THE RADIO PAGE



2/5/2016 - Has DAB+ Fallen Into A Black Hole?

The regional rollout of DAB+ has been so long coming it is going to be overtaken by internet streaming radio stations.

The process of assessing whether the same technology that works for the capital cities would work for the regions, or whether a different system should be used there, appears to have stopped the regional rollout altogether. Not because it is incomplete. It concluded that there should be no change. The question arose because the promulgation parameters for country areas are different. In the cities, a system which has a more limited range but good penetration of solid structures works best. In the country, a longer range is ideal, even if sacrificing some of that building penetration capability is reduced. All of that, however, is trumped by the imperative to have one system overall. Dual systems have all sorts of issues, not the least of which is that your gear doesn't work if you move to the other area! Then there's the doubling up of inventory for sellers. It just isn't worth doing, but years were spent reaching that conclusion.

When the DAB Radio push started, there were so many country towns that didn't have anywhere near adequate internet service that the idea would have had appeal. The cities were happy to have it as it meant more stations/channels could be going at once (due to the efficient use of the available spectrum) and variety was supplemented by improved audio quality for all the AM stations. They got better sound and stereo instead of compressed mono. As for the FM stations, no improvement at all. The FM sounds better.

So, here we are. DAB+ is just another string to your bow if you are in a capital city. It's quite handy as my bedside radio. It is not the be-all-end-all where it's freely available. Why? Because basically it has just a fraction of the variety that internet radio offers. It has its uses, but it is not going to win in the end against the increasingly available thousands of stations via the web. If it was going to get a following it should have been rolled out to the regions as well by now. That's n-o-w, now, not in a few years' time.

I think it has missed the wave, and will not recover.


DAB+ for the Regions?

The following statement was issued by Commercial Radio Australia on 8th July 2015:

"Commercial Radio Australia (CRA) has welcomed the release of the Digital Radio Report by the Department of Communications and looks forward to joining the recommended planning group to commence planning for the rollout of DAB+ broadcast radio to regional Australia.

Says Joan Warner, chief executive officer of CRA: "CRA is pleased to note the signal of support for regional DAB+ rollout in the report, with its recommendation for the establishment of an industry planning group. This means that regional Australians will not suffer a digital divide in relation to free to air broadcast radio but will eventually be on an equal footing with their metropolitan counterparts."

Australian radio listeners have demonstrated strong support for DAB+ digital broadcast radio.

Since the launch of DAB+ digital radio in metropolitan Australia in late 2009, DAB+ digital radio listening continues to outperform expectations, with 3.2 million people or nearly 25% now listening to radio each week using a DAB+ digital radio in the five metropolitan capitals. Twenty six vehicle manufacturers in Australia now include DAB+ digital radio and more than 190,000 vehicles with the technology have been sold.

Says Warner: "The radio industry has invested in a robust reliable future broadcast technology that is easy for listeners to access, remains free, live and local with additional choice and content. Broadcast radio plays a vital role in metropolitan and regional areas with the provision of local news and local emergency services information, so it is very important we continue to provide free to air broadcast radio services into the future."

DAB/DAB+ is fast becoming the global standard for broadcast digital radio as it rolls out across Europe and parts of the Asia Pacific. DAB+ provides a robust reliable, free to air signal as well as the opportunity for broadcasters to offer more choice and diversity to local listeners. "

(My note: that's all very well, but if DAB+ takes too long to get spread around, it'll be made redundant by internet radio! Once people in the regions have better broadband, they have all the stations in the world to choose from, so the main advantage of DAB+, more channels, is neutered.)

14/6/2015 - Decoding Alice in Wonderland

Most of us are familiar with the story of Alice in Wonderland, and we may even know a bit about Lewis Carroll (more correctly, Charles Dodson). But the full story of how his mind worked, the society he came from, and who all those strange characters represented has become a book in itself, and a very interesting one, by David Day.

