FULL NEWS ARTICLE:
Enda o'Kane writes: On March 24th, RTE will cease its medium-wave service, ending its broadcast of Radio One to AM radio listeners. While other options, including FM, longwave and the Internet, are available for listeners, this move by RTE is premature. Despite newer technologies coming to the fore, AM radio still has relevance and an important role to play.
Medium-wave adequate for a speech based service, and it provides seamless availability. It’s still enjoyed by many senior citizens, who value it above FM for its reliability and ease of use - while FM provides high fidelity, it is also plagued by reception blackspots. Senior citizens find AM medium wave easier to tune in, with predictable and stable reception. In addition, medium wave is fitted to most inexpensive radios and in most cars. Longwave is not.
The simplicity of MW is particularly important to those with limited vision – the FM dial is cluttered with stations. MW is also convenient for fishermen and those on the move either in cars, ferries, or on holiday - MW stays on the same spot on the dial. For drivers, tuning in to FM, and retuning as the signal shifts around the country, can be a distraction and a factor in car accidents.
Cutting service also contradicts the sprit of the Good Friday Agreement. Parts of Northern Ireland, including the Falls and Belfast still rely on medium wave. RTE medium wave, and Radio Ulster from Lisnagarvey, are traditional cross border cultural links enjoyed by all. They serve all ages and social groups.
For the past number of years, RTE has been running its long and medium wave transmitters on close to half their allocated power, thus reducing its service to Northern Ireland, the UK and beyond, contrary to custom and practice, as well as the spirit of the recent Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2006, which specifically provided for the broadcast of radio to our emigrant communities.
Has a restructured RTE abandoned its public service responsibility by this action?
There is another important issue: new digital technology will soon render our existing receivers obsolete. A new technology called DRM has arrived, and it can be broadcast over medium, long and short-wave transmitters. It is supported by more than 30 countries, and being rolled out across Europe. It is giving digital quality to these frontier-crossing signals and a renaissance to a dying technology.
DRM radios are multi standard – and offer benefits similar to those on digital television – such as a tuner that displays the station name, and the ability to stop the programme, record it and replay it.
RTE has installed a long-wave DRM transmitter on 252kHz. Its FM-like sound was heard across the UK and Europe in tests last August. Since then, however, RTE have been focused on DAB, a digital technology that is considered by many in the industry as out of date.
DRM longwave can deliver RTE in near FM quality across N. Ireland, UK and near Europe. But in cutting off the medium wave transmission prematurely, RTE have abandoned a principle which served then well over many years: when a new technical standard is being introduced, it’s vital to maintain the existing one during the transition period to allow the public time to switch over. This was done with the switchover to FM, and likewise the transition from black and white to colour television. The principle has not been pursued here. Medium wave should be recognized as an integral tool in the strategy toward digital radio.
Those who purchase a longwave radio now will find it obsolete when RTE cuts the existing longwave signal and sends out a digital signal in its place. They will end up having to buy a second radio to continue listening on longwave after this change occurs. For that reason, RTE must continue with the medium wave service to give an alternative to longwave until a longwave digital signal is sent out.
Enda O’Kane is a former RTE staff member. He has served on television transmitters and as RTE Technical Representative. He is a member of the Emigrant Advice Network (www.ean.ie), with a focus on improved communications with our emigrants in the digital age.