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Digital radio listening in the UK now stands at 50.9% up from 47.2% a year ago


LONDON — In the United Kingdom, the use of digital sources for radio has reached 50.9%, up from 47.2% a year ago, accounting for the majority of all listening for the first time, according to RAJAR Q1 2018 data.

“With the 50% digital listening threshold now met, it is anticipated that the UK government will undertake a review to assess digital radio progress and determine next steps in due course,” according to a Digital Radio UK press release.

Digital listening share is comprised of listening across all digital platforms: DAB in homes and in cars, apps and online (which includes the growing number of smart and voice-controlled speakers) and DTV — and this is the first time that listening to digital has been greater than analog platforms — FM and AM.

Other measurement data provided by RAJAR show the following:

  • Overall, in the UK digital listening hours grew by 7.8% compared to Q1 2017
  • The greatest amount of digital listening takes place on over-the-air DAB radio which now accounts for 36.8% of all listening and 72.2% of digital listening, with hourly growth of 8.9% year over year
  • Online and Apps now accounts for 9.3% of all listening and 18.3% of digital listening, with the greatest percentage hourly growth of 17%
  • Listening via digital TV meanwhile accounts 4.8% of all listening and 9.4% of digital listening
  • 63.7% of adults now have access to DAB digital radio at home, and more are listening via the expanding range of smart and voice-controlled speakers
  • Digital radio is in over 11 million cars on the road, equating to 33% of all cars in the UK, and 90% of all new cars registered have digital radio fitted as standard equipment [Source: CAP/SMMT Q1 2018]

“Across the UK the success of digital radio has been driven by industry investment in DAB coverage; the availability of DAB in cars; the development of mobile and online apps along with the proliferation of smart and voice-controlled speakers with IP radio capability; combined with a huge expansion in the number of digital stations available,” according to DRUK. “This growth in availability has been matched by an expansion of national and local DAB coverage which is now available in over 90% of the UK due to the launch of an additional 435 digital transmitters, as part of a program of work supported by government and broadcasters.”

The UK’s three leading radio broadcasters — the BBC, Global and Bauer, which collectively account for over 90% of UK radio listening — are “fully committed to delivering a digital future for radio and look forward to working with government and the supply chain to continue the transition to digital radio.”

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The total number of GatesAir transmitters deployed in that country stands at 1218

MASON, Ohio — GatesAir is getting ready to send its final shipments of transmitters to Norway, bringing the total of its transmitters deployed in that country to 1218 in support of Norway’s transition to DAB.

Norway’s national FM Radio signals vacated the airwaves in mid-December, concluding an 11-month sunset. Many local FM stations remain on the air.

GatesAir says it has been involved in Norway’s DAB digital radio activity since the nation’s first tests in 1994. Upon the Norwegian government’s 2011 approval to switch off FM radio, it says it helped the country to accelerate the site planning and systems design process, and worked closely with partners to set a site-by-site delivery schedule.

According to the company, a pair of redundant GatesAir Maxiva VAX air-cooled transmitters ranging from 50 W to 5 kW support over-the-air content delivery from most sites. The final transmitters being shipped include low-power models.

“Our work in Norway has spanned over two decades to ensure that the exacting specifications of the network and delivery timelines were met in accordance with the Norwegian government’s mandate,” said Darren Frearson, vice president of Sales, EMEA-APAC, GatesAir.

“GatesAir’s modular transmitters were easily configured and rapidly deployed across the network. The compact footprint and small weight contributed to the rapid deployment, which reached as many as 14 sites per week.” 

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Here are some updates from Switzerland, Ukraine and Germany

BERN, Switzerland — Swiss communications regulator Bakom recently said that in 2017 nearly 600,000 DAB+ radios were purchased nationwide. Bakom also reports that about 85% of all new vehicles sold are equipped with a DAB+ radio as standard equipment, and that a total of 3.5 million devices are in circulation in the country, according to telecompaper.com .

In Kiev, the remaining four slots of a new DAB multiplex have been offered once again by Ukraine’s National Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting. Applications for participation in the competition for the remaining slots are being accepted from May 17 –June 15 at the address Prorizna, 2, Kiev, tel. 234-97-13. The results from the National Council will be announced by May 14, according to detector.media .

In Germany, the regional public broadcaster SWR (Südwestrundfunk ) has commissioned new DAB transmitters at Villingen Schwenningen using channel 8D. This will improve DAB coverage for the programs SWR1, SWR2, SWR3, SWR4, SWR Aktuell and DASDING in the Black Forest-Baar-Heuberg area and adjacent areas, reports infosat.de .