Dodson was an Oxford scholar who may have been set on becoming a priest, but didn't follow that course beyond passing his deacon's exams. He did succeed in becoming a lecturer in mathematics at Christ Church College, having no doubt inherited a talent from his father, who had two first class degrees in Maths. He was also a keen photographer, and photographed many of the people who later have been identified as characters in the fantastic story of Alice.

Rather than tell you the details here, I recommend that you listen to the podcast of the interview Rachel Kohn did with David Day, as part of her radio series The Spirit of Things, ABC Radio National. It covers a lot of ground apart from the characterisations, drawing into the narrative the philosophical outlooks of Theosophy, Rosicrusianism, and Victorian morals. The connection made between Dodson's risqué photography of young girls and the segment of the Alice story about the Knave of Hearts stealing the tarts is really something!

Given the dual nature of this posting, I'll have to put it on both the Book and Radio pages.

20/3/2015 - DAB+ Digital Radio Audience hits 3.2 Million

Australians are early adopters as a rule, but DAB+ has been held back to just the capital cities, and even getting some of those started took rather longer than Sydney/Melbourne/Brisbane. One of the bottlenecks was the need to free up spectrum used by analogue TV. That's now done. Another was the messing about having another run over the target to see if a different standard was needed for the regions, where carriage over distance is desirable. Done. No new standard.

Now I read that the radio industry is still looking like a public service committee. This is from AV Hub/Sound & Image: "There’s also hopeful news for those outside the capital cities — all of the radio industry (commercial broadcasters, community broadcasters, ABC and SBS) have requested that the Federal Government establish a Digital Radio Industry Planning Committee to work on policy and timetable for phased rollout of services outside of the five capital cities, possibly starting in 2017."

2017. Great. Just as well they still have AM/FM in the regions. But whenerver I venture out there, the offerings on thos bands are pretty limited. Just as well I like ABC Classic FM.


Radio via Mobile Phone

"Listening to radio on a smartphone or tablet via headset is one of the killer features of the mobile platform." Er, yes, I agree, sort of. I happen to think that radio was one of man's greatest, if not the greatest, inventions. And you don't need a $200-$800 smart phone to listen to it on the move.

But I shouldn't be too hard on anyone for rejoicing in the number of Apps there are now for your mobile platform - see the link for more on those. I use some of them myself, and re-scheduling via podcasts is great. But let's not lose sight of the fact that radio distributes information, documentaries, music and other entertainment very effectively, and both the entry price and the upkeep cost to the consumer is very, very low.


Radio Aint Radio Anymore

Radio ain't just radio any more. It's AM, it's FM, it's DAB+, it's Pandora, LastFM, Spotify, and now Tidal in some places - and all those other online services that will cheerfully stream whatever flavour of music you like at any time of day. In the USA there are also satellite based HD radio sevices.

The snags are several, though, with the new high-tech versions. Firstly, you can't just casually tune in an online service when on the move the way you can with AM, FM or DAB+. Well, maybe you can in certain places, using 3G, but compared to the easy availability of legacy radio, the online streamed stuff is a little bit picky about how you access it.

Then there's the free versus not free aspect. Legacy radio is just there, waiting for you to tap into it with your receiver, which can be pretty cheap as well. Streaming costs you some of your monthly limit - not too much of a worry if you have more limit than you know what to do with, but there are still plenty of cheap ISP deals around that give less scope for having your streaming service chortling away all day. Phone-based deals are even skimpier.

I've always said that broadcast radio is one of man's greatest inventions, and it still delivers a lot of value to a lot of people for minimal cost to the user. But how is it going to survive the inroads of these newcomers? Being niche service providers, and locally focussed will help. Programming and local news can be tailored to a selected audience profile. They can then sell their adverts to businesses wanting to target that demographic.

But online services can offer a pretty cheap monthly subscription that cuts the ads and increases the audio quality, to say 256k (JazzRadio.com, for $5/month), or 320k (Spotify, $12/month). I use both of these services, and both have a lot to offer.

