FM“, commenta Giovanni Madaro, economista di Consultmedia (struttura di competenze a più livelli collegata a questo periodico). “Oggi, in Italia, pochi possono ambire a sviluppare modelli di business radiofonici con il solo web; qualche speranza in più c’è nell’abbinata Web+DTT (meglio se anche DAB+), ma è solo con la presenza della FM che la radio esprime appieno le proprie potenzialità”, continua Madaro.
“Ma attenzione: chi vive solo di FM e relega il digitale ad uno streaming su una propria app e sul sito sta commettendo un errore uguale e contrario di chi vive solo con i piedi nel futuro o ancorato al passato. Il web esige regole di engagement e di presidio singolari, che non ammettono un approccio “tanto per”. Penso alle precipue regole degli aggregatori (sintomatica a riguardo è la questione dei collettori indipendenti come TuneIn) e degli smart speaker (dove è ormai chiaro che non si può prescindere da skill ed action dedicate).“, chiosa Madaro.
Ma anche per le web radio sono attese novità: da indiscrezioni sembra che la stessa Agcom abbia in animo di estendere a tutte le emittenti che diffondono solo programmi in streaming l’obbligo di iscrizione al Registro Operatori Comunicazione (ROC), anche con fatturati inferiori ai 100.000 euro (limite che anche oggi impone l’iscrizione al ROC). L’obbligo dovrebbe valere anche per le radio amatoriali e si fonderebbe su una disparità di trattamento coi concessionari in FM, che per almeno la metà non raggiungono il fatturato di 100.000 euro ma sono comunque obbligati al regime ROC (così come le emittenti comunitarie). D’altra parte, è francamente inconcepibile che Agcom, regolatore delle comunicazioni per definizione, non abbia assolutamente il controllo di un comparto editoriale la cui individuazione può essere conseguita praticamente solo attraverso gli elenchi delle licenze rilasciate dalle collecting del diritto d’autore e dei diritti connessi
The rise of shortwave broadcasting from China
There is some data available from the HFCC - International Broadcasting Delivery.
The files are fixed width fields which list broadcasts by frequency along with start time, end time, which days of the week, the country, the broadcaster and more.
Countries may have multiple broadcasts on different frequencies at the same time.
To measure output, I calculated the minutes on air of each listed broadcast and multiplied it by the number of days in each week that it's on and aggregated them by country.
Here are the top broadcasters as at August 2019.
Here's 2010. It's China, USA, Russia...
Here's 2000. Russia, USA, China. How times have changed.
Here's the changes amongst the top broadcasters now over this period. China is clearly on the rise.
There are many flaws in my simple analysis:
- Shortwave is used within large countries such as India and China for internal consumption.
- Different power levels and transmitter site and antenna direction should be taken in to account.
- The data may not cover all broadcasts "At present about 85 percent of the overall amount of global shortwave frequency requirements used for broadcasting is kept in this database. The missing 15 percent comprises some smaller stations in Africa and Latin America, as well as stations in the so called tropical broadcasting zone that employ shortwave transmissions for local listeners and are not interested in international co-ordination."
- Some transmitters use more than one antenna system at a time (beaming in different directions), currently I count those as two broadcasts.
- Radio New Zealand International provides programs which are broadcast in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu but I'm counting those as broadcasts from the administration countries rather than NZ.
- There are, of course, other options including satellite, FM relay, and internet streaming but this post isn't about those.
I note with sadness that in 2010, Australia was placed 12th, in 2019 we are 57th.
Please let me know if someone else has done any analysis in this area. My thanks to HFCC - International Broadcasting Delivery for making this valuable data freely available.
Radio Vanuatu: New shortwave and mediumwave service through infrastructure upgrade
(Source: Vanuatu Broadcasting & Television Corporation via Peter Marks)
With the support of the Government of Vanuatu, the Vanuatu Broadcasting & Television Corporation (VBTC) has begun work this month on a 942 million vatu (US$8.1m) infrastructure upgrade to improve radio and free-to-air television service throughout Vanuatu.
The first phase involves the design, installation and commissioning of a new shortwave (HF) and medium wave (MF) service for Radio Vanuatu, the country’s public radio service. Costing for phase one will be in excess of 242 million vatu (US$2.2m) and is funded by the Government of Vanuatu. Following the improvements to shortwave and medium wave services, VBTC will also undertake technical work to strengthen the coverage and reliability of its FM services.
