Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Death of Digital Radio Mondiale in 2008 as well?

Mike Barraclough in the UK forwards a link from a station called European Gospel Radio. I quote

Our CEO is just back from Malaysia, where we have been coordinating the next period (summer 2008) frequency allocations for all of our broadcasts at the HFCC http://www.hfcc.org/....

From both formal and informal discussions among participants at the HFCC, it is now clear that the proposed DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale) system, that would have converted analogue Shortwave to digital, FM like quality reception would hardly be implemented if ever on a large scale, beyond the current experimental stage. In theory, DRM would have allowed listeners in richer nations in Europe and North America to re-discover Shortwave, with a noise free reception in digital quality, using new digital receivers. To make a long story short, the main reason of the demise of DRM is the lack of receivers. After more than three years since the first experimental broadcasts in DRM, no receiver has been produced at a cost and in large numbers to be widely adopted, and there are no plans from any large manufacturer to produce such receivers now. If you want to read more about DRM, check our FAQ at
http://www.egradio.org/index.php?name=FAQ&id_cat=7 or visit the DRM site at http://www.drm.org/

For this reason conventional, analogue, Shortwave may still be safely considered a rather cheap way of reaching very large audiences with a single broadcast, that is able to cover a territory as large as a one or two continents at any one time. Internet is also taking a lot of listeners away from conventional broadcast media (TV, FM, AM/Medium Wave and Shortwave alike), and for this reason we intend to develop even further our audio and video streaming services.

Writing off DRM seems to be done on the grounds that there are no receivers in the market. That's true. We're 12 years since the official launch of DRM in China (I made the first set of test transmission tapes when at Radio Netherlands) but still there is no one willing to take the plunge and mass produce them. And they are right to be concerned because the range of programming is not in place to make the system fly. It is also interesting that the die-hard shortwave fans seem to be relieved at any news of DRM's failure - because it means interference levels are lower on the increasingly less crowded bands. They have made a pastime of searching for weak, unusual signals.

But the argumentation goes on, saying that analogue shortwave is therefore here to stay because it is a "rather cheap way of reaching large audiences". Problem is that this is no longer the case. 100-500 kW for a single audio channel is becoming a very expensive way to share an idea - the only way for some countries, but they are definitely in the minority these days. The death of analogue shortwave has far more to do with the lack of decent programming. Compare the 49 metre band with the range of programmes on a wifi-radio or on a free to air satellite TV tuner. Just as few people watch an evening of Youtube, so shortwave has become a medium of last resort. As a former shortwave broadcaster, it is shame to say it. But the fact that this part of the dial is no longer commercially viable speaks volumes. It explains why analogue shortwave is haemorrhaging now, rather than being just the long slow fade.

Let's move on guys. Radio has this terrible user interface, sorting content by frequency. Where are are tagged interfaces for audio and the electronic programme guides? Blinkx experimented with audio and video feeds but is rightly concentrating on the video side of the business. Why? Because radio stations cannot supply them with any relevant metadata. Are you going to leave it all to iTunes? May be you are!
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