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New Year Sees End to Some MW Services

France, Germany and Luxembourg cut medium wave services, citing dwindling listener figures, focus on new technologies

The beginning of 2016 marked the end to various medium wave (526.5-1606.5 kHz) services in Europe. The radio services on these frequencies all transmit using amplitude modulation, and thus these cuts are being seen as a setback for AM radio in general.

On Dec. 31 Radio France ceased its medium wave broadcasts of France Info, France Blue and France Blue Elsass, Deutschlandradio silenced its seven medium wave transmitters, and RTL said goodbye to Radio Luxembourg 208 on 1440 kHz.

Both Radio France and Deutschlandradio say that dwindling medium-wave listener figures justify their decision, but ensure that the affected services will be available via FM, digital and Internet broadcasts.

Radio France added that the scheduled stop aims to adjust the “mode of dissemination of its broadcasts to new uses and technologies today.” Deutschland Radio’s Chris Weck pointed out that for long-wave and medium wave the broadcaster “has paid around 12 million euros per year, with the majority of that being for electricity.”

While the BBC still maintains selected medium wave broadcasts, some question how long they will continue. Industry specialist David Lloyd, points out in an article that “AM has had its day” and that these closures are to be expected with the onset of more modern technology. “Both DAB and FM sound much better – even though maybe they don’t quite sound like ‘radio,’” he wrote.

According to DRM Chairman Ruxandra Obreja, medium wave broadcasts are caught in a vicious circle: the fewer transmitters there are, the fewer listeners there are, which in turn justifies further cuts, at least in some countries.

“In the U.K., medium wave is very popular (BBC 5 Live boasts over 10 percent of the listeners above 15 years of age). So why abandon analog medium wave broadcasts in the name of lower distribution costs and the ‘inflated’ capabilities of old FM technologies and other more modern digital platforms, all attractive but expensive and limited in coverage?” she questions.

Obreja adds that analog medium wave transmitters can be digitized through DRM and that analog receivers are plentiful and digital medium wave receivers are starting to appear.

“In some countries, such as India, medium wave is currently being reassessed and given a new digital lease on life,” she said. “AM, and especially medium wave, is one of the few real unchallenged assets of broadcasters in the current spectrum grab mounted by other players, with DRM improving quality and reducing electricity costs, and benefiting both urban and rural areas.”

Related: Radio France to Cease Medium Wave Transmission