SWR is planning further expansion of the DAB + network this year in Bad Urach, Baiersbronn, Brandenkopf, Schramberg, Sigmaringen, Waldburg and Weingarten, and other transmitter locations are being planned. 

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A survey showed 70% of respondents are opposed to the sunsetting of “premature” VHF FM by 2021

COPENHAGEN — There’s more talk in the government of Denmark about the possible “sunsetting” of the VHF FM band in that country. 

[Read more about Denmark’s 2017 efforts in this area.]

Now, the Danish Ministry of Culture is trying to accelerate the pace of the transition. 

A strategy paper from the Ministry presented at the beginning of April outlines two scenarios: VHF FMs should be switched off two years after it has been determined that the 50% listening threshold has been exceeded (it is currently at 36%). And, even if the threshold is not reached by 2021, the country should off VHF and go to DAB + anyway.

The trouble is that there’s not enough political support for such a move, according to radiowoche.de . The ruling liberal-conservative three-party coalition does not have its own majority in parliament and needs cooperation from other parties; it have to put forward its proposed plans in the media sector up for discussion and then convince either the right-wing conservative People’s Party or the Social Democrats and get their votes. Representatives of the People’s Party have already announced their rejection of a premature VHF exit in the Danish media.

A survey conducted for the Danish news agency Ritzau revealed that 70% of respondents are opposed to the sunsetting of premature VHF FM by 2021. 

Also not very enthusiastic about the new government plans are a number of newspaper publishers operating various regional and local stations, according to the same article. 

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The country appears to be leaning away from DRM and toward DAB+

MOSCOW — What’s the status of digital radio in Russia? Back in 2011 we reported that Russia was leaning in the direction of DRM. Now, however, nag.ru is reporting that the country is looking to “expand broadcasting” thoughout the country using DAB+. 

The allocation of frequencies was done by the State Commission on Radio Frequencies following the meeting held on April 16.

The band planned for usage is 175.872 to 228.128 MHz and the possibility of using these frequencies was confirmed by the Research Institute of Radio, which conducted tests of compatibility of DAB + networks with networks already operating in Russia. 

“The use of digital format will not only increase the number of stations, but also significantly improve the quality of sound transmission in comparison with an analog signal,” according to the same article.

“…the obstacle for deploying digital radio is the need to replace receiving equipment. Over the past years, users have had a huge number of devices with the ability to receive FM radio stations. In order to receive the DAB+ signal they have to be replaced and this is extremely expensive.” 

The same article goes on to say that, while an FM radio can be had for 300-400 rubles, DAB+-capable radios cost four to five times more, and the number of models available is “extremely limited.” 

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RadioHack Drives Innovation

The 2018 edition of RadioHack focused on broadcasting tools for small and community stations, new hybrid services and smart speakers



Ofcom Senior Broadcast Specialist Rashid Mustapha explains his “hack” based on IPTV boxes to fellow participants.

GENEVA — The European Broadcasting Union’s RadioHack event, which takes place each year during the EBU Digital Radio Week, brings together hardware and software developers from various organizations, including non-EBU members, to share projects and ideas.

The event aims to push technology a step further by modifying it. Radio is traditionally “live,” but it is safe to say that during each RadioHack, radio becomes “lively!” It is a place where coders, solderers and thinkers collaborate and innovate together, working on new ideas and technologies and exploring how existing ones can be linked together.

ASKING BROADCASTERS

Probably one of the least formal events organized by the EBU, RadioHack has no dresscode, and once inside the “laboratory,” participants find evaluation boards, software-defined radio platforms, test-bed hardware, as well as “donor” off-the-shelf devices to be “hacked.”

The 2018 edition of RadioHack focused on broadcasting tools for small and community stations, new hybrid services and smart speakers.

Matthias Brändli, lead developer for Open Digital Radio, fine-tuned a set of tools capable of turning any computer into a microrange digital audio broadcasting transmitter, and ran a live demo. Open Digital Radio is a nonprofit organization with the goal of enabling small and community radio stations to step from analog transmission to digital radio.

“This set of tools have been tested in several locations,” Brändli explained, “and we’ve also been able to prove, using this set of technology tools, that digital audio broadcasting can be used for small coverages and for projects on a small scale.”

On another topic, the entertainment system of the current Audi A8 can seamlessly switch across FM, DAB and online streaming emissions of the same station. On hand was Florian Hoffmann, a radio development engineer at Audi who worked at their development platform for in-car hybrid radio receivers.

