World Radio Day 2020 letter

Almost every Australian has a climate change story to tell from this summer holiday.

Fires, smoke, power outages and now floods.

We are used to the cycle of natural disasters in Australia, but this summer has been different. This is the year that the effects of climate change disasters came to the cities.

Smoke obscured the Harbour Bridge and the banks of the Yarra River. Eerie red suns shone over Brisbane and Adelaide. Power outages were felt in many cities. Now floods have finally put out the fires, but have also swept away cars and trees.

In all these affected areas of Australia I have heard reports of increased sales of battery powered radio sets.

It is a timely reminder of the importance of a reliable transmission chain. Or should I say ‘chains,’ plural.

I’m not someone who looks back blindly to the dominance of the old analog transmitter. I believe in sending our audio content to as many people as possible on any receiver device, this is essential to the future of radio. But so is free to air terrestrial broadcast transmission to independently powered receiver sets.

These disasters have only reinforced in my mind the importance of a robust transmission path, whether it be your own transmitter site, a shared facility or an outsourced service, or AM, FM or DAB+.

Receivers are also an important consideration. During this summer I have heard repeatedly about towns without power. Eventually mobile phones and computers ran out of juice and shut down, the tv was out and wifi was off, while battery powered radios continued to operate for those in greatest need.

Some stations lost their masts, such as the ABC  and 2EAR on the NSW South Coast, while others struggled to stay on air in the face of cyclonic winds or intermittent power, but mostly radio was reliable.

We can’t take the robustness of our transmission chain for granted. Whether you run your own transmitter or outsource it,  it is a timely reminder to make sure that terrestrial transmission is not overlooked as we, rightly, focus on newer ways of delivering content to our audiences.

Do you have a scheduled preventative maintenance routine, is enough provision made in the company accounts for equipment upgrades and replacement? Do you have back up facilities?

If your transmission is outsourced or shared, do you have robust service level agreements in place?

Is there someone at senior management or board level who has responsibility for transmission? If not, there should be.

The same goes for all the other transmission paths. Has everything been done at your end to ensure continuity of service for streaming apps and podcasts? Unfortunately this is not as easy to answer in the digital domain, because there are so many more steps between you and the end user, plus receiver devices, such as mobile phones, are less reliable in difficult conditions.

Beyond disasters, there is also the issue of tracking.

There is a growing awareness of just how much data is being gathered about us as we surf the wave of new media. Are we doing all we can to ensure that we are not invading people’s privacy when they listen to us? And, more importantly, are we unintentionally exposing our listeners’ data to third parties without their (or our) knowledge?

This too is worth consideration when auditing the reliability of our transmission chain. These new digital paths are part of that chain too.

In the age of the ‘do not track me’ movement, free to air radio transmission is one of the only media left that doesn’t track you or aggregate your personal data.

And one final issue is blocking.

I travel a lot, and in some countries I have discovered that many apps, streams and websites are blocked by national firewalls. If we only rely on the IP path to send out our signals, we are at the mercy of geoblocking and firewall filtering of anything that is perceived as undesirable to the organisations who control that country’s firewalls. Broadcast radio can transcend borders more easily than IP in some cases.

World Radio Day 2020 is as good a time to audit your transmission paths and ensure everything is in order. And make sure enough people at the right level have the responsibility and knowledge to ensure that radio continues to be the reliable medium it always has been.

Take transmission seriously.

Happy World Radio Day!

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About the Author

Steve is the founding editor of this website.

He is a former broadcaster, programmer, senior executive and trainer who now runs his own company Ahern Media & Training Pty Ltd.

He is a regular writer and speaker about trends in media.

Steve is currently in Delhi India speaking at a World Radio Day conference.

More info here.


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