e-interview with Ruxandra Obreja, Chairman of the DRM Consortium

It is my honor to post this e-interview with Ms. Ruxandra Obreja, the Chairman of the DRM Consortium. Just one sentence information about the DRM: DRM is one of the digital radio standards available for choice, and is the only one which can work for all frequency bands. I want to thanks Ms. Obreja for her time and detailed answers. She came to Ankara many times for conference speeches. She is also Head of Digital Radio Development in the BBC World Service. 
In this second interview on digital radio, I used the same questions. I thought that by this, it would be easier to have a decision on both options. Actually, DAB/DAB+ and DRM may live together. Turkey may choose DAB/DAB+ for digitization of FM and DRM for digitization of short & medium wave radios.

1. There are many examples of digital radio transitions all over the world. Some are great success whereas some are total fail. I think there is not a one-right-path to follow. What do you recommend us, I mean Turkey, with all those experiences?

Radio is strong due to its well-known attributes: universality, mobility, intimacy and lately also due to the introduction of digital. Digitising radio is the way to future proof it.
Digital is driven by the need to save considerable energy costs and spectrum, while giving more content choice and equal access to information, education and entertainment to listeners, whether they are in Ankara or in a small village in the mountains.
Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) is the only global, all-frequency bands digital audio broadcasting standard, the youngest and most flexible among the three main systems.
Digital radio means excellent signal quality with new features, like additional data services with electronic newspapers, images and low bit video streams, as demonstrated by DRM already.
DRM (www.drm.org) is the only digital standard that can offer a uniformly clear sound in the VHF bands but, equally, in medium, short and long wave too. As such it can offer an efficient digital path to big (public) broadcasters as well as regional, local and community stations. This has been recognized in India where the biggest digitisation process in the world is underway with the potential to create a digital radio market of over 1 billion people. A DRM signal can be potentially received by half the world population now. Big broadcasters like the BBC, Radio France, Voice of Nigeria, All India Radio, the public broadcasters in Slovakia and Romania, broadcasters in South Africa, Botswana and New Zealand are testing or broadcasting successfully in DRM. DRM transmitters exist in all continents and specialists and listeners have experienced the excellent sound quality and extra capacity (up to three programmes and one data channel for the same spectrum), as well as the extra features including internet data streams, emergency warning in case of natural  disasters or terrorism and traffic information.
Turkey is a very large, geographically and ethnically diverse country with big urban areas but also with vast, sparsely populated regions. It also has a strong public broadcaster and a thriving commercial sector. DRM is, therefore, ideal to satisfy national, regional, local needs and to create more capacity.
There is no need for “communal coexistence on one multiplex”, no need for investing in a totally new infrastructure, as in DRM you can upgrade the existing infrastructure.
One DRM transmitter (100Kw) delivering 40kW DRM power offers the same coverage with three programmes as 15 FM transmitters with one programme only. So we consume 50 kW and broadcast three programmes (and one data channel) covering about 600 kilometres. For the same area we need to use 15 FM transmitters, consume 250kW and broadcast 1 service.
So, if Turkey wants to digitize I would make the following suggestions:
  • Adopt a digital solution or combination of solutions for Turkey and its own needs and not for the needs of another country, be it in Europe or Asia. Get it right the first time and launch “Digital Radio for Turkey” - give equal access to digital quality to the entire country.
  • Announce your chosen standard or combination of standards clearly and set a “launch date” for digital. This will signal to the receiver industry, retailers and broadcasters the deadline to which they have to work to. It is a milestone that will concentrate minds and effort.
  • Involve all stakeholders (regulator, broadcasters, public, private and community, industry, advertisers) in devising a clear and comprehensive plan for the whole of the country. Communicate it clearly to the industry (manufacturers and retailers) first and closer to the launch date to the listeners. 
  • Spell out clearly all the benefits of digital radio. Make the digital offer distinct and exciting and the receivers plentiful and desirable.

Simulcast period, analogue and DRM (DRM30 for AM and DRM+ for VHF), is a must but is also an extra cost for broadcasters. What do you suggest for the length of this simulcast period?

There is no doubt that before analogue is switched off, in the simulcast period, there is an extra cost for the broadcaster. Therefore, ideally, the simulcast period should be as short as possible. This is easier said than done. This will depend on realising the points mentioned above. There are two major considerations in the transition period:
  • The simulcast programmes will not make listeners get new receivers automatically. Moving across listeners swiftly, without losing their loyalty, will depend on good communication, on a lot of hard work and on the preparation of a unique, very compelling new digital offer. Otherwise the simulcast can become a long drawn phase draining the broadcaster of funds and damaging the image and potential of digital radio. 
  • When becoming fully digital a broadcaster will save money on energy (up to 80% in DRM for MW and SW and about a tenth of what is being spent currently on FM in DRM for VHF or DRM+). So with careful planning the simulcast costs can be mitigated. Simulcasting also allows for more advertising slots even in the transition period.

3.As far as I know in Europe some cars come with DAB+, especially in C+ segment. But anyway there are many cars on the roads with FM only radios. What is the solution for those?

A lot of the global car manufacturers are aware of the digital radio developments and are ready to install or activate the standard or standards that are chosen by a particular market. In India several car manufacturers are working on DRM and have solutions for it and their new models. It might be that in other markets the same car manufacturers will go for dual standards. In any case the “aftermarket” segment will be considerable as millions of cars are on the road already. We see interest in converting or replacing existing radios.
For Turkey I see a lot of opportunities in manufacturing digital radios or adapting the analogue receivers. The DRM-only or multi-standard chipsets exist already.
In my view the technical hurdle is less significant than the communication and information hurdle which involves three stages:
  • Decide on the standard 
  • Announce the “launch date
  • Create the right content

Cars drive digital radio take-up. With the right communication, good content and encouragement, a new era for broadcasting can open in Turkey too.

4.Some argue that 3G/4G/Internet Radio is the best solution for listening radio and there is no need to build a new network for digital radio. They do not talk about unicast/multicast network & also the cost for the data on those solutions. How do you comment on this?

For this I have a simple answer: try taking your PC in the car, in the bathroom or in the kitchen. And also count how many times you need to buffer at the best moment in your programme or favourite song. This is from the point of view of the listener.
For a broadcaster the more successful it is, the more it has to pay for each listener in broadband terms. Broadband itself is not infinite, has a cost and does not offer mobility or a reliable service in times of disaster or emergency.
IP is “one to one” at a cost. Terrestrial broadcasting (digital or otherwise) is one to many, for free. Why use the processing power of a PC when you can use the simple terrestrial broadcasting solution?
The beauty of DRM is that you do not have to set up a completely new network. You can upgrade the existing transmitters, use the sites, the antennas and land allocated already to this activity. The only thing that changes is that you need to add to all this some digital capacity while being able to broadcast up to three programmes and one data stream where you only have one programme now. The data stream can be any kind of useful information (sports results, business data, disaster warnings, health information etc.) starting with the very RSS feeds of the broadcaster. So instead of IP taking over radio, I claim that with DRM radio you can offer internet content even to those who have no sophisticated laptops, tablets or even electricity.
In conclusion I would say that getting the best digital radio solution for Turkey only starts with the choice of technology, a choice that gives equal access to all citizens.
At the end of the day, it is not about technology but about good, distinct and exciting radio programmes, the will to succeed and the right communication programme to the industry and the public for the successful digitisation of Turkish radio using DRM or multi-standard receivers and platforms.