At last! After years of the benefits of digital radio being confined to the five mainland state capital cities, some other areas of Australia are slated to receive it.
Digital radio provides lots more radio channels than the existing AM and FM bands, using the radio frequencies released by the elimination of analogue TV. Unlike TV, though, it seems unlikely that digital radio will lead to the switch off of analogue radio for many, many years.
The commercial stations and ABC each offer more than one channel. ABC, for example, in addition to the News Radio, Radio National and ABC Local radio, delivers ABC Jazz, ABC Classic, ABC Grandstand, Triple J and so on.
The DAB+ (Digital Audio Broadcasting-Plus) technology employed in Australia uses a highly efficient audio compression technology – HE-AAC v2 – which provides excellent audio quality even with very high levels of data compression. ABC Jazz, for example, runs at 56kbps in Canberra and sounds quite respectable. Using less than 128kbps for jazz music with MP3 is a recipe for audio disaster.
Digital radio can also carry text information such as the program material that’s playing, and even cover art for music.
Since all forms of radio transmission come under Federal Government rules, the rollout has been tightly controlled. Digital radio has been operating in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide since 2009, while Darwin and Canberra have since been put online with limited, low powered services as a “trial”, with the trial being renewed from time to time.
ACMA – the Australian Communications and Media Authority – has established a committee to “plan for the transition of the Canberra and Darwin trial digital radio services to permanent services as a matter of priority.” I for one am hoping that means a boost in power from the current measly 3kW used in Canberra, and the addition of some re-transmitters to get around the hills that divide the city into segments.
The committee is also “planning the rollout of digital radio in regional areas beyond Canberra and Darwin where industry indicates it is economically feasible to do so”. According to ACMA, Commercial Radio Australia has indicated that Hobart and the Gold Coast are also priorities for receiving DAB+.
Meanwhile, Commercial Radio Australia says that ABC is intending to extend its digital radio services into Hobart, Canberra and Darwin. Joan Warner, CEO of CRA, says “We’ve been aware for some time that local listeners in regional areas are extremely keen to have DAB+ services introduced and we are working closely with the public broadcasters to make this happen.”
Permanent digital radio services are expected for Canberra and Darwin in 2017 and for Hobart in 2018.
That makes for a lot of new radios with DAB+ capability. CRA says that 3.6 million Australians, more than a quarter of the population, currently listen to DAB+ radio each week. And that there are 2.9 million DAB+ radio receivers in the country, of which 758,000 are installed in cars.