Radio digitale. UK: Il DAB? Un mito che deve finire, parola di giallista

Polemica incrociata tra critici della radio sui giornali britannici. Una polemica che coinvolge, curiosamente, il regolatore OFCOM, la radio digitale DAB, la vecchia modulazione di frequenza, Dante Alighieri e Alfred Hitchcok


(Radio Passioni) – Tutto comincia con un articolo di Chris Campling sul Times che annuncia perentoriamente la morte dell’FM. La radio analogica? Una spazzatura degna di definitivo prepensionamento, così come è successo all’FM.
A Campling risponde sul Telegraph Justin Williams, sostenendo che la morte dell’FM è una notizia ampiamente sopra le righe e aggiungendo che sì, il DAB suona molto meglio quando si va in macchina (ma con quale autoradio?) e che le onde medie di Talk Sport sono piene di scariche, ma che Richard Wagner ha ancora bisogno dell’FM. A supporto della sua posizione di compromesso Williams cita un altro giornalista, David Hewson, che fino a quattro anni fa era il critico radiofonico del Sunday Times. Oggi Hewson fa lo scrittore di gialli ma sul suo blog se la prende con il collega del Times e sotto il titolo The digital radio myth continues, sostiene quello gli addetti ai lavori sanno da tempo: la compressione audio dei codec del DAB è una solenne schifezza. Sono polemiche che rischiano di cadere nel vuoto, visto che in Gran Bretagna i regolatori sembrano ormai indirizzarsi verso un cammino del non ritorno che inevitabilmente porterà allo spegnimento della radio analogica. Ecco che cosa scrive per esempio lo stesso Telegraph due giorni fa:

Carter report: AM and FM radio signals to be switched off

Traditional AM and FM radio signals will be switched off as the Government plans to make digital radio the “primary” format for radio broadcasts.
By James Kirkup and Urmee Khan 29 Jan 2009

The government’s blueprint for the media industry disclosed that despite widespread technical problems and commercial objections to digital radio, ministers will launch a “digital switchover” plan similar to the one underway in television.
The movement of radio services from analogue to digital signals should begin by 2015 at the latest, according to a report drawn up by Lord Carter, the communications industry minister.
Ministers claimed that DAB radio is now “the medium of consumer choice,” even though figures show that less than a fifth of people listen to radio via digital sets.
On the same day, industry figures show that fewer people are listenening to digital radios and more are using traditional analogue sets.
Digital accounted for 18.3 per cent of all radio listening in the final three months of 2008, down from 18.7 per cent in the previous quarter. Listening on AM and FM grew from 68.4 per cent to 68.6 per cent. Some digital listeners complain of poor sound quality and frequent signal interruptions.
E’ una strana sensazione di scollamento tra il pubblico e i regolatori. Tutto sommato gli ascoltatori britannici sembrano aver già fatto le loro scelte, premiando in forte maggioranza una radiofonia forse tradizionalista e sicuramente perfettibile contro una “alternativa” digitale che piace senza evidentemente riuscire a convincere dei suoi presunti meriti. I fautori del DAB continuano a vantare le qualità della loro proposta, ma non riescono a spiegare perché, dopo milioni di ricevitori venduti, la radio digitale non raggiunge un quinto dell’audience e soprattutto continua a perdere un sacco di soldi. Quanti ricevitori bisognerà vendere per cambiare le cose, e soprattutto con quali formule legislative (il paventato switch-off) e di marketing? Giorni fa su Medianetwork è apparso un intervento relativo alla possibile introduzione, da parte di OFCOM, di una particolare licenza concessa ai negozianti di elettronica di consumo, che verrebbero autorizzati a installare dei piccoli ripetitori DAB nei loro punti vendita, in modo da favorire la ricezione e facilitare le demo dei ricevitori DAB sugli scaffali.

UK retailers can boost DAB signal in-store to maximise sales
January 24th, 2009

Following a successful, year-long trial of DAB repeaters installed in Currys Superstores and John Lewis branches, regulator Ofcom has agreed to put in place a permanent licensing regime for all retailers across the country. Since the scheme was approved last year, DSGi has moved quickly to install repeaters in over 300 of its Currys stores, enabling DAB digital radio to be more clearly demonstrated to consumers.
Many electrical retailers suffer from poor analogue and DAB signal strength due to the steel framed infrastructure of the building or their basement location. Installing a DAB repeater on the roof of the store means a signal can be boosted in-store and DAB radios can more easily be demonstrated, thus increasing sales potential. Indeed, some stores have reported as much as 30% uplift in sales simply by ensuring all DAB radios enjoy clear, uninterrupted reception.
Si sa che negli ambienti elettricamente rumorosi i segnali arrivano male, e gli acquirenti ignorano quelle radio che sembrano funzionare così male. Vi pare un atteggiamento corretto nei confronti dei consumatori, si chiede, sempre su Medianetwork, Andy Sennitt? Che cosa dovranno pensare quegli stessi acquirenti quando scopriranno che l’apparecchio che in negozio andava come un treno (grazie alla licenza speciale), magari non riesce più a sintonizzarsi su un solo segnale digitale una volta arrivati a casa? E’ possibile che non si riesca a trovare il modo di vendere la radio digitale per i suoi meriti veri?
E Dante? E Hitchcok? Con la radio c’entrano marginalmente, ma se vi trovate a visitare il sito di Hewson, guardatevi il filmato di presentazione del suo ultimo thriller, Dante’s Numbers, ambientato tra Villa Borghese e la San Francisco missionaria del film Vertigo, La donna che visse due volte. Da quattro anni a questa parte Hewson pubblica una serie di grande successo centrata sull’investigatore romano Nic Costa. Dante’s Numbers è il settimo titolo pubblicato e racconta le vicende di una sanguinosa festa del cinema romana, con i suoi inattesi risvolti sulla lontanissima costa del Pacifico. In Italia, ho visto che le avventure di Nic Costa sono tradotte da Fanucci.