A 10kw MF Nautel transmitter imported out of Canada and a 10kw HF transmitter manufactured by Hanjin Electronics of South Korea will be installed at VBTC’s major public service transmission site at Emten Lagoon on Efate. Both transmitters will be commissioned before the end of 2019.
The second phase, beginning early 2020, will reopen Radio Vanuatu’s medium wave radio transmission facilities at St Michelle in Luganville on the island of Santo. This will provide AM service to provinces in the top half of Vanuatu at a cost in excess of 300 million vatu (US$2.5m).
The third phase will expand the national television free-to-air service, Television Blong Vanuatu, along with a new digital television service. This final phase will cost an estimated 400 million vatu (US$3.5m).
Prime Minister Charlot Salwai Tabimasmas launched the capital development upgrade at a special function attended by cabinet ministers, senior members of the public service, members of the diplomatic corps and members of Vanuatu’s business and non-profit communities on Friday September 20 in Port Vila before he departed the country to attend the UN General Assembly in New York.
In his address, the Prime Ministerspoke atlength about the importance to Vanuatu of having a strong national public radio and television broadcasting service and announced assistance from Vanuatu’s development partners to help achieve this objective.
The Government of Australia funded the scoping study for the radio upgrade project and is providing funding support to implement the strategic reform programme of VBTC which the Prime Minister said is making good progress.
“I’m also happy to announce that the New Zealand Government is keen to support the second stage of the Radio Vanuatu technical infrastructure upgrade while China is considering my request to support the upgrade of Television Blong Vanuatu’s technical infrastructure.
” Meanwhile Kordia New Zealand Limited has been awarded the contract to project manage, design, install and commission the new radio transmission facilities beginning with the facilities at Emten Lagoon outside Port Vila.
VBTC Chief Executive Officer, Francis Herman said that “Kordia has extensive experience in the broadcasting and telecommunications industry in the Pacific, and recently completed a major project in Samoa for State-owned Radio 2AP funded by the Australian Government”. “We’ve worked hard with Kordia and a number of other technical experts to investigate the most efficient and sustainable transmission solution for Vanuatu taking into account the inclement weather, and the need to keep operating costs affordable.”
The shortwave service, which will be commissioned before the end of this year, will provide national radio coverage to the 82 islands spread spanning 1,300 kilometres between the most northern and southern islands.
“Our role as Vanuatu’s national broadcasting service is centered on helping create an informed public opinion so our people can contribute more effectively to national development”, Herman added.
“VBTC has struggled to remain relevant over the past decade because its technical infrastructure was obsolete and badly neglected making it challenging for us to provide an efficient, reliable, and responsive national radio and television service.”
Alongside the infrastructure upgrade, is an extensive programme to strengthen the technical capacity of Vanuatu’s broadcast technicians along with a long-term maintenance regime to expand the life of the equipment. (September 23, 2019).
U.S.-Based Shortwave Broadcasters Eye Digital
Group seeks a path to “affordable, distributable” DRM receivers
Relatively few Americans are aware of it, but the United States is home to many commercial/religious international broadcasters that transmit programming worldwide using analog shortwave radio transmitters. They are supported by an industry group called the National Association of Shortwave Broadcasters.
Unfortunately, analog shortwave radio transmissions are notorious for interference and signal dropouts. For listeners in other countries, the sound coming out of their shortwave radios lacks the superior audio range of domestic U.S. AM (yes, we said AM) and is often wracked with static and signal fading.
Foto: Members of the National Association of Shortwave Broadcasters are shown at their annual meeting in North Carolina, hosted by Trans World Radio.
For years, NASB members have wanted to replace (or at least augment) the poor audio quality of analog SW with the crystal-clear sound of digital SW radio, specifically the Digital Radio Mondiale standard developed in Europe that is now being used in China and India.
“DRM sounds very much like FM, with a wide audio range and no static,” said Charles Caudill, president emeritus of World Christian Broadcasting, owner/operator of U.S. SW station KNLS. “It is also consistent: Either the DRM signal is received on your SW radio in full, or it isn’t. There’s no in-between.”
