18 May Brazilian AM to FM Migration Proceeding at Snail’s Pace
In December 2013, the Brazilian government decided to phase out the local (low power) AM stations and to allow medium and high power AM stations to change their frequency and become FM stations. The action was stimulated strongly by all the commercial broadcasters’ associations claiming that medium wave (MW) is not heard in the cities. They claimed that because of electrical interference no one pays for advertisements and they are financially dead. “Commercial AM is not viable nowadays.” says ABERT, the largest broadcasters’ association in the country. At the time, the DRM Consortium held several meetings with Brazilian stakeholders to impress on them that going digital would be a much better course of action. Even the FM migration could be done with an eye to the future by either migrating to digital AM and/or digital FM in parallel with the FM analogue transition. In the end the decree was signed in 2013.
Following its publication the registration process started in 2014 and more than 1600 stations enrolled, that is around 80% of all Brazilian AM broadcasters. Obviously, most of them did not want to lose a good business opportunity, if everything worked out ok. If not, they reckoned they could quit at any time.
The migration process is quite complicated because the FM spectrum is crowded in medium and large cities. So where can the new FM stations fit? The solution offered to those interested is to extend the FM spectrum (79 to 88 MHZ), using the band that will be freed when the analogue TV switch off happens. No country in the world has done this and Brazil has not tested if this bit of the spectrum can work for radio. After 17 months the reality is that only 8 stations, from Rio Grande do Norte, a north- Eastern state, have qualified technically to migrate. But the government has not been able to define how much they have to pay for their new FM licenses. So, nothing has really happened so far.
EBC, the Brazilian public broadcaster and news agency, is concerned about the process. EBC has five AM stations and does not want to migrate; it needs to reach far into the country and take public services and information to the interior.
Broadcasters and the whole civil society are beginning to question the whole operation. Marcelo Goedert, DRM Consortium representative in Brazil, was interviewed and talked about how going digital would have been a much better option. Watch last month’s news report on the migration process and Marcelo Goedert interview on EBC TV Channel here.
Marcelo Goedert (DRM Representative, Brazil)