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Thursday, 7 June, 2001, 13:50 GMT 14:50 UK
International radio goes digital
Shortwave radio mast
Which way forward in the digital age?
Programme makers and broadcasting technology experts have been meeting in London to discuss prospects for new digital radio delivery modes.

International radio stations are adapting the distribution of their programmes to new technologies and changing listening habits, BBC Monitoring's Morand Fachot reports.

The conference organiser, London-based World Radio Network, is a prime mover in international broadcasting both as a "content aggregator" and broadcasting services provider.

WRN provides selected programmes in English from international broadcasters wishing to extend their audience beyond shortwave and enter satellite and cable distribution to offer good audio quality.
Rotating radio mast
Technology changing the face of broadcasting

WRN has also launched services in French and German and is planning one in Russian, it is also broadcast to North America, the Middle East, Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, and is also available via the Internet.

A number of technical solutions were presented at the conference, all based on digital technology, some already in use or relying on existing equipment, others at the development stage and based on new technologies.

"Digital shortwave": global reach in FM quality

What could emerge as the most attractive delivery mode for international broadcasters is that proposed by Digital Radio Mondiale.

DRM is a consortium of international broadcasters and equipment manufacturers seeking to use digital broadcasting on existing frequencies under 30MHz, thus giving a new lease of life to shortwave.

The advantages are obvious: global reach with just five transmitters and near FM audio quality for listeners. Recent transmitting equipment can be modified and receivers should be available around 2005 starting at around 50 dollars.

Programmes would be "simulcast" in both digital and analogue mode on the same frequencies for a transition period.

Satellite radio: free-to-air or pay?

WorldSpace, a free-to-air satellite-based service offers, in excellent audio quality, 57 stations to Africa and the Middle East and 39 to the Asia-Pacific region from two satellites positioned over these areas, with a third satellite beaming to Latin America from 2002.

Radio receiver
WorldSpace radio receiver
Technically the system has performed far better than expected with stations targeting Africa received as far north as Norway and even Iceland on portable sets.

WorldSpace carries leading international broadcasters as well as regional and local stations. The driving idea behind WorldSpace was "to provide educational and informational programming to disadvantaged people in developing regions".

Some international broadcasters will also be carried on other satellite-delivered subscription-only platforms, available shortly for car radios and home reception in the USA (Sirius and XM Satellite Radio) and Europe (Global Radio).

A digital and multiplatform future

With so many systems in use and in development, international broadcasters will be able to bring high audio quality programmes to listeners throughout the world on a variety of platforms.

The future of international broadcasting will then no longer be dictated by ageing technology but by the willingness of governments to ensure continuing funding for their external broadcasters.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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