JazzRadio has 28 channels of jazz, so I can choose Piano Trios, Guitar Jazz, Gypsy Jazz, Bebop, whatever suits my mood at the time. No legacy radio can do that. Even the new ABC Jazz on the DAB+ band falls flat with me because they are trying to cover all styles on one channel, and I find that I only enjoy some of it. I use it very little now. Whoever is picking the tracks at JazzRadio does a better job, and has the luxury of all those differentiated channels.

Spotify is another dimension in music availability altogether. The clincher for me is the depth of catalogue. I went looking for the 1960s recordings of a couple of operas that I knew, fairly obscure versions in this day and age, and they were both there - and a lot more besides. Sure, there will be gaps, but I'm constantly amazed at the access my $12/monthly gets me.

News & Current Affairs still gets me tuning in to AM stations, and I do enjoy some Classic FM, and even the occasional bit of FBI 94.5 for some of the more dance-trance or wistful vocal sessions. Popular music can still come up with good audio arrangements, even if the lyrics leave me wondering.

There's no date for the phasing out of AM and FM. It'll be up to the individual broadcasters to decide when to migrate their listeners to a new platform or simply fold their tents and slip away. Analogue TV, on the other hand, is not long for this part of the world, being due to cease later this year.

Until such time as web-based services (with the help of that elusive fix-all called the NBN) achieve the coverage that AM and FM have now, the legacy forms will eke out an existence. But the clock is ticking.


Amazing Radio Historical Marathon

Back in 1999, the ABC decided to do an extended history program in the lead-up to the turn of the century - they called it Millenium. It covered huge swathes of history over many centuries. I have about 7 hours worth of it captured off-air, and I'm about to revisit the series. For something that was such a big event, there's virtually no trace left on the internet about it - I suppose it was just a bit early for that. Now so much is stashed on a server somewhere we expect everything to be archived and traceable. I suppose the ABC has it all on CD-R or a hard drive somewhere in its archives.

And what did I store it on? Actually, on minidisc. Yes, just as minidisc gets the chop, and the final example rolls off Sony's production line, I was prompted to sift through my box of discs to see what I could find - and there it was. Three discs of Millenium, recorded in mono for double-length, so each 74 minute disc holds 148 minutes.

Each century had an hour allocated, and my recording starts with the 13th Century, and focuses on Genghis Khan, whose life is much richer than simply that of a bloodthirsty conqueror. My next challenge is to transfer these discs onto another format so that I can make use of them on other portable devices. Hopefully I have all of the centuries from the 13th to the 19th. I can do without their reading of the 20th.

I'll have to copy them to CD first, since I can't copy these minidiscs to my computer by direct digital means, even though my portable is a "NetMD" and has USB connection. For some reason transfer in that direction was not supported until the later, higher models appeared. I have previously transferred all the talking books of Dickens' novels to the computer then absorbed them into iTunes, from where I can load any of them onto an iPod. Once I've copied the minidiscs of Millenium to CD I can import them into iTunes.



DAB+ Slow Rollout To Regions

Remember the two year delay in implementing DAB radio while they investigated the feasibility of a last-minute change to DAB+? Maybe not, but that's what happened, and that's one of the reasons why the rollout has always remained at least two years behind schedule. Not that going for DAB+ was a bad idea - it is a better system and the Europeans will eventually follow suit. But for some time I've been wondering why the rollout to the regions has been so slow. Has DAB+ stalled?

Guess what? Another report has been in preparation concerning the system to be rolled out in the regions. They actually considered not using DAB+. The main alternative contender was DRM or DRM+, but switching to another system has obvious problems. Radio receivers would all have to be re-engineered to be dual standard, adding to costs and disrupting the existing standard which everyone has stocked up on.

Some of the issues raised in the report were (i) DAB+ has, like FM, a lesser capability over longer distances, and in difficult topography; (ii) DRM30 might be able to provide wider area coverage using AM band frequencies, but there are objections due to the possible interference to adjacent stations and the lack of suitable receivers. The use of DRM30 on the AM band may even require early switching off the AM services, which will not be an attractive idea. Some submissions from community groups liked the idea of hybrid DAB+/DRM receivers, but industry correctly pointed out that this was an expensive option as well.

