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Whither analogue radio in a digital comms ecosystem?

Guy Berger's picture

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Radio is being changed by the rise of digital communications – particularly those that are cellphone-based. Call-ins and live-reports are common, thanks to mobiles. SMS comments and polls are common. Twitter and Facebook (and Mxit in the case of Radio Grahamstown) integration allows for expanded interaction with audiences.

So, should radio itself go digital? To be sure some radio services are digital, being available to audiences live or downloaded on the Internet. But traditional dissemination via the airwaves is still analogue.

That kind of transmission misses potential to squeeze a lot more (digitally compressed) radio channels on a given set of frequencies, or to add data to the audio stream, or provide content that can be seamlessly saved, mashed and moved along by listeners.

But these disadvantages don’t make a case for changing to digital broadcast for radio any decade soon:
• Digital radio transmission standards are in flux (DAB, DAB+, DRM, DMB, etc).
• Listeners would have to invest in new digital-ready receivers
• The spectrum for digital radio is largely occupied at present by analogue TV.

Still, radio broadcasters have to play in the wider digital field, even if their own signals and receiver devices remain analogue:
• They need to get space on digital TV distribution as it unfolds;
• They need especially to enter mobile digital TV distribution.

The future will see a patchwork of audio via traditional FM and AM, as well as via digital TV, and being received especially on cellphones – including many with digital TV reception capacities.

All this is a nutshell of my presentation at the Joburg Radio Days conference today.

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