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ZuidWest FM Pioneers Regional Radio

Public nonprofit organization merges with Radio Dag Roosendaal

ROOSENDAAL, Netherlands — ZuidWest FM is settling into its revamped regional studio, which features a brand-new D&R Airence-USB radio console.

The station, together with regional broadcaster ZuidWest TV and Internet/cable operator ZuidWest Actueel, is part of the “omroepstichting” ZuidWest and is owned and managed as a “stichting,” a public nonprofit organization.

It launched in 2010 as a public local broadcaster serving the Bergen op Zoom area in the Southwest of the country, near the Belgian border, and merged with Radio Dag Roosendaal in Roosendaal in September 2013 to better serve the community.

“In September 2013 we took over the local Roosendaal broadcast licence,” said Dennis van de Merbel, ZuidWest FM producer and presenter. “Not a takeover but a fusion between two stations, bearing the adage ‘stronger together.’”

Dennis Van de Merbel in the Roosendaal Studio 

with the D&R Airence desk.

The transaction was both financial and administrative and has allowed both partners to optimize their financial resources, expand the broadcast radius and audience potential and offer more local news items, explains van de Merbel.

This move reflects the direction the Organisatie van Lokale Omroepen in Nederland (OLON) — the organization of Dutch local radio stations, which groups some 280 members, producing a total 45,000 hours of radio per week — is taking to encourage “fusion” between local radio stations.

The actual merger took place in September last year (the Woensdrecht transmitter site was acquired back in 2009) and in November, ZuidWest FM applied for the “streekomroep” (regional broadcaster) status and is awaiting approval. OLON’s final goal is to fuse together 350 local radio stations into 150 regional broadcasters.

Van de Merbel emphasizes that the merger will only be official once local authorities and the media commission give their accord, explaining that the European elections have caused some administrative delay.

“The fusion has allowed us to cover the entire Southwest Brabant area with broadcasts from our main studio in Bergen op Zoom and the new on-air facility in the center of Roosendaal,” said van de Merbel.

ZuidWest FM’s main on-air studio in Bergen op Zoom with presenter/radio manager Tim Mulders. NEW STUDIO

When ZuidWest FM took over the Dag Roosendaal studio, it completely stripped and refurbished it. Part of the renovation investments were taken on by the former owner of the studio, also a local nonprofit organisation. The studio was painted in ZuidWest FM’s pink colors and equipped with custom studio furniture. 

“We started building from scratch in Roosendaal,” said Van de Merbel. “The core of the on-air studio is a D&R Airence-USB console. We opted for the analog version because of budgetary reasons. That same budget restriction also kept us from replacing the two other Dateq consoles at ZuidWest FM with the new Airence desks,” he said.

“We particularly like the desk’s straight forward features — with the modular approach, offering a split chassis, the console is easy-to-operate.”

The on-air signal is routed via an Orban Optimod 5500 sound processor and then split to the Ziggo cable network and to the Bergen op Zoom transmitter site and studio. The terrestrial signal is broadcast in Bergen op Zoom via an RVR TEX 25 W 100 transmitter and two stacked dipole 3 dB gain antennas on 105.8 FM. It is then relayed to the Woensdrecht (105.1 FM) and Roosendaal (107.1 FM) transmitter sites.

ZuidWest FM also transmits via the national cable network (FM 87.5), TV-text and the Internet. The station’s technical team is at present carrying out software tests for the synchronization of RDS functions.

ZuidWest FM uses PC Radio 6 playout software from Broadcast Partners, noting that the package is a key element in the station’s operations and transmission, and includes a specific feature that comes in handy for the current fusion operations.

Kitty Joachems, ZuidWest radio news director,
and Paul Joachems, radio presenter, interview
visitors during the King’s Day market on April 26.

“We use PC Radio for numerous applications,” said Van de Merbel, “But we discovered that the PC Radio software includes a specific tool to facilitate the networking of radio studios in an external network. We knew that we could switch from Studio A to B, but the software also allows us to switch from Roosendaal to Bergen op Zoom via the Internet.”

This full compatibility allows ZuidWest FM to maintain control when specific local news items or events (such as the “Roosendaal zingt” open-air community gathering, where the public is asked to sing along to popular songs) occur, and to immediately switch to Roosendaal whenever necessary.

The studio in Roosendaal became operational in January this year. Today, the broadcaster produces about 20 percent of ZuidWest FM’s programs in Roosendaal — some of the former “Dag Roosendaal” presenters are still being incorporated in the main program roster, and the local news team is being expanded.

“We want to have a local news bulletin every half hour — national news is provided by the Novum news service,” said Van de Merbel.

The winner of the ZuidWest FM Top 800 

countdown received a special cake.

With a distinct mission to inform and entertain its “well-defined” audience in the south of the country, ZuidWest FM’s management believes that they have an enormous advantage over major commercial stations.

“Not even with an identical format,” concludes Van de Merbel. “We make the difference by offering local news and keeping our finger on the pulse — that’s our goal.”

With respect to DAB+, Van de Merbel reckons that with the national stations just getting started today, it will take another five years or so before regional stations join in, “not taking into account the huge investment,” he said.

Marc Maes reports on the industry for Radio World from Antwerp, Belgium.