DRM – A Necessity as recently Demonstrated in Brazil

Lucio Haeser, a DRM enthusiast and key member of the Brazil platform linked very personally the tragedy of the floods hitting parts of Brazil and his own region, quite recently, with how DRM could help. He wrote the article “The Gaucho tragedy and the need to move towards digital radio” for the public broadcaster EBC ombudsman space (open space).

(c) Ricardo Stuckert / PR / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

In his article Lucio argues that in Brazil digitisation must take place especially in the AM frequencies in medium, tropical and short waves, part of an electromagnetic spectrum abandoned by broadcasters.

The author argues that digital radio should be a solution to be pursued by the Brazilian State as it offers audio quality comparable to FM and tremendous energy savings in transmission, among many other advantages. “Where today there is one audio channel, digital can offer three, plus one data channel…The DRM system also has an emergency alert system that is only triggered for affected areas, even if the device is turned off. And it is not limited to meteorological issues, but to traffic issues, such as the spillage of dangerous cargo on a road, for example.

On May 19th and 20th, I attended part of the DRM General Assembly, an annual event of the Digital Radio Mondiale consortium. If I was already enthusiastic and a supporter of the adoption of this system in Brazil, I became even more so.” Please read the full article (in translation) below.

The Gaucho tragedy and the need to move towards digital radio
Lucio Haeser

Fear. Rebate. Anguish. Despair. These are some of the feelings felt by people from Rio Grande do Sul in recent weeks, since the state was hit by the biggest climate catastrophe in history, in this never-ending May 2024. Unlike other floods, which cause damage and victims, but pass quickly, this time the suffering is much longer and recovery horizons are still uncertain.

In these days of prolonged power outages, computers are useless, cell phone signal is difficult, or even impossible at times, charging the phone is an even more ungrateful task. Lighting candles and lanterns is the solution to bringing some light to hundreds of thousands of people. For many, like me, weeks passed without electricity.

With the population accustomed to having the immediacy of communication via cell phones, often filled with fake news, only now many have realized that, in an extreme situation, caused by climate change that will be increasingly frequent, they no longer have an old ally: the battery radio. Yes, in recent years, all the responsibility for communication has been thrown onto the internet and cell phones. A big mistake. No matter how powerful a medium it is, you cannot put all your eggs in just one basket. The State needs to guarantee a nationwide communications backup that is independent of the internet.

In flooded Rio Grande do Sul, there was a race to find forgotten radio sets in some corner of the house and receiver donation campaigns were carried out. Of course, everyone wants to know when the power or water can return. Will it rain more? Will help come? What are governments and volunteers doing? Where to seek help? Which streets and roads can you travel on? How to obtain emergency aid offered by the State?

All of this is being responded to by radio stations across Rio Grande do Sul in intense coverage. And they were joined by Rádio Nacional da Amazônia. In solidarity, the EBC broadcaster directed its powerful antennas to the South and specific spaces were opened in the programming, normally directed to the North. It is clear that the broadcaster’s response in short waves has its limitations, whether technical, due to the sound quality not always in optimal conditions; or the number of personnel on the journalistic team. But it is a very important attitude at a time when any help is welcome.

In recent decades, with the solution of global communication via the internet, many national and international broadcasts on shortwave radio were no longer made and, as a result, most receivers no longer rely on these frequencies. Even so, participating in radio listening groups on social networks, I notice a great popularization of this audience, of people interested in listening to the radio and, in particular, capturing signals from long distances.

20 years ago, these radio listening groups – still in the e-mail era – were made up of one or two hundred people with greater purchasing power, who could buy high-quality receivers and install antennas that require specialized material and space in their homes. . Today, we see tens of thousands of participants, with their cheap radios showing recordings from Nacional da Amazônia, Inconfidência (MG), Cultura Brasil (SP), the latter on medium wave, and others throughout Brazil.

The relationship between radio and the Gaucho tragedy leads us to think further. It shows us the urgent need to innovate the radio medium, which remains analog, in 1.0, unlike open TV, which has been digital since 2008 and, announces the Ministry of Communications, is heading towards 3.0. The advance towards digital radio must take place especially in AM frequencies in medium, tropical and short waves, which are part of an electromagnetic spectrum abandoned by broadcasters.

Digital radio should be a solution to be pursued by the Brazilian State as it offers audio quality comparable to FM and tremendous energy savings in transmission, among many other advantages. Where today there is one audio channel, digital can offer three, plus one data channel. A university that has a broadcaster can dedicate a channel to reading books, for example. The DRM system also has an emergency alert system that is only triggered for affected areas, even if the device is turned off. And it is not limited to meteorological issues, but to traffic issues, such as the spillage of dangerous cargo on a road, for example.

On May 19th and 20th, I attended part of the DRM General Assembly, an annual event of the Digital Radio Mondiale consortium. If I was already enthusiastic and a supporter of the adoption of this system in Brazil, I became even more so. The possibilities are immense, including in distance education, due to the transmission of images to the radio receiver. Priority is not given to cables and satellites, which can act in a complementary manner. The expansion of the National Radio Network, which includes many universities, should be done with digital adoption in mind.

We can imagine that this is a distant horizon. A long journey still needs to be made, without a doubt. But there is a first step that can be taken without the need for investment, all you need is the desire to take it. In Brasília there is a shortwave digital radio transmitter, from the DRM system, ready to be connected to the powerful antennas of Rádio Nacional da Amazônia. It is important to remember that in tropical and short waves the only existing digital system is DRM.

The low-power transmitter, manufactured by a company in Porto Alegre, was purchased with resources from UnB in an agreement signed by the university, the Ministry of Science and Technology and EBC. This agreement had been in the works since 2010, when the Brazilian Digital Radio System (SBRD) was created. Test transmissions were carried out, at great cost and facing resistance, only between the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021 with highly positive results in emission, reception and minimal energy consumption.

After the experimental transmission period determined in the agreement ended, the then EBC board determined the immediate removal of the equipment from its facilities at the Rodeador Transmission Park, in Brasília. He also shut down one of his servers, an engineer who understands the importance of digital radio and supported the initiative.

This transmitter used in the test has been idle since then, but it could very well be turned on again and be a beautiful sample of what awaits us with digital radio. That the necessary negotiations be carried out between the bodies involved. Some may point out this or that difficulty. Nothing that cannot be overcome. Just have the will. Given the benefits that can be achieved, it is necessary to have this desire.

The question will certainly also arise: what is the point of broadcasting digital radio, who will be able to listen to it? Now, what comes first? If there is no transmission, of course there will never be reception. Just remember one example, as there are many. When TV was inaugurated in Brazil, how many receivers were there? A few dozen, purchased by the issuer itself. I guarantee that today there are many more DRM receivers in Brazil than the number of TV sets in 1950, even taking into account population growth.

What’s more: cheap DRM receivers, which can be energized by hand crank, that is, they don’t even require the use of batteries, are hitting the market. Nothing more appropriate when thinking about moments of electricity outages. At the beginning of 2023, company representatives from the DRM consortium were in Brazil in search of national manufacturers. DRM receivers do not exclude current analog broadcasts, whether AM or FM. Therefore, it is not a question of replacing the current analogue broadcasting system. The point is to add another concrete possibility.

We need to guarantee free and freely accessible communication throughout the national territory. From catastrophes, despite all the suffering, innovative solutions usually emerge to improve the quality of life. That, in Brazil, digital radio is one of them.

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