FM is dead, long live Dab
Behind the story Chris Campling, Times Radio Critic

In 1978 Steely Dan recorded the theme tune to a film about a radio station. The film was called FM, and the title of Steely Dan’s song contained, in brackets, the phrase “no static at all”.
And that was the unique selling point of the frequency modulated waveband. Although the first FM broadcasts were made in the 1930s, it was in the 1960s and 1970s that the medium came into its own when rock music became more sophisticated and required a more sophisticated medium. The initials FM became shorthand for a type of American popular music — grown-up, intelligent, serious.
These days FM is as old-fashioned as short wave and medium wave became when it first came along. Digital audio broadcasting (DAB) is clearer, truer, purer. Every year its coverage widens. Every year more stations are added to its almost infinite capacity.
Five years ago, in the country, I could listen to my DAB portable only when standing at one point in one particular part of a single field. No more. DAB receivers still have the tendency to lose signal depending on what side of the room you are, but then FM car radios have the habit of losing signal sharpness when the road isn’t completely flat. DAB can only get better, more comprehensive in its coverage and performance. FM has had its day.
Everything FM can do, digital can do better — especially when they find a way to ensure that portable DAB radios don’t chew battery power quite so wantonly.
More digital stations can be accommodated than by the limitations of FM’s broadcast width of 87.5-108.0 MHz. And, let’s face it, “no static at all” did rather oversell the product.
Will the charms of Radio 4 on FM, and Radio 3 and Classic FM be any less on digital equipment? Of course not. Digital is better, it widens the listener’s range of options — the internet, podcast, Listen Again . . . all these are denied to the FM listener. The only real drawback, as with the switchover from analogue to digital television, is paying for it.

***

DAB – never mind the depth, feel the width
Justin Williams at Jan 30, 2009

Chris Campling, the radio critic at the Times, writes today that FM radio is dead thanks to the wonders of DAB – digital audio broadcasting. “These days FM is as old-fashioned as short wave and medium wave became when it first came along. Digital audio broadcasting is clearer, truer, purer,” he claims.
“Rubbish,” cries David Hewson, formerly the Sunday Times’s technology correspondent now successful novelist, on his blog. “DAB is over-compressed, penny-pinching MP3 pop pap designed to squeeze in more low quality audio for less money.”
Hewson is right. DAB is poor – particularly BBC DAB – compared with the output on FM. Anybody who has ever tried listening to Radio Three on DAB will know just how the digital compression has affected the tonal depth and range. Coupled with the two or three second delay compared with analogue and it’s clear to me that DAB is no match for FM if you’re listening at home and you want a rich audio experience.
Of course BBC DAB is great in the car where you don’t get the diminuation of signal as you move from one transmitter’s cell to another. And it’s also been a boon for sports fans fed up with the constant interruption of Premiership games by the fade and crackle of Radio Five on medium wave.
But for Wagner or Wogan? Forget it.

***

The digital radio myth continues
January 30, 2009

It’s four years now since I gave up journalism but just once in a while something makes me wish, for a moment anyway, I still had access to my old column on the Sunday Times. An utterly ridiculous article on DAB (digital radio) by its sister paper’s radio critic is a case in point.
Under the headline ‘FM is dead, long live Dab’ Chris Campling writes, ‘These days FM is as old-fashioned as short wave and medium wave became when it first came along. Digital audio broadcasting (DAB) is clearer, truer, purer. Every year its coverage widens. Every year more stations are added to its almost infinite capacity.’
Only one problem with that statement: any way you look at it, he’s talking utter rubbish, at least when he talks about the biggest radio supplier in the UK, the BBC. And if he just read a few cuttings from his own newspaper group he’d know why. DAB is over-compressed, penny-pinching MP3 pop pap designed to squeeze in more low quality audio for less money. As I wrote in the Sunday Times in one of my last columns back in June 2005, ‘DAB works by compressing audio — taking out bits and hoping we won’t notice. It does this not using the old standard of MP3 but the even older one of MP2, and the results are dire. Music sounds thin; Wogan’s broad Hibernian tones lose their sonority’.
The Guardian’s Jack Schofield has made the same point here. This isn’t a matter of opinion. I won’t bore you with the technical detail but the breadth and quality of sound from a decent FM radio signal is far superior to that of the BBC’s digital radio stream because the Beeb, for their own reasons, choose to downgrade most of their DAB output in order to squeeze in more radio stations. If you have DAB in your car or on the same hifi in the home you can test it yourself: tune into Radio 2 or something and switch between DAB and FM. The difference is obvious. At least to everyone but the radio critic of The Times. Still, I guess the BBC must love him for perpetuating this myth.

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