The author of this commentary is chair of the Digital Radio Mondiale consortium.
Right from the beginning of 2021, Prasar Bharati, the public radio and TV broadcaster of India, has put its cards on the table. First it clarified that no AIR station was being closed anywhere in any state, a rumor that had made the media rounds in India.
Prasar Bharati has further announced that it is moving ahead with its plans to strengthen All India Radio, expanding its network with more than 100 new FM radio transmitters across India.
The AIR Network already comprises a few hundred stations and several hundred radio transmitters in one of the world’s largest public service broadcasting networks that operates on multiple terrestrial, satellite and internet platforms.
Prasar Bharati is also moving ahead with its plans to introduce digital terrestrial radio in India. According to the Indian broadcaster, select AIR channels are already available through digital DRM technology to listeners in many cities/regions. They can experience the power of DRM through a choice of multiple radio channels available on a single radio frequency in digital mode. These include AIR News 24×7 dedicated to news and current affairs, AIR Raagam 24×7 dedicated to classical music, apart from local/regional radio services and Live Sports.
According to Prasar Bharati AIR is in an advanced stage of testing digital technology options for FM radio, and a standard will be announced soon to herald the rollout of digital FM radio in India.
Already in 2020 AIR had introduced nonstop pure DRM transmissions with three services or programs on one frequency in four key metros: Mumbai 100 kW (1044 kHz), Kolkata 100 kW (1008 kHz), Chennai 20 kW (783 kHz) and New Delhi 20 kW (1368 kHz).
More varied and exclusive audio programs with Journaline multimedia content were already added and progress was made on the national rollout of DRM’s Emergency Warning Functionality (EWF), and a program information guide enabled by Journaline.
All these activities follow from the activities of a Project Monitoring Unit (PMU) in AIR set up a year ago. It undertook to identify the technical configuration of the DRM infrastructure for the entire country, the creation of popular, attractive content, the strong promotion of DRM broadcasts and intensified interaction with the industry aimed at manufacturing mass-scale receivers.
AIR has extended its infrastructure, as seen in Figure 1.
As far as the program content is concerned, AIR has already come up with new initiatives, like the 24/7 news exclusively in DRM broadcasts.
The entertainment channel is transmitting live sports events as well, such as cricket, which is the most popular sport in India; AIR is exploring the possibility of providing a Score Card under Journaline advanced text together with live cricket commentary in pure DRM (see Figure 2).
There are already several receiver manufacturers in India and abroad planning and starting production of receivers.
One such manufacturer, Gospell from China, has formed a partnership with Antriksh Digital Solutions to become their representative and distributor in India.
AIR also plans to acquire soon several thousand receivers.
Going forward, a key element of success in India is the further adoption of the standard by the automotive industry. Currently there are more than 2.5 million Indian cars with line-fit DRM receivers at no extra cost to the consumer. More brands are considering the introduction of DRM radios in their vehicles to satisfy consumer demand.
During the second national Car Forum organized at the end of November by NXP, an AIR representative said that it is imperative that the government seriously consider mandating DRM digital radio in all vehicles in the country.
In addition to MW and SW in 2021, efforts are being made to include DRM in FM, as the broadcaster and ministry are coming close to mandating a digital radio standard for the FM band.
The more cars there are in India with DRM radios, the better promotion of their DRM programs AIR can make to the general public. And this cannot just include audio in mediumwave but other bands too. There is demand for all core features of the DRM standard, of which Journaline has already been introduced. This should be followed by the Emergency Warning Functionality (EWF), station logos, AFS, announcement, blending to AM/FM and others.
Activities in India have continued in 2020 despite the pandemic. Already in 2021 there are signs of accelerated activities linked to DRM in FM, DRM for education and getting receivers in numbers.