Guest commentary: Nothing is so constant as change

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jerome van der Linden, who shares the following guest post:


Nothing is so constant as change

by Jerome van der Linden

Those of us who have had an interest in broadcasting over many years realize pretty soon that technology is constantly changing. The following relates to the situation where I live in Australia, but I suspect similar things are occurring in other parts of the world, and serve as a constant reminder that we live in a world of change.

When we were in our teens, we had radios that would tune AM and one or more shortwave bands. Hence many of us first heard interstate medium wave stations, and realised that signals there travelled further during darkness hours. Then we switched to SW1 or SW2 and often heard nothing. But persistence paid off and soon we were listening to stations that were in other countries! And when we connected a long wire to the antenna terminal signals improved dramatically. Wasn’t that amazing?

Somewhere in the 70s (I think) our TV stations brought in colour and that too was an amazing change to experience.

Then – somewhat belatedly for us in Australia – FM radio came along and gee the quality of the audio was outstanding! Even my late father was surprised by the clarity with which he could now listen to classical music on our nationwide dedicated ABC Classic FM station. FM also brought with it the introduction of “Community Radio” stations and in more recent years many other types of broadcasters.

Satellite TV came to us in the form of Foxtel: carrying so many different channels it was bewildering. When I realized that the events of 9-11 were telecast live on BBC World (and others), I too decided we should have Foxtel, as I have always been a “news nerd”.

By the late 1990s – having seen a hey day in probably the 60s and 70s – shortwave listening was rapidly becoming a thing of the past, and only hobbyists listened to SW: I remember being asked by another passenger when I was on a South Pacific cruise, what was that I was listening with out on deck? Was it some kind of computer? No, it was just a Sony SW55, and I was listening to Radio Australia.

Then, probably 5 years ago in Australia DAB+ radio was introduced, and whereas we previously had a choice of perhaps 10 to 15 AM & FM radio stations to tune to, suddenly we had a choice of these same stations on DAB radio (in major cities only), PLUS another 10 or 15! We have a phenomenal choice of what to listen to. From a technical view it was amazing to think that all the signals were coming from only one or two transmitters. For those of us with some technical interest it was for a while inconceivable that each station would not have its own transmitter.

Meanwhile, our TV systems have also become digitized in the last couple of years. Not just do we have perhaps three different channels for each commercial network, so 3 commercial networks are now providing probably 9 different programs. On top of that the Government broadcasters (ABC & SBS) have provided not just at least 3 TV channels each, but each of their numerous ­radio services is now also available on every TV set (eg BBC World Service is available 24/7).

About the same time, with higher internet speeds (ie better data transfers) being available, TV services and radio services are increasingly being streamed into our homes and to our mobile devices, with radio Apps promising they’re “free”, when in fact they do incur a data transfer impact/cost in whatever Internet plan one may have available. Many of the older generation probably don’t even realize what streaming video or sound means, but I think the younger generation is catching on.

Now, to my horror, my favourite DAB music station (“Buddha”) has been making announcements on air saying that the DAB service will be terminated from September 1st, and if I want to continue listening, I must tune in using that Company’s own “LiSTNR” app! Does this mean that listening to what comes over the ether will be a thing of the past? Will we be obliged to pay $x per annum to use a company’s streaming app just to be able to listen to their programs? Whatever is the world coming to?

Our country is, I suspect, very well catered for in terms of media services, and I wonder if we’ve done that too well. I also fear though, that those of us trying to push for reintroduction of shortwave services for remote Northern Territory areas (where streaming apps are a non sense), and for Australia to again broadcast into Pacific territories, may be fighting an uphill battle.

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5 thoughts on “Guest commentary: Nothing is so constant as change

  1. Jason

    The thing with mobile phone data in Australia is that it’s trivially cheap. $10 buys you 6GB a month (moose mobile/Optus network), $30 buys you 100GB a month (circles.life/Optus), go a bit higher and all 3 of Australia’s network providers now offer “unlimited” plans where after you go over your allocated high speed data, your speed is slowed down for the rest of the month – but it’s still fast enough to stream from any video or audio app.
    Over 90% of homes have fixed line broadband with WiFi, and WiFi will soon be free from all public phone boxes.
    It’s not expensive to stream any radio station from anywhere in the world in Australia.

    DAB+ digital radio, I argue, is a waste of time for most people. A smartphone can stream in better audio quality and even a cheap bluetooth speaker outperforms the speaker on most DAB+ radios.

    Analogue broadcasting, particularly AM (medium wave) radio, is still very popular and very much needed for travelling Australia (as pointed out in the guest article, it’s the norm to have no mobile reception in rural Australia, not the exception).

    Broadcasting is not dead, but I believe DAB+ radio will be turned off before analogue AM is in this country.

