Digital radio:

Kate Dundas, director ABC Radio, writes: Re. “Digital radio already yesterday’s news as net rules the waves” (yesterday, item 14). While Crikey‘s “radio insider” makes some useful points about digital radio, it is a more interesting and complicated landscape than was considered in his, or her, piece published on Friday.

First, it is not up to the ABC to decide whether or not to engage with digital radio. The federal government has mandated digital radio services and requires the industry to develop the platform.

Part of the rationale of course is that the new generation of devices are being launched without AM capability. Further AM sound quality is degrading over time as transmitters age and the sound table in the cities rises. In part then, it is no surprise that loyal ABC listeners, or those “rusted on”, are delighted to upgrade to the superior sound and features of the DAB+ digital platform.

There are though, more points to be made in response to the “insider’s” story.

  • Contrary to the suggestion that the audience for ABC Local Radio is rusted on to the AM band, the largest audiences by far for ABC digital radio services are listening to Local Radio on DAB+.
  • The implication that digital radio receivers are prohibitively expensive doesn’t stand up. There are now plenty of digital radio receivers available in Australia priced in the $40-$60 range, which is comparable to the cost of a decent table top AM/FM radio receiver. Furthermore, as more countries adopt digital radio — as they are doing — and demand for digital receivers grows, their prices will continue to come down.
  • As to the suggestion that radio over the internet is a better experience for listeners, the audience response would suggest otherwise. Even though every radio station of any significance in Australia is available online, listening to radio via the DAB+ platform surpassed online radio listening back in March 2011 (Nielsen Survey 2/2011). Furthermore, the average time spent listening to digital radio is around 12 hours a week while the time spent listening to radio online is around five-and-a-half hours a week.
  • ABC Radio’s services are available on multiple platforms. As well as delivering services to Australians via the web, analogue and digital radio, listeners can also use the recently launched ABC Radio App for easy access via mobile phone to 19 ABC AM, FM and digital radio stations.
  • Audio streaming costs broadcasters money. It’s far from free to send out and obviously, the more successful you are the more expensive it becomes. Additionally, internet platforms are still far from rock-solid reliable. Given part of the ABC’s trusted reputation depends on continuous service and robust alternative platforms, especially during emergency periods where audience safety is so important, multiple platforms are vital wherever these can be offered.

Ubiquity is a key feature of the digital media age. When everything and everyone can be virtually everywhere, then it’s up to the ABC to follow suit and ensure equity of service delivery to Australians. Just as users of its services don’t stick to just one platform or format, nor should the ABC. It’s not a matter of making a choice between digital radio or AM and FM or online; it’s a matter of being everywhere audiences want us to be.

While the future of digital radio remains a work in progress, this technology along with other channels and platforms will ultimately be judged by audiences. With these now at well over 1 million per week, so far so good.

Joan Warner, CEO, Commercial Radio Australia Ltd, writes: I would like to comment on the ill-informed piece Friday’s Crikey. I always question the motivation and bona fides of those who hide behind anonymity, particularly when they get the facts so wrong. Perhaps your readers would be interested in the real story.

  1. Free-to-air broadcast radio is healthy and extremely popular with 97% of Australians listening every week;
  2. 1.3 million people have adopted free-to-air digital in an incredibly short space of time;
  3. Nearly 1 million DAB+ receivers sold also in a short space of time;
  4. Listening to radio via a DAB+ device continues to increase (12 hours 40 minutes last survey);
  5. Listening to radio online/streaming sits consistently at around 5½ hours, has been around for a lot longer than DAB+ and has not moved much over the past five years;
  6. Radio is maintaining its share of ad revenue in the face of incredible competition because it has retained its popularity and thus effectiveness across all age groups;
  7. Radio stations have adapted and adopted new ways to connect with listeners with great success including the use of streaming;
  8. Technically it is impossible at present for an average breakfast show audience of say 350,000 to be able to listen live and simultaneously to the same online stream with any chance of quality.

Your anonymous writer describes AM listeners as “radio’s rusted-on seniors” and again is wrong. AM listening attracts a broad demographic and like their FM counterparts they are embracing DAB+ sound quality, additional station options and added information on screen with scrolling text headlines.

Radio is a part of Australians’ everyday lives.  It’s live, intimate, informative and entertaining. Listeners don’t want to listen to a UK or US station online as they get to work. They want to know what’s happening in their local area, what’s going to affect their day, as they make their way to work, which is why breakfast radio continues to attract more listeners than breakfast TV or the listening on the internet.

Unlike some industries, radio has not been afraid to adapt and embrace new technology. Digital Radio, the internet, podcasts, phone and tablet apps have all  been cleverly integrated into radio, so that the loyal listener base can listen to their favourite radio station whatever they are doing.

I do find it interesting that there are still a few people out there that just cannot, or do not want to, accept the indisputable truth:

  • Radio is thriving;
  • Audiences across all age groups love their local radio stations and radio stars;
  • Radio can and does connect with audiences across all platforms;
  • Listeners still use broadcast as the main means of accessing radio content;
  • Radio is continuing to successfully adapt and evolve using both online and broadcast; and,
  • Importantly, radio commands a level of  brand/station loyalty that very few other media achieve.

Julian Assange:

Katherine Stuart writes: Re. “Swedish Q&A: do Assange’s claims on extradition stack up?” (yesterday, item 5). Leading up to and following the announcement of Julian Assange’s asylum in Ecuador, the Swedish media have published a significant number of articles including editorials on the Assange case.

In a letter on page 16 of Dagens Nyheter last Thursday, Leo Kramár writes that Julian Assange’s fears of extradition to the US are symptomatic of a persecution complex, and/or just playing to the gallery. That letter outlines (in less detail) the legal situation as described in Crikey‘s article. Other articles have described him as having a Messiah complex, but unlike Jesus, he won’t be remembered. In other words, he’s perceived as nuts.

Mark Klamberg makes an excellent point in drawing attention to the case of the two Egyptians in 2001, which has been used as a kind of precedent giving credence to Assange’s claims. If history shows that Assange is the boy who cried wolf in this instance, won’t that be far more damaging to his reputation than facing the s-xual assault charges (however unpalatable) of which he may be acquitted?

Olympic Dam:

Ian Lowe writes: Re. “Olympic Dam the warning of an Asian slowdown” (23 August, item 1). Why is there so much confected hysteria about the deferment of this project, as if the loss of revenue would be a body blow to South Australia? The government estimated that it might, at some future date when in projected full production, produce about $250 million in revenue.

Assuming, improbably, that the state were not to pay anything at all providing infrastructure to help BHP Billiton with the project, and assuming more improbably that the resulting revenue were to be distributed equally, each South Australian would expect to be about $2 a week better off in that great future year. That doesn’t seem an economic bonanza to me.

Given that obtaining this mighty sum would require South Australians living with the biggest hole in the ground [and the largest heap of low-level radioactive waste] anywhere in the world, we might conclude that the state has just dodged a nasty depleted-uranium bullet.