Saturday, June 11, 2016
With successful trials of DRM, AIR will fully convert to this digital medium for radio: Yogendra Pal
Reports have appeared in some publications that there is a proposal by All India Radio to switch off its short wave transmitters and to switch instead to the Internet which has already commenced beaming the national channel of AIR. However, former Additional Director General of AIR and head of the Indian wing of DRM Consortium Yogendra Pal disagrees with the reports, particularly one which appeared in Sunday Guardian recently. He feels that Internet has its own limitations and cannot compete with terrestrial transmission in certain circumstances including storms etc. He also feels it is time to switch to digital transmissions as that has been shown to continue even in storms etc. In an interview with Radioandmusic.com, Pal elucidated his point of view about the importance of terrestrial broadcasting for radio.
It is being said that AIR is contemplating shutting down its short wave transmitters as these are no longer cost-effective, and that there is need to switch over to the Internet which already has the national channel of AIR on it. There is no doubt that Internet is bringing us closer to each other as it is enabling availability of programs, be it films or songs – video, sound or text, anytime anywhere. But there are some problems when it comes to availability of radio programmes on mobile internet networks in streaming.
Can you elucidate what you mean by problems?
Firstly, access through internet means we pay for bandwidth every time we listen to a programme whereas programmes through terrestrial transmitters are totally free. Secondly, we need good uninterrupted data rate to listen programs through the internet but at time and in lot of places it is not possible to get even an internet connection, not to mention data rate. Then there is a limit on the number of concurrent listeners to be serviced simultaneously through the Internet but there is no such limit when the radio programmes are received through the broadcasts enabled by transmitters. A broadcaster can plan for more number of concurrent listeners through Internet but it involves a lot of money. A broadcaster may set up conditions for a number of concurrent listeners through the Internet but very often the network is unable to provide uninterrupted service to all those who are logged in all the times, particularly when there is a very popular/interesting programme. Finally, you will agree that during disasters/emergencies, Internet is the first casualty as either the network is not available at all or is too congested. So during disasters/emergencies, when we need the radio most, it may not be available at all through Internet.
With AIR talking of high costs in short wave broadcasting and complaining that listeners are gradually tuning to FM as it is more readily available on wireless including the mobile phones, how does one confront this problem?
In spite of all these constrains, terrestrial (off air) broadcasting – be it on MW, SW or FM - is most important and the most popular means of providing information, entertainment and education to radio listeners throughout the world. There is no substitute to terrestrial broadcasting, which serves any number of listeners simultaneously, and that too totally free. But Internet and other platforms are recognised now as supplementary means and enhancements to terrestrial sound broadcasting. But there are problems there too, as I mentioned. And it is not very practical.
Commercial Radio Australia CEO Joan Warner said, and I quote, "We frequently face the assumption that streaming will eventually or even now is replacing broadcast radio as the main method of listening to radio. First of all, it isn't. Secondly, it can't. Using streaming over a mobile network to reach an audience of hundreds of thousands of people – all listening to the same program at the same time in good quality – is not practical, nor technically possible." (http://mumbrella.com.au/joan-warner-cra-digital-radio-streaming-will-not-overtake-broadcast-362735),
What would be your solution to this imbroglio where radio listening is imperative?
I feel that it is not a question as to whether there should be terrestrial off air broadcasting or not (be in MW, SW or FM), but of how to improve the quality of terrestrial off AIR broadcasts and how to utilize the allocated frequency spectrum more efficiently. Radio services through SW transmitters are an excellent means to reach listeners spread across different parts of the world. As a report of 29 April said “A radio station in South Sudan is using older, but tried and tested technology (SW) to reach new audiences.”
Clearly, the time has come for Radio to go digital. SW services in analogue used to have problems of fading. But with digital, it is no more an issue. Terrestrial analogue broadcasting is energy hungry but in digital the energy consumption can be reduced up to 80% so one of its great drawbacks disappears while radio via the internet is at the cost of the listener and the broadcaster as very high processing power is being used to transmit and decode a relatively simple service, like radio. We are approaching 2020 and are in Digital Era, with even the government emphasizing Digital India. Keeping in view the advantages of digital broadcasts, Radio broadcasts are also being digitised in all bands, including SW, all over the world.Major broadcasters like BBC, All India Radio, Radio France, Radio Romania, Radio New Zealand, Korean Broadcasting System, NHK, Vatican Radio, Radio Russia, Voice of Russia, World Radio Network, Bit Express (Germany), Belarusian Tele-radio Company (Belarus) and Overcomer Ministry have already digitised their SW services using DRM digital broadcast system (www.drm.org). Not to talk about digitisation of MW and SW transmissions only, some countries have already gone for digital broadcasts even in FM band and have announced cutoff dates to switch off analogue FM transmissions. In fact, many developing and developed countries have taken the inspiration from AIR to switch to DRM.
But with mobile phones growing and FM being available, does one need to spend on a DRM receiver?
Where only one audio programme could be broadcast in analogue on one frequency on SW (and in all bands, actually), DRM can provide up to 2 to 3 services or channels of excellent digital quality along with data channel or value added text services. AIR is already broadcasting 2 audio services in DRM from its SW transmitters
In fact, our feedback is that AIR is getting excellent feedback reports on the quality of SW DRM transmissions. AIR shortwave services are very popular the world over and are an excellent means to meet the aspirations of millions of non-resident Indians who can finally get information they want in perfect quality (better or similar to FM). I would therefore request the Indian Government and AIR to consider all these aspects before taking any decision as to whether switch off SW services of AIR all together or digitize all of them and supplement them with internet broadcasting (which is popular but with relatively low listening figures all over the world).
But a DRM receiver is stated to be very expensive…….
You will recall that when the mobile phone came into the country, a good quality phone would cost as much as Rs 30,000. But as demand has grown, these mobiles are available for even lower than Rs 1,000.
But are these available in the country?
More manufacturers are coming forward to make DRM sets after demonstrations by AIR on 27 transmitters and I am confident that as the demand for DRM grows, the sets will become affordable. The chip needed for this is already available in India.
But what advantages does DRM have over the radio transistor?
We have already tried DRM successfully in cars, and it costs just around Rs 1000 for a car manufacturer to install the DRM capacity. In fact I am told that five to six auto manufacturers are already offering this as a bonus to their buyers. And these sets have other value added services. A DRM receiver can also carry short video messages, apart from certain other services.