In the end, common sense should prevail, and we should stick with DAB+ even though there may be some disadvantages in coverage over the long distances and lower population densities (which is always a commercial consideration) that regional broadcasting has to cope with.

While all metropolitan areas are now served by DAB+, the expansion to regional areas is overdue, and I hope the way is now clear for further rollouts.

UPDATE: The regions will just have to wait. They aren't going to start the rollout until all the analogue TV services are switched off, around the end of 2013.

Update: No, looking more like 2017, see item further up page.


Some Radio Links

Brief Radio History

ABC Radio History

AM Antennas

FM History

See also our Links Page.

Crunch Time For DAB+? (updated)

How is DAB+ going to go against Internet Radio?

With the expansion of the DAB+ radio network only reaching major metropolitan centres to date, and no evident timetable for the regions, the question is now being asked whether DAB+ will survive and prosper or be beaten and eaten by internet radio.

Having started the rollout of DAB+ with a view to spectrum management as well as improved reception for formerly AM stations, the project still has merit. We are used to having at least some local radio stations and some national ones that we can access pretty much anywhere for free - that is to say no download fee. This is the essential beauty of radio - it can be accessed on cheap devices and there's no "user pays more" for the time you listen to it.

On the technical and "policy" fronts, DAB+ will eventually free up spectrum for other uses. That is long-term, since the individual broadcasters have been left to decide when to terminate their AM and FM broadcasts, and this will vary from region to region. They'll only do it when either (a) they have enough DAB+ listeners - which in most regions is stuck at zero for now! - or (b) when they are told that due to a change in policy they are to vacate the AM and FM spectrum by a certain date regardless. But (b) can only happen if (a) happens.

Internet radio now appears to be holding more trump cards than DAB+, particularly in view of the promise that most of the country will have faster broadband - sometime! With internet radio you can stream your favourite city or local station wherever you are in the world, provided you have reasonable internet service. In the Sydney retail environment we are constantly asked by people who have moved up or down the coast or inland what sort of radio will pick up their old favourite AM stations. The answer is usually none. But with internet radio, no problem. You can listen to stations from around the world, tailored to your music, news or other spoken word tastes, and often ad free. Podcasting allows for precise selection of programs without regard to time of broadcast, once again putting the listener in control.

In addition to actual radio stations on the net, the growth of streaming services (Rdio, SongL, soon also Spotify, MOG and so on) means that for a lot of the time people are using them as de facto radio stations, with the added attraction of the social aspects, sharing music and playlists with friends, getting recommendations from all sorts of people including online DJs. The growth in this type of service is set to explode in 2012 as some of the big guns get into it.

The downside of internet radio and streaming services is that they will eat up your monthly allowance unless you have plenty of it. And you're paying for that in any event, unlike broadcast. Even so, it's an attractive alternative, and will become more so as the NBN gets around - unless the cost of a package is too expensive. Here's hoping that is not the case, as it thoroughly destroys the concept of fast broadband anyway if you can download so much so quickly that you blow your budget!

Chances are that if you're downloading a lot of video each month you'll have to watch what the internet radio chews through as well, or you might run out. At present I'm on 100GB per month with not much video involved, and even with three other users in the house I could still leave the internet radio going for most of my waking hours and be ok. You have to be sure though, if you're running close to the limit, that you turn the stream off - it will run 24/7 if you leave it going, even with the volume on your Sonos turned down.

For the moment though, I'm still enjoying my bedside DAB+ radio - see item below.

UPDATE: The rollout for DAB+ to the regions is still a sore point. Joan Warner of Commercial Radio Australia is quoted in Appliance Retailer's May 2012 edition as saying that discussions with the government will continue in the second half of this year, but there's essentially no timetable. The same article played down the impact of internet radio so far. This of course once again begs the question "is radio broadcasting being replaced by online music services?" A slow rollout to the regions is not what radio needs right now.

