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RTBF Phases Out AM Broadcasts

Belgian French-language public radio is gradually turning off AM in favor of DAB+

As part of Belgian French-language RTBF’s strategy to transition toward DAB+, in May the public radio broadcaster reduced daily AM broadcasts of its “VivaCité” and “La Première” stations from 19 hours to 14 hours.

“RTBF is the country’s last radio broadcaster to offer AM broadcasts. Shortwave broadcasts were stopped a decade ago, followed by the shutdown of two transmitter sites in the Liège and Luxembourg provinces,” explained Francis Goffin, RTBF radio consultant.

“Today, we continue to operate our high power national transmitter in Wavre (621 kHz, 300 kW) but with reduced AM airtime. The transmitter transmits a mix of the La Première program during the day and at night, along with sports shows from VivaCité in the evening. This content is actually what we call ‘RTBF International’ because it is also sent via internet and satellite to Central Africa. A second transmitter, located in in Houdeng (1125 kHz to 20 kW), relays the VivaCité program with no AM airtime diminution at this time.”

RTBF’s gradual diminution of AM broadcasts will result in the total shutdown before the end of the year. “Our plan is to discontinue AM once DAB+ kicks off,” said Laurent Finet, head of production and digital innovation at RTBF radio. “We will however continue our FM broadcasts for a number of years before we eventually put an end to these as well.”

Both Goffin and Finet agree that listeners face increasing obstacles finding AM/FM-only receivers on the market, as DAB+ tuners are replacing them. “The future of radio is a marriage between DAB+ and IP radio (hybrid), with DAB+ used for broad audience programs and (internet) IP-radio for more specific programs or targeting listeners abroad,” they said.

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With DAB+ now in the test-phase in Brussels and Wallony for RTBF’s Classic 21 and La Première channels in view of next year’s launch, the broadcaster plans a broad-scale campaign to inform its audience of the eventual termination of its two last AM-transmitters.