Radio slideshows now appear in low-resolution on a receiver’s display, but on Audi’s prototype attendees could preview the same slideshows in high resolution coming from the RadioVIS service of RadioDNS. “We ask broadcasters to support and implement the RadioDNS standard so we can implement these pre-development features on the next generation entertainment systems released for production,” Hoffmann said.

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SMART SPEAKERS

Also during the event, Rashid Mustapha, senior broadcast specialist at the United Kingdom’s broadcasting regulatory authority Ofcom, explained how the organization is facilitating the development of innovative ideas and tools for smaller stations.

“We would like to develop new ideas and software tools for small radio stations, specifically community radio and other special interest broadcasters. Moving from one of the nowadays popular IPTV boxes which are very low-cost mass-produced things for watching YouTube or Netflix on turn any TV into a smart TV,” he said. At Ofcom we replaced the standard Android operating system IPTV boxes usually run on with a Linux OS.”

The new operating system enables researchers to control the hardware and build their own software tools. During RadioHack the modified IPTV box ran a DAB source encoder, a DAB multiplexer and a DAB modulator, which fed a software defined radio transmitter via a USB cable. Users were able to upload and store audio content and music files to the same modified IPTV box, which also featured an embedded web-based playout system.

“The modified box can also pull web streams and podcasts from the internet, so that it actually contains a complete radio station,” Mustapha added.

Software defined radio peripherals and open standard digital radio encoders were part of the hack by Belgium’s Dutch-speaking public broadcaster VRT, which also focused on smart speakers. The broadcaster developed a skill for Amazon Alexa that allows listeners to talk to their radio station of choice.

As an example, Floris Daelemans, VRT innovation researcher, prompted an Amazon Echo Dot device running Alexa: “Alexa, can you tell Radiohack I’m feeling fine and dandy?”

The smart speaker acknowledged the request and whispered “Message has been sent.” In response to this, the system sent an email to the radio station and immediately the dummy RadioHack station received an email reporting that that listener is feeling fine.

“There are multiple emotions that can be conveyed, easily and immediately shared with radio stations. With this, listeners can give an immediate feedback to the radio station,” Daelemans concluded.

NEXT GENERATION AUDIO

Orpheus is a project funded by the European Union, focusing on the research and development of next generation audio. Werner Bleisteiner, creative technologist at Bayerischer Rundfunk explained how speech intelligibility, 3D audio, as well as advanced features like user-definable lengths of sound bites are among the features enabled by the Orpheus project.

“We’re going to make audio more interactive and responsive, delivering audio objects to the end user device where they get assembled in the way that suits listening conditions, the preferences, and the choice of the user,” said Bleisteiner.

At RadioHack, Bleisteiner demonstrated an audio piece built with five levels of “importance”; each one of them is presented with a different color on the receiver’s display.

“In this example, the most important level is highlighted in red,” he said. “In case the listener wishes to listen to more levels, the user experience can become longer and more in-depth regarding information.” Through a dedicated app, developed by the Orpheus partner Elephantcandy, listeners can “readjust the length of the program to their needs.”

Go to Radio Magazine Online

Digital Radio News From Europe

France’s CSA has approved seven sites in the Hauts-de-France (the north of France) for DAB+; Germany will remain a VHF country for the foreseeable future; and in Norway, over-the-air radio listenership appears to have stabilized

PARIS — France’s CSA has approved seven sites in the Hauts-de-France (the north of France) for DAB+, to be launched in the region on June 19. This deployment will include 39 radio stations in the Lille area and between nine and 13 radio stations in the other areas of the region (Douai-Lens-Béthune- Arras, Valenciennes, Dunkirk and Calais-Boulogne-sur-Mer).

The new deployment plan provides for a first phase with a tight schedule (2018/2020), refocused on the densest areas of the territory (major cities, living areas of more than 175,000 inhabitants, major highways and roads), according to offremedia.com . The less populated areas will be covered after 2020.

“…DAB + is struggling to develop in France mainly because of the lack of enthusiasm of large private groups that favor investment in broadcasting via the internet,” according to the same article.

From Germany: “One thing is certain: at some point, the analog radio reception will be history, as in the case of [digital] television since 2003. The public radio stations have been pushing for years to make DAB + the successor to FM,” according to this article in tagesspeigel.de . Private broadcasters are mixed on the digital radio over-the-air concept: many see the digital future more on the Internet, using 5G.

“Nonetheless, Germany will remain a VHF country for the foreseeable future. The federal government has not committed to a shutdown date for the analog technology,” the same article goes on to say.