There are some DRM radios in use now, which is why some NASB members are offering limited DRM broadcasts alongside their regular analog SW transmissions.
“But the current generation of DRM SW receivers cost about $100 each, whereas you can buy a cheap analog SW radio for as little as $10,” said Dr. Jerry Plummer, a professor at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn., and frequency coordinator for U.S. SW station WWCR. “Given that the audiences being targeted by NASB members are largely in the third world, the lack of inexpensive DRM receivers keeps them listening to analog shortwave.
Mindful that other digital audio sources are gaining ground even in less-developed countries, the NASB has decided to take action. At its recent annual meeting in North Carolina, at the facilities of U.S. SW broadcaster Trans World Radio, the NASB formed a DRM Receiver Working Group. Headed up by TWR engineer George Ross, this group has been “tasked to evaluate what it will take to get affordable, distributable DRM receivers,” Ross told Radio World. “What is holding DRM up is the lack of affordable receivers.”
DRM radio prototype from StarWaves.
Given the NASB’s interest in low-cost DRM receivers, it was no coincidence that Johannes Von Weyssenhoff was invited to speak at the annual meeting. Von Weyssenhoff said his StarWaves manufacturing firm (www.starwaves.de) has the technology, capability and existing prototypes to build DRM radios for $29 each, but only if the sale order is large enough to deliver economies of scale. (He also estimated $18 DRM modules could be built for installation in other radio models.)
“Twenty-nine dollars is doable at volumes staring at 30,000 receivers,” Von Weyssenhoff told Radio World. “Even smaller quantities would be possible at this price for very simple radios — for example, without graphics displays — but these would be special projects that had to be discussed individually. But even more advanced radios with Bluetooth or premium designs will be possible to offer at a reasonable price,” he said — as long as the sales orders was in the tens of thousands or more.
Given that India and China have committed to the DRM standard, there appears to be a mass-market for these receivers. But the problem for StarWaves is finding the money to build enough of them to drive per-unit costs down.
“In recent years I have tried to convince quite a number of potential investors but either I have not yet found the correct audience, or I was not yet able to communicate this great opportunity convincingly,” said Von Weyssenhoff. “You just have to imagine that alone in India, according to All India Radio, there is a demand of up to 150 million receivers within the next few years. This market could have been served with tons of receivers by now and big profits could have been made, but instead I had to grow the development in very small steps.”
Plug-in DRM module.
The money StarWaves needs is not huge: “An amount of $150,000 or even $100,000 would certainly do wonders and enable us to start production within a few within a few weeks,” he said. “A commercial order of 10,000 receivers or more would have a similar effect.”
NASB’s members don’t have this kind of money available. Saddled with huge antenna farms and multiple power-devouring 50 kW to 500 kW transmitters, the commercial/religious shortwave broadcasting sector is tight for cash.
“Broadcasting DRM requires either a new transmitter or the modification of an existing transmitter,” said Kim Andrew Elliott, a retired Voice of America broadcaster and host of “Communications World” who has organized many demonstrations of DRM reception at the annual Winter Shortwave Listeners Fest going back to 2003.
“These days, many shortwave broadcasters are thinking about whether they should keep their existing shortwave transmitters on the air, rather than thinking about buying or modifying a transmitter.
” Their situation isn’t helped by the lack of audience measurements detailing SW’s far-flung listener base. Not only does a lack of SW ratings make it difficult to sell spots to advertisers, “but the squeaky, staticky sound of shortwave makes it hard for us to talk to the people at Coca-Cola, who fear that listeners will associate their product with inferior quality,” said Caudill.
The resulting conundrum is a classic chicken-and-egg dilemma. StarWaves and other DRM radio manufacturers don’t have the money to produce DRM radios in volumes that would make them cheap to buy.
Solving the Medium-Wave Problem: Is it still worth maintaining AM?
Is medium wave in decline? Some people think so.
In the 1950s radio was declared mortally wounded by TV. But then FM with its new music rescued it, becoming one of the most successful technologies and platforms ever. Radio survived and thrived but AM should have died at the hands of the nimbler, younger and more attractive FM.
Only it did not and the medium reinvented itself by using presenter-led programming, commercial music and sport. In the United States it took until the end of 1990s for the FM and AM audiences to be equal and to this day the big AM stations are going strong, bringing in the ad dollars.