DAB+ could succeed very well in regional areas by providing more channels with no download cost, but if it's slow to arrive more people will discover internet radio and music services, and find that they have a lot to offer.


DAB+ Delivers More

DAB+ radio is still only available in the capital cities, and not the regions. But from my observation of customers and sales, there's no doubt that once it's available people certainly like it. Leave out the comparisons of sound quality with CD or even good old FM out for that matter. It's not the main point.

What DAB+ does achieve is better sound than AM radio, and it gives us multiple channels, new channels. As an aside, I recently looked around for a new bedside radio and settled on a very cost-effective TEAC DAB800W, which you can pick up around the traps for $140, give or take a bit. It has both DAB+ and FM, plus useful connections on the back for Aux Line In and Headphones out, and so far works well.

With DAB+ you only need a weak signal, say two bars out of five, for reception to be fine. But as I mentioned, the multi-channel ability is capable of some interesting side benefits. Example: when parliament is on, you can still get the regular ABC News on the DAB+ channel. When famous musical people are touring, you'll often get a dedicated channel for them while they're out here.

Pure - A Major Force in DAB Radio

Here's some more background on the Pure company, who were unknown here before Digital Radio got rolling, but have been a major force in the UK and supply a lot of other companies with the products of their R&D division.

Early Radio & TV in The USA

Here's an article at Ars Technica looking at the early days of radio and television in the US and the role played by the regulator, the FCC. It also covers the introduction of other new technologies and looks at how the regulation process did (or did not) work out in respect of things like mobile phones.

Digital Radio in Australia

Digital Radio continues to develop its offering. With all the capitals now done and various broadcasters getting their act together with extra channels galore, the regions will be asking when they can get some too! Answer - don't know! It is up to individual companies. Presumably the ABC will get there first, but I have not seen advice on timescales, but the commercial radio people are agitating for a quicker rollout, perhaps 2113 to major regional centres. Once all the stations around the country have migrated to digital, the analogue broadcasts will be gradually shut down. This will be done over time with each region, each station in fact, having a say in when they shut down.

Most of the new radios leave out AM, but offer FM and DAB+. Some also have wireless streaming, so can offer additional avenues for bringing music into them from your computer storage or the internet. Arcam's T32 tuner ($1298) is a high quality item, and still has a separate AM band as well as FM & DAB+. Yamaha's more recent T-D500 at $599 is good value, also offering AM as well as FM & DAB+. Sangean's WFT-1D has FM, DAB+ and wireless streaming so can give you internet radio as well if you have a home network it can tap into.

NEWS: Pure has just announced new models like the Contour and Twilight, plus their new Flowsongs for getting tracks via the internet.

The main commercial digital radio website is here.See also the ABC's page.

Latest Report On Digital Radio.

ABC Castrates Dig Jazz via TV STB

The ABC Dig Jazz (channel 201) via your digital TV set-top-box used to provide some of the best sound quality around. I used to run it through a Theta digital-to-analogue converter then into my best stereo system. Disaster: They have downgraded it to lower quality, reducing it from 192khz Stereo to 96khz (MONO!!!!), in order to accommodate their third standard definition TV channel - which seems to be a complete waste of spectrum. The other two SD channels are still running kid stuff anyway! Like they say, all good things come to an end. The same program goes out in stereo on DAB+ at 80kbps and in stereo, better than nothing but hardly the sort of quality that people with better quality hifi gear are going to get excited about. The FM versio sounds better.

It remains an open question what happens to digital radio when national broadband gives us all huge monthly download limits and streaming radio from anywhere in the world is easy and cheap. Then there's the high quality angle - I guess the new phase of 24 bit/192khz master audio downloads from people like Linn Records will gather pace as well when faster broadband allows for more Gigs per month at reasonable rates. Each high quality album at present takes about 3GB, so you probably won't be buying a lot of them in any one month if you're on a 12GB/month (or less!) plan.

