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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Digital Radio: Expanding the horizon for listeners

Features of the week:

The coming of Digital Radio (DR) in Europe has given boost to expansion of the horizon of information dissemination, reports REMMY NWEKE


THIS year’s Internationale Funkausstellung (IFA) held in Berlin, otherwise known as the World of Consumer Electronics exhibition, ended earlier in the month, with the proponents of the Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) making their mark in the minds of European citizens and mostly those who trooped into the venue of the annual event.

DRM came out of a consortium formed in 1998 by a small group of broadcasters and manufacturers, who joined hands to create a universal digital system for the broadcasting bands below 30 Megahertz (MHz) in the shortwave, medium-wave/AM and long wave.

Known as the open standard, DRM has endorsement from the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), International Union (ITU) and International Electrotechnical Committee (IEC).

The consortium

The consortium in March this year, voted to commence the process of expanding the system to the broadcasting bands up to 120 MHz, and the design, development and testing phases of this extension is due to be completed between 2007 and 2009.


DRM has since become an international consortium of broadcasters, manufacturers, network operators, research institutions, broadcasting unions, regulatory authorities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Metamorphosing into a 91-member group as at June 2005, comprising member-nations from Ecuador, Germany, China, United States (US), Finland, Malaysia, United Kingdom (UK), Japan, Spain and Australia, DR is further referred to as satellite radio (SR), due to its compatibility with satellite broadcasting.

However, Digital Radio is made up of two broadcasting standards currently in use in Europe and Berlin being the presumed center of Europe, was the best occasion to sell DR to the populace, especially at IFA. These standards include the Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) and Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM).

With DAB already on air in most European nations it is now available mainly in national and local services and is reportedly being sought after by over 1.5 million radio sets. On the other hand, DRM is a standard developed to allow digital broadcasting in the long, medium and short-wave hands.

Experts said that with DR, the era of fine tuning a station would be over in search of a better reception. Rather, it allows listeners to scroll up and down through a list of available stations.

Selecting the stations

This is achieved by mere pressing a button to select stations without much ado, thus giving the user access to every radio station on air at the user’s neighbourhood, including AM, FM and even digital.

Champion Infotel investigations revealed that, for instance, if a listener has tuned to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and moved from the neighbourhood, he or she need not re-tune as long as there is signals, hence the radio set when switched on would automatically find the best available frequency at the new area.

DR, additionally, does not cause listeners what analyst described as ‘noise’, which has been the bane of the analogue broadcast system.

Director of publication, ‘Radio Programme Guide’ a special package introduced to further boost DR diffusion, Mr. Philippe Chapot, said “Today, DR is expanding everywhere in Europe and France’s future is in the hands of the Audiovisual Council (CSA),” in this respect and must be decided before the end of the year.

Mobility capacity

The Director also described radio as wonderful media and is not just an accompaniment but a media to listen to because of the content and mobility capacity.

The importance of DR in Europe has motivated BBC and Radio Netherlands International (RTL), Deutshland Welle among others to find it convenient to launch this service for their teeming listeners.

Project Director, BBC, Mr. John Sykes said that the corporation had always been in search of new ways of reaching its audience and this dream was officially harnessed on September 1, this year, when the station launched a digital radio service in English to the Benelux countries (Europe) and some neighbouring parts of France and Germany.

BBC through MW frequency 1296KHz promises major service of 18 hours a day, which is supplemented with digital transmission on SW via Telenor of Norway and VTC of UK, hence enabling the corporation to operate through its analogue and digital networks internationally.

“Digital Radio is about increased listener choice, and a revolution in the way we use radios. No more fiddling around with frequency dials and wavebands; you select your station by name and the radio would find the best frequency automatically,” he buttressed.

Disclosing also that BBC is tinkering on introducing an electronic programme guide to allow listeners using radios with a record function to effectively create their own schedule.

For the World Services’ Controller, Distribution and Technology at BBC, Mr. Mike Cronk, the corporation looks forward to seeing digital radio fully integrated into mobile phones and Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs).

“We’re keen to open up a dialogue with our audience, and the back-channel provided by Third Generation (3G) and Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) telephony means, we would stay in touch with people on the move,” Mr. Cronk declared.

What you should know about DR

With 25 FM radio stations in Berlin already hooked to DR and 17 other channels in Germany that could be listened to in Berlin as at the time of filing this report, there are some significant broadcasting different formats and technologies, potential listeners should note, presently in Europe.

These include that radios with DR logo enable listeners to simply own a DR receiver – radio set – and receive signals freely. Those with FM mean that listeners need FM receiver to receive freely too as well as AM entailing the receiver must have an AM band to get signals.

Those with ‘web’ signs means users or listeners need an internet subscription to receive free and audio software installed. ‘Free’ on the hand means a Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) subscription and a free box decoder that is ungrouped to enable reception, while ‘NOOS’ requires subscription and a decoder to receiver NOOS cable, as well as Astra and C+ for those wishing to receive signals from CanalSAT and Astra Satellite, which could be free or payable subscription decoders.

Any hope for Nigeria?

This development is coming as Nigeria has less than five community radio stations, despite some state government radios’ claim to have community radio status. Presently only the University of Lagos (UNILAG) radio could be regarded as purely community radio which requires huge sum to even get the license, let alone acquire equipment.

It is relevant, therefore, to note that as long as little or so-called community radios are not in the hands of the private sector and civil societies, the gap between the society and citizens in a country like Nigeria would continue to grow.

Also, there is need to rethink in the place of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) so as to strengthen the bid to close digital gap in the country by turning out motivating policies to this effect, that would attract investors.

The earlier this is done, the better for the nation and her citizens, mostly those who basically depend on radio to receive information and know what is happening, especially in the rural areas.

So, when next you buy a radio, check well to know what it takes to keep date with digital revolution, remembering that any DR radio offers free receiver option while satellite aspect of it is by subscription.

Worrying aspect is that in no time this brands of digital radios will flood African market and Nigeria being the largest concentration of this continent will witness the effect immensely.

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