Still, it’s undeniable that the whiff of decline has enveloped AM in the past two decades. The reasons are well-known: Analog medium wave doesn’t always deliver the best sound, it can suffer from interference, it can behave annoyingly different by day and night and even by season. Medium wave mainly appeals to a maturing population (a global phenomenon, considered shameful by some!) using aging receivers (this is bad!).
Analog medium-wave broadcasting also needs quite an infrastructure and deep pockets for the electricity bill.
On the other hand, medium wave is that middle sister that delivers by giving excellent regional coverage over hundreds or (overnight and if the ionosphere behaves) even thousands of kilometers, whereas FM goes up to roughly 200 kilometers and digital DAB+ to half of that.
Medium wave is not only a regional but also an excellent local coverage solution. In Australia 33% of the public broadcaster ABC’s local transmitters broadcast in AM and 11 50 kW transmitters are serving the mainland capital or big cities. Medium wave covers large areas and reaches small far-flung communities for whom, even in developed countries, medium wave and FM still provide the first source of information.
Besides, medium wave with its reach, availability outdoors and on the go, is a fallback solution in times of emergency or simply a good standby solution when other platforms or services are unavailable (broadband, satellite, 4G or the mythical 5G).
The listeners’ behavior and the demands of the digital world are such that tackling medium wave has elicited different responses from broadcasters and regulators worldwide. In Europe, where the frequency was much used and abused, broadcasters initially energized by the potential of IP have not thought twice about closing down many medium-wave transmitters. Some have survived the cull, for example, in the UK, France, Spain, or in some eastern European countries.
Regulators in other parts of the world have embraced different scenarios. One was to migrate AM to FM, or AM to a digital solution for FM (HD or DAB+). This process has taken a long time and, despite some successes, has shown it’s no replacement for AM or for a full large regional or national coverage.
In other parts of the world, like Brazil, digital was not even part of the mix. The simple migration AM to FM is plodding on there, as this is easier done in smaller places than in bigger, overpopulated ones, like big cities where there is no FM spectrum available and where the original demand for a solution came from.
Another idea is to expand the FM band, downwards, migrate everyone and forget about AM altogether, as FM seems a proven and winning formula. A nice idea but then, on top of the costs of replacing a large area covering transmitter with many, expensive, spectrum and energy hungry FM transmitters, there is the extra challenge of the new receivers to be produced and actually sold.
Certainly, there is also the option of doing nothing. Reading through the most recent submissions to the judicious consultation launched by the Australian regulator on the future delivery of radio services, I was struck by how some contributors claim that there is no current replacement for analog AM. Their scenario is to leave things as they are, for at least the next 10 years.
Change is though the name of the radio game. While analog AM will subsist, it is worth looking at other options, too. In India where most of the territory and population are covered by the public radio medium-wave transmitter infrastructure, the government and public broadcaster took the bull by the horns and deployed almost 40 digital transmitters covering about half the country population with a digital signal.
Recently cricket fans were able to enjoy an open-air demonstration of three different DRM programs on one frequency ahead of an important match in Bangalore. The fans also received data (stock exchange values) available on radio screens. This demonstrated that digital DRM is a game changer for medium wave.
In DRM the crackling audio disappears as sound is as good of that on FM. The electricity consumption and costs decrease, the spectrum is trebled and reception, even in cars (as available in over 1.5 million cars in India currently) is excellent, too.
If it is so good then why isn’t DRM medium wave conquering the world faster? Maybe it’s about confidence in a new platform. Broadcasters and governments need to market DRM digital radio once signals are on air in their countries.
As for receiver availability and their costs, let us remember how many receivers were on sale in the 1970s when FM was taking over the world. Nowadays, many listeners consume radio in their cars rather than sit in front of a retro looking wooden box. Digital receivers (DRM alone or DRM/DAB+) are a reality and a bigger push for digital would help with volumes sold thus bringing down the prices.
Radio, and therefore medium wave, can and should survive digitally. Digital radio must be an enabler of audio content and information while preserving its ubiquitous and unmatched advantage of providing a service for all.
For that, a bit of imagination, trust and, last but not least, some long-term investment is necessary. Because medium wave is still worth it!
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