By Abongile Zizi
In a country nearing complete readiness for Digital Terestrial Television (DTT), the same transition for radio is still far off. This is because digital radio would only be a necessity if all analogue frequencies were full and no more FM stations could be licensed. It is a misconception that analogue radio will have to give way for a digital transition, the question then becomes, what does digital migration mean for radio?
South African radio audiences seem satisfied with the current AM and FM signals which are analogue and widely used for radio broadcasts. The obvious advantage that goes without stating is that with the digital migration more radio channels can be accommodated on the spectrum. This gives room for radio to grow and diversify to cater to a variety of interests and audiences. Radio stations are moving to using digital equipment in production but this does not translate to a readiness. Currently, ICASA is working on revising the Frequency Migration Plan for South Africa as the implementation of DTT has a notable influence on radio frequencies. Because of DTT, ICASA has to now efficiently plan how they allocate frequencies to radio communications. The regulator has already approved two digital technologies for digital radio in South Africa: Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) and Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM).
Debates around the type of technology to be implemented for a move to digital radio are pivotal in understanding what a possible radio migration would entail. Part of the appeal of radio is that unlike television, it is an exclusively audio based medium. Some digital radio standards allow for data streams to accompany the audio in the form of text with programme information and web-cam like pictures of DJ’s or advertising, this change the exclusively audio element of radio.
As a country far from an audio digital migration, it is fair to note that digital audio is being delivered to audiences through other mediums. In a paper titled “Challenges and perspectives of digital migration for African media, Professor Guy Burger, Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development at UNESCO states; “Even if digital terrestrial broadcasts for radio do take root in African countries, eventually it is likely that audio will actually travel via a patchwork of technologies, such as satellite for remote areas, and cell phones for outdoor listening, while indoors would be via internet or even digital TV.”
It is an exciting time for the country with the strides we have made in relation to DTT and although digitised radio signals are still far off in terms of implementation, digital technology in the country is revolutionising radio from production to reception.