Opposition coalesces against axing of MW by RTÉ

February 11th, 2008 | by Andrew Ó Baoill |

The Éan (Emigrant Advice Network) blog has compiled a list of coverage of RTÉ’s decision to cease broadcasts on Medium Wave. In my own piece I noted that while RTÉ touted the fact that it would continue service on Long Wave:

LW is not present on most domestic receivers at this stage, so it will be a difficult transition for some people. Thus, in a certain sense, the burden is being moved from RTÉ (who were spending large sums maintaining and operating a MW network) to individual listeners. 

I was subsequently contacted Enda O’Kane, who has been campaigning for some time for the adoption of DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale – not Digital Rights Management!) by RTÉ, particularly on the 252 frequency on the Long Wave band, and who we have covered on several occasions here. He pointed out a number of arguments for opposing the RTÉ move, including the following: 

  1. Similar to my argument about transferring the burden/cost of accessibility from RTÉ to individual listeners, Enda points to some of the advantages of MW for the elderly, those with limited vision (since the band is less cluttered it’s easier to tune in a specific station), and those travelling (as you don’t need to move up and down the dial as you move from place to place).
  2. Northern Irish audiences: “Cutting service also contradicts the sprit of the Good Friday Agreement. Parts of Northern Ireland, including the Falls and Belfast still rely on medium wave. RTE medium wave, and Radio Ulster from Lisnagarvey, are traditional cross border cultural links enjoyed by all. They serve all ages and social groups.”
  3. Emigrant communities: “For the past number of years, RTE has been running its long and medium wave transmitters on close to half their allocated power, thus reducing its service to Northern Ireland, the UK and beyond, contrary to custom and practice, as well as the spirit of the recent Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2006, which specifically provided for the broadcast of radio to our emigrant communities.”
  4. Cutting Medium Wave before the Long Wave signal is transitioned to digital is premature, will cost listeners unnecessarily, and undercuts the transition to DRM or other digital radio formats. Noting that RTÉ have installed and tested a DRM transmitter on the 252kHz waveband, but not yet transitioned to the digital standard he argues that
    • “In cutting off the medium wave transmission prematurely, RTE have abandoned a principle which served then well over many years: when a new technical standard is being introduced, it’s vital to maintain the existing one during the transition period to allow the public time to switch over…. The principle has not been pursued here. Medium wave should be recognized as an integral tool in the strategy toward digital radio; and
    • “Those who purchase a longwave radio now will find it obsolete when RTE cuts the existing longwave signal and sends out a digital signal in its place. They will end up having to buy a second radio to continue listening on longwave after this change occurs. For that reason,  RTE must continue with the medium wave service to give an alternative to longwave until a longwave digital signal is sent out.”

 These are important arguments, which deserve consideration and attention. Is RTÉ seeking short-term gains (by shutting off power to the MW transmitters) at the expense of future success of any transition to digital on the long-wave band? Groups like Éan are of course concerned about the immediate impact on “emigrants in Britain and beyond, as well as people in the North” – an important issue in itself – but there are secondary questions about RTÉ’s long-term digital strategy and how they intend to integrate it with their public-service commitments.

Already there are hints that after flirting with DRM they are returning to the – surely clearly obsolete – DAB standard. DAB has attractions for networks seeking to maintain central control and lock out newcomers to broadcasting (due to its reliance on centralized multiplexes rather than distributed transmitters), but I’m very concerned if this is the approach RTÉ is taking to the future of its public service mission. RTÉ has often had a troubled history when it comes to welcoming democratic and participatory approaches to broadcasting and media creation, but one would hope that they would by now be seeing the potential of such approaches. Being central to facilitating active public engagement – over the airwaves and elsewhere – may be the best hope public service broadcasters in Europe have of not being slowly made irrelevant.

  1. 2 Responses to “Opposition coalesces against axing of MW by RTÉ”

  2. By Duncan Hill on Mar 20, 2008 | Reply

    Dear Mr. O’Baoill,

    I hope you don’t think I’m being funny, but I think you need to get your technical facts straight regarding RTE closing down the 567kHz service in favour of the 252kHz service.

    I am referring to:

    “LW is not present on most domestic receivers at this stage”.

    In fact, 80% of radios have the capability to receive LW. Domestic services in both the UK and Ireland are transmitted using

    VHF/FM, MW and LW. So anyone buying a radio that doesn’t have one of these bands (normally a cheap unbranded import) is shortchanging themselves.

    The 252kHz service gives MUCH better coverage outside the Republic than 567kHz ever will. Mainly due to the fact that it’s a long wave service. In the same way that 198kHz (BBC Radio 4) can easily be heard on LW in the Republic, but many UK national services on MW (Radio 5, Talksport, Virgin) cannot without difficulty.

    In fact it may surprise you to learn that 252kHz was used by a station called Atlantic 252 for well over a decade. It used the same power and transmitter site as RTE currently does, and their coverage was not just Ireland, but almost all of Great Britain too (except for the far South East). In fact it was even considered a “British” station at the time by most people!

    By comparison 567kHz MW is almost inaudible by the time it reaches most of Britain.

    In a way, RTE was very lucky that Atlantic 252 closed down as it has now gained a better signal at little extra cost.

    It’s also worth noting that in 2004, the 567kHz transmitter was off air for four whole months due to maintenance. I can’t remember ever reading or hearing any outrage about people not being able to listen to RTE during that time.

    -regards
    Duncan Hill,
    Hertfordshire

  3. By Trevor Mc Evoy on Mar 25, 2008 | Reply

    Hi. I was watching the video link on rte today about the shutting down of mw, & to my joy they played a jingle at the end of the piece, does any body know where i can get a copy of the start up jingle and the one I heard today. Used to get up early in the mornings just to hear the jingle:-)
    Please reply to mail add.

    Regards
    Trevor Mc Evoy

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