    Reply
    1. mangosman

      Jason,
      You should remember a few things particularly about streaming to phones in particular.
      What you say about using mobile phones assumes that most of the audience is using a radio for reception. If you have in a major city for example over a million listeners using their mobile phones to listen to the radio station, each one gets their own signal, There has to be a tranceiver in the closest base station allocated to you. This can cause all traffic including phone calls to be congested. Will mobile phone companies have a massive installation program and buy a lot more spectrum just for the 2 hours of breakfast? This of course will drive up costs not only for the mobile broadband but also phone calls.
      Whilst you can stream any country in the world, how many want to do this outside your local area. One of radio’s chief selling points is that it has local content.

      I have heard a lot of arguments about sound quality in Australia, but when asked what does the poor sound sound like and in what programs you can hear it, I am yet to be shown any examples.
      You may be complaining about receiver sound quality, but compare it to AM, with the correct receiver you get stereo sound, and high pitched sounds which are absent on AM, also DAB+ has no noise. All DAB+ receivers will produce stereo sound on all but speech programs on headphones. Most new cars are contain DAB+ reception and the speakers are generally better than portable radios, and there is stereo sound with wide speaker spacing.
      You obviously know nothing of Digital Radio Mondiale which the ABC has been testing in country Victoria. It covers much greater areas and has a much newer and more efficient sound compression system which produces much better sound at very low bit rates.

      Norway switched off all main broadcast FM transmitters, government and commercial in 2017, having replaced it with DAB+. after 12 months the ratings were the same as prior to the switch off. Now some of the additional programs has increased overall listening hours. They have no AM.

      BBC research and development has analysed the electricity consumption of broadcasting from the studio output to the receiver speaker. In decreasing order of consumption it is AM, mobile streaming, FM, DAB. DAB is the old version which had poor sound and ours can carry 18 and more channels on a single transmitter. DRM was not tested but it will be even better than DAB+. IIf you wish to reduce carbon dioxide production particularly in Victoria, DAB+ and DRM is the way to go because, the lower electricity consumption means smaller solar panels and batteries.
      Telstra is the biggest single electricity consumer in Australia. Have a look at a many mobile base stations. They have one or two air-conditioners to start with even excluding the electronics. Most base stations have a coverage area of around 30 square kilometres, where as most main stations radio station transmitters are in the 10 000 – 30 000 square kilometres range

      Reply
  2. adi

    Indeed , all is changing but is it for the good?
    Here in Israel no local MW for ~10 years.
    FM is king and DAB hardly ever discussed.
    And as for the SWL … No English programs targeted here for few years as countries shut their SW service.
    Everything is “streamed”, I can listen to whatever I want with KiwiSdr or other radio apps or watch on the screen dozens of TV content with my Android TV box.
    I use Cellular modem, I pay $10 a month for 200GB . I “consume” about half.
    The days of DX’ing are long gone… with a mouse click or one touch on the smartphone I listen to places my family living room radio set never heard of.
    What about the fun you ask? well… we all like to be young again aren’t we?

    Reply
    1. mangosman

      adl,
      Radio Kuwait transmits high powered DRM in English
      All India radio transmits on high frequencies (SW) to Europe, so the signals must go over you. They transmit two programs simultaneously using DRM. https://www.drm.org/what-can-i-hear/broadcast-schedule-2/. You will need a DRM radio.
      I did hear that the BBC was testing DRM on medium frequency (MW) form their AM station in Cyprus, I don’t know the current status of that trial,

      Generally the sound quality of DRM is as good as FM even in stereo even in the HF band provided the broadcasters transmit it.

      Reply
  3. mangosman

    Jerome,
    Television started in 1956 for the Melbourne Olympic Games
    Colour (PAL) TV nationally on 1st March 1975
    Foxtel (pay TV) cable only in Sydney and Melbourne. Later Satellite was added and more recently via National Broadband Network.
    Digital Radio Mondiale first standardised 2001
    Radio New Zealand started transmitting DRM to the Pacific on High Frequency (SW) radio and is now replacing that transmitter with a new one.
    DAB+ digital radio August 2009 started in capital cities only
    The transition to DVB-T digital TV was rolled out between 2010 – 2013. A restack of channels in the following year to create the 700 MHz mobile phone band.
    Viewer Accessed Satellite TV (DVB-S2) 5 broadcasters’ multiple channels of free to air broadcasts in 2013 with ABC/SBS radio included. This replaced the Aussat system of 2 programs using BMAC.
    2015 MPEG4 used in TV to allow more than one HD program from each broadcaster
    2017 Radio Australia and Territory high frequency broadcasts were terminated.

    There is still no digital radio of any type outside of capital cities, Gold Coast and Mandurah. Neither do we use DVB-T2 modulation so that UHD TV can be transmitted.

    Reply

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