SYDNEY — In a bid to serve Australia’s very unique radio market, Boston-based radio manufacturer Tivoli Audio (Tivoli) has added AM radio reception to its high-quality Tivoli Model One Digital FM/DAB+ receiver.
The addition required months of digital circuitry modifications and field testing to make the Australian Model One Digital AM/FM/DAB+ ready for sale at AU$449 (about US$344) — “but the effort was definitely worth it,” said Silvio Pupino, Tivoli Audio’s Chief of Sales and Marketing.
The reason why these modifications were necessary is related to Australia’s geography and population distribution. Virtually all Australians live on the coast, where FM and DAB+ stations are available off-air. But journey into this continent’s sparsely populated desert interior, and the only stations that can be heard are those covering wide areas using AM transmission.
According to an Australian Model One Digital review in the Canberra Times — entitled “Finally, a digital radio that sounds good and has AM” — “with good old AM you can listen to Darwin from the Nullarbor Plain when the conditions are right,” wrote reviewer Rod Easdown. “Through vast tracts of Australia if you don’t have AM you don’t have radio.”
The inspiration for adding AM to the Tivoli Model One Digital came from Gary Tye. He is a 40-year veteran of Australian consumer electronics distribution who took over Tivoli’s Australia sales operations in May 2017.
“Gary Tye’s challenge when he took on distribution of the Tivoli brand was to convince people in Boston that Australians will actively seek out and buy a digital radio with AM,” Easdown reported. “They took a lot of convincing.”
Maybe so, but the truth is that Tivoli Audio had already modified FM/DAB+ Model One Digital radio to suit specific markets. “We did this to enter the Japanese market, where 90 percent of people listen to AM, 10 percent to FM, and there is no form of digital radio in use,” said Pupino. “So we changed the Model One Digital to support AM and FM, and started selling them in Japan.”
Modifying the Model One Digital to receive AM as well as FM, DAB+, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi wasn’t easy. Unlike installing AM in an analog radio, digital radio circuitry can generate “noise” that can interfere with AM signal reception. This noise can degrade audio quality in a mono limited-bandwidth medium that is far from high fidelity in ideal conditions.
“Our engineers achieved AM reception in the Model One Digital by physically shielding the AM circuits from the rest of the receiver’s digital electronics,” said Pupino. “It took two months’ work, plus sending prototype receivers between Boston and Australia for field testing, to make it work. Given that Gary Tye is an AM radio engineer in his own right, he played a big role in the field testing.”
Now that the Australian Model One Digital is available for sale, purchases have been brisk — and AM is the big selling feature. “Usually when you offer AM on a digital radio, you mention it last as a minor sales point,” Pupino said. “But in Australia, we highlight the Model One Digital’s AM capability first. Often that is all a customer needs to hear to close the deal.”
Tivoli’s success in customizing a digital radio for the Australian market is bolstering the company’s willingness to do this in other markets. But not in North America, where HD Radio is the only terrestrial digital broadcast format available to listeners.
“Unlike other parts of the world, governments in North America are not doing anything to promote the HD Radio format, and it isn’t catching on like DAB+ is in Europe with active government support,” said Pupino. “As a result, AM and FM remain dominant in North America, and that’s what our radios are built to receive there; not HD Radio.”