Radio Is Still A Political Force Part 2

Radio is not a played-out medium in many parts of the world, least of all our own. Talk-back is strong here. But spare a thought for those parts of the planet that don't have, and won't have for some time yet, access to or enough money for, the internet.

Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty played an important role in the Cold War when it sent news across the Iron Curtain to the Eastern Block. The resurgence of Cold War thinking in Russia, and the ongoing reluctance of Middle East countries such as Iran to embrace the modern world makes it essential to continue the radio campaign. This thoughtful editorial from the Wall Street Journal outlines why we should support our "radio diplomacy". It delivers where many other forms of diplomacy cannot. It connect directly to the people, who can afford radio receivers, and can listen in secret!

Radio Still A Political Force

During the Cold war, Radio Free Europe was set up to broadcast across the Iron Curtain. It was staffed by announcers who spoke various languages and gave the listeners news of the outside world. Now a radio station in Jerusalem does the same job for Iran. (Sorry, link expired). People listen to an expat Iranian and take the opportunity to do a little talkback, some even game enough to identify themselves. Radio is still the only way to communicate across distances in many countries - it is the only affordable way for poor people to get news. Truly one of the greatest inventions of man.

Podcasting - Radio Mutates!

Podcasting is the new word for making available MP3 files of programs for downloading to computers and then on to portable players. We are still very early in the lifecycle of this phenomenon, but it is already showing signs of being a major method of propagation of "radio" shows and much more. See the Podcast page for more information.

ABC & BBC Step Up Podcasts

The national broadcasters have embraced the Podcast concept and are making more programs available to download this way. See this article at BBC Technology. ABC podcasts can be found at ABC Podcasts

Listen to Jazz?

There are two mostly classical stations (ABC and 2MBS) in my home town of Sydney, but no full-strength Jazz station. UPDATE: the ABC Dig Jazz previously available only via the Digital TV system channel 201 is now on DAB+ Radio too! This is capital cities only at the time of writing, so the rest of you'll have to continue to use the TV tuner! Some of the community stations give it a bit of a shake, but they can't be received outside local suburbs.

If you'd like more jazz, and want better quality than streamed stuff, and with no download fees, tune your digital TV tuner (STB) to Channel 201 Dig Jazz. ABC Digital Jazz is an audio only station - it is good music and no ads - just some station announcements from time to time. Sound is excellent. (Update!! They have now downgraded this from 192khz Stereo to 96khz Mono - suitable for background but no longer hifi) The mix is eclectic, but generally well chosen. While there are no back announcments on-air, you can go to the web page which shows what is currently playing, plus recent history.

Note: This was a superb service, and foreshadowed what could be done with digital radio, provided the compression didn't limit the quality. Unfortunately that is exactly what has happened!

Speaking of online sites, here is a good starting page to go to for music and other Radio Online from the BBC.

UPDATE: I've been listeing to Jazzradio.com and they have some excellent programs. You can have your selections from separate streams with piano prominent, or saxophone, trumpet, whatever. Try them out!

Radio Receivers

Radio is so compact and portable these days that we forget how good it can sound on a larger receiver. The old valve radios can sound so superb - not all of them, but many. I particularly enjoy (what were then) the very advanced models from Germany dating back to the 1960s. My favourite at present is the Saba Meersburg (Auto-tuning) valve table radio model pictured below.

Saba made many great radios of this type, and I have some friends who are now similarly hooked on this warm, big sound. You can view a lot of lovely old German radios at the Wumpus Radio Site See also Mid Century Radios

The New Radio is Podcasting.

When I first wrote that heading, several years ago now, podcasting was pretty new. How quickly these things become mainstream. Now with programs like Juice, or Podcasts for iPad you can have a list of your favourite programs which download to your computer every time you ask it to update. I have to admit there are more backissues of radio shows loitering on my hard drive than I can cope with, but it gives me a good feeling that any regular program I'm interested in can be retrieved that way - very easily.

See our Podcast page