In Norway, over-the-air radio listenership appears to have stabilized. Key findings for March of 2018, reported by Kantar Media, are as follows:

  • Daily listenership in January was at 56.9%; in February 57.0%; in March 57.4%
  • Listening time: In January 71 minutes; in February 72 minutes; in March 74 minutes
  • While listening time has increased by three minutes in 2018, it is still eight minutes less listening than January 2017

“Listening on national channels seems to have stabilized after a gradual decline through the turn-off year 2017,” according the medietilsynet.no .

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Working plan for the next year will be developed at the event in Mallorca

MALLORCA, Spain — The 2018 General Assembly of the DRM Consortium is scheduled to take place on April 17 –18, under the banner “Digital Radio Mondiale Drives Forward” at the Palma Bellver Bay Meliá Hotel on Mallorca, hosted by Bosch and RFmondial.

At the General Assembly, strategy and a working plan for the next year will be developed. The assembly will also serve as an election year for the Chair and all leading bodies of the Consortium.

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Members and guests can also use this assembly as an opportunity to review all the activities of the past year and to receive updates from country representatives and specialists from all the corners of the globe. In addition, a special receiver session has been also scheduled as part of the event.

“This is a moment to take stock and review the excellent progress made by DRM in India and other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as South Africa, other countries in Africa, Middle East and Europe,” said Ruxandra Obreja, the current DRM Chairman. “DRM Drives forward with big successes in the automotive industry. Continuous work goes on to provide ingenious standalone and car receivers. DRM as a provider of more than audio and especially emergency warning functionality puts it in a unique position giving users a powerful, all-band solution they can use for their specific needs and coverage at local, regional, national and international level.”

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But many do not know about the FM chip for smartphones


PARIS — In France, a study commissioned by SIRTI , an interest group of 165 French independent radio broadcasters, indicates that 94% of French people see radio as a universal right and 88% believe that listening to the radio must continue to happen completely anonymously — in other words, radio should remain free and independent of telephone networks and the internet, according to radiovisie.eu .

Conversely, 68% of the respondents said they would listen to FM or DAB + via smartphone, if this is made technically possible — but more than half of the French do not know that it is (theoretically) possible to listen to the radio on their smartphone already.

According to Alain Liberty, president of SIRTI, the study shows that the listeners are connected to the radio and that they want this model to continue to support them in their new media use. The listeners also want to see their anonymity and pluralism legally protected, according to the same article.

90 percent of the respondents think that the government must make every effort to ensure access to the radio in all situations, especially in the car — 70% are even convinced that “free access to radio media in vehicles” should be laid down in the constitution. Eighty-three % of the French listen to radio in the car, and use of smartphones for radio listening has grown to 23% of listeners. 

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Digital Radio News From the EU

Danish government proposes to sundown FM radio broadcasts by 2021

COPENHAGEN — The Danish government recently announced new media policies, and among them is a proposal that the FM band be shut down by 2021, reports radionytt.se .

The demise of the FM band will take place two years after 50% of radio listening takes place via digital platforms, or by 2021 at the latest. Use of digital radio sources is at 38% now.

In Switzerland, nearly 600,000 DAB-capable radios were sold in 2017. The country plans to start phasing out FM broadcasts from 2020 onwards. Earlier this year it was shown that more than 60% of the radio listening is done via digital sources —via streaming or over-the-air radio. The use of DAB+ showed an increase of 11 percent and now has a share of 34%; the use of the (analog) FM radio has decreased from 51% at the end of 2015 to 41% in early 2017, according to mediamagazine.nl.

In the UK, Connect FM has disappeared from its local DAB multiplex because of a “very substantial price increase” from Arqiva, according to RadioToday .

The station was a launch partner when the Northampton multiplex launched in 2013 and later joined DAB in Peterborough, and Herts, Beds and Bucks. More recently its sister station Radio Essex joined the Southend/Chelmsford mux.

“We are bitterly disappointed for our listeners to have to remove our Connect FM station from DAB in Northampton and Peterborough and at such short notice,” said Mark Jeeves, operations director of Connect FM. “We feel that Connect FM contributed significantly to the launch and promotion of DAB in this area and have been rewarded by Arqiva for our efforts with a huge uplift in price, which, if agreed to, would have made Connect FM unsustainable as a business.

“I don’t think this action by Arqiva sends a good message for smaller radio stations and clearly demonstrates the pricing power of multiplex owners over radio license operators and their willingness to put profit over service, despite there being plenty of capacity on the Northamptonshire and Peterborough multiplexes,” Jeeves said in the same article.

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