Getting The Basics Right
January 26, 2016
Since late last year, I've been living in the third largest city in Australia: Brisbane. And there's something that I'm really confused about.
Tune in to 102.1 MHz FM, and you get a, um, radio station. If you listen long enough, they might tell you their name.
Tune into 107.7 MHz FM, and you'll get another radio station. They're pretty good at identifying themselves, once you keep listening for a bit.
Now - every one of my FM receivers has a thing called RDS on it (some in the US call this RBDS). I've come from a country, the UK, where RDS is available everywhere.
RDS is a little stream of inaudible data on an FM signal that allows a radio to do a few things:
- to switch between different frequencies carrying the same content
- to signal that you're doing traffic information, so a car radio might switch to you instead of the CD the driver's listening to
- to put the name of the radio station on the screen of your radio
It's the third of these that is really quite important. In many markets - including this one - you're still asked the name of the station you listen to.
So it's really strange to me to be in a country where RDS isn't used for about 50% of the stations.
Ignore the frippery that RDS offers: travel alerts, the now-playing information, the genre information: that's all nice to have but hardly essential.
But if the radio ratings people ask your listener to fill in a diary, why wouldn't you want to give your listeners a permanent reminder of your name on their dashboard or on their bedside table? A big, glowing reminder. Your name, permanently, etched onto that screen of the device they'll look at, at least once, during every listening occasion?
A software RDS encoder comes in at under $50, while hardware for your transmission chain is less than $1000. It's just one of the tools that any radio station can use to get all the advantages they can from new technology.
Sometimes, when consulting radio broadcasters on more advanced technology, I'm surprised at the lack of use of seemingly basic stuff such as RDS, a web player that works, good quality logos on a website, and regular reminders to listeners of how they can actually tune in. It pays to get the basics right.
Oh, and if you're wondering, one of these stations is a voluntary community station, while the other is a youth service from a national broadcaster. But I'll leave it up to you, and Google, to work out which.