AM: Life In The Old Dog Yet

By Art Grainger
Posted 1 January 2016, 4.09am est
David Jones

If Swedish people liked to come onto to radio forums and tell us that the future of radio is medium wave, then someone forgot to tell all those European broadcasters who made a big point of switching it all off at midnight on December 31st 2015.

I personally didn't make a point of listening to any of the closedowns or sitting up late and being within breathing distance of a radio to hear the transformation from music or speech to static and nothing, simply because I'm not at all that bothered about the inevitable extinction of a band and broadcast platform that I often cursed at - because its failings would often show up at the very precise moment I wanted to hear something that was really interesting.

Medium wave (and even long wave) was always cursed with static from machinery and gadgetry (even more so these days). It always distorted beneath power lines and had a faint pulse beneath telephone lines that latterly transmitted data for the internet. Then, after the sun went down, things got worse, with our favourite AM stations often being interfered with something from a distant place or that tedious phasing as signals would fade in and out.

Yet it still had its fans - even me (to an extent). Don't get me wrong folks, up until the turn of the 21st Century, there were many AM stations that I quite enjoyed listening to .... but it wasn't because they were on AM. It was simply because they were on something and I could get to listen to them. Most of them provided me with a bit more choice, in an age where wireless was still the most accessible platform and the ability to listen to stations via the internet was cumbersome at best and quite unreliable at worst.

Unfortunately (although it was fun), for me to get that extra choice and to be able to hear them, I had to build very large medium wave loops, put them in the loft and connect the other end to a radiator pipe. Signals that were faint or almost non-existent would come booming in.

If I was in my car or out and about at night and listening on a personal stereo, I simply tolerated the fading and interference. If I was driving down the east coast, the signals would travel well enough over the sea to give me quite reliable reception of a station in Aberdeen, even though I was in Sunderland.

So I made a point of listening to stations like Manx Radio, County Sound, Supergold, BBC Radio Stoke, Radio 10 Gold, Q Da Beat, Radio Veronica, Arrow Classic Rock, Radio Netherlands, Radio Sweden, Brussels Calling, Radio XL (for the jungle techno program that was presented by MC Magika on Monday nights) and a few others, all at my home in Central Scotland and occasionally whilst I was mobile. However, I only listened to them because the signal was still reliable to enough to actually enjoy them and the good programming and music they put out.

I do remember the days of listening to "Foxy On Luxy" during my teenage years with a bit of fondness - but I also remember being quite fed-up at the large amounts of fading that particular station had. I still have a couple of old tapes of Rosko's LA Connection that used to go out at 10 PM on Sundays - and the signal always seemed to fade when Rosko would ID the song that I was quite enjoying (thank goodness Shazam sorted that bit out a few decades later).

Still - it's sad to see some services go ....... but here is the crux. It's only some!

Indeed, in 2015, NEW services appeared on medium wave. There is one from Brittany in France on 1593 KHz, which I get fairly well at night time when I'm in the car but I have also made a point of listening to it occasionally on a wi-fi radio at home during the day (or night).

If you use the Twente-based WebSDR, you can also come across some radio stations that might surprise you. In a northern region of Italy is a station called I AM Radio, which pumps out soul and funk classics of the 70's and 80's and is mainly in English. Belgium still has its main and foreign service on 612 KHz.

Then there's the more positive effect of the disappearance of high-powered German and French stations. Let's face it, when it came to listening to more local services, those ones were a bloody nuisance at night.

So I would expect Radio Cumbria to get much further in the evenings in 756 KHz. Spirit radio from Ireland will probably enjoy near interference-free reception in is fringes and well into the UK on 549 KHz. BBC Radio Essex and BBC Radio York may well be heard across most of the UK at nights and even during the day. Also, any radio stations that were unfortunate to be placed on either side of 1440 KHz will no longer have that problem.

Oh - and let's not forget that there are now some lower powered community stations on medium wave in the UK .... so give them a chance.


4 years ago

Away from an enthusiast market, I honestly do not know why people still listen to long, medium & short waves!
Even Radio Tirana offers podcasts for past broadcasts in English, more or less highlighting the world has moved on!
Don't get me wrong here, I loved the "thrill" factor of carefully tuning & capturing weaker stations like 'Voice Of Vietnam' & 'Radio Havana'.
Is today's AM good enough for the ipod/smart TV generation? Nah!

4 years ago

AM is still essential in some rural hilly parts of the country where FM and DAB simply don't penetrate.

4 years ago

Martin, BBC Scotland management has aspirations to extend Scottish BBC regional services to include a 2nd channel for Radio Scotland. A DAB allocation for the new service is part of the proposal!
A 2nd service will probably include the 810kHz programme variation of Scottish football & so on!

DAB may have its faults, but the signal tends to be neat in hilly areas I've driven through in Scotland! A cost saver for BBC Scotland is to switch off their medium wave service.

4 years ago

For that to happen then I would seriously suggest that Scotland's regional multiplex is extended to cover the whole of Scotland, so that Radio Scotland FM, Radio Scotland MW and the gaelic service are on an SFN with near rock solid coverage, whilst the local opt-outs could be carried (in mono) on their existing slots on the commercial multiplexes, possibly allowing for new opt-outs for Dundee, Edinburgh & Glasgow. They could then save money by NOT broadcasting on Freeview, allowing free space for the gaelic TV service (without the nightly shut-down of other BBC services whilst it's on air). We already know that Scottish licence payers are sending in excess of £100 Million to BBC HQ in London that is not being spent on Scottish broadcasting.

4 years ago

Art, the OFCOM DSO plan for local DAB multiplexes should ensure nationwide coverage of BBC regional services!
The local multiplex plans for Edinburgh & Inverness are listed away down on page 12. The Inverness coverage plan does look ridiculously huge, I think!

4 years ago

Willie - that's not good enough.

Looking at the coverage maps, even if Radio Scotland's 2 (or 3) services are squeezed onto every local commercial MUX in Scotland, there would still be areas of Scotland that would not get coverage of our national station.

The other problem is that putting Radio Scotland's service(s) on local multiplexes means that it won't have the advantage of an SFN, therefore listeners to it would have to keep retuning if they travel from the coverage area of one MUX to another, which is dangerous and also a step-back from FM with RDS providing auto-tuning across the country.

This is yet another example of those silly one-size-fits-all rules that Ofcom and the government have tried to impose on the whole of the UK, even though they can't always work. It's fine to stick local BBC services on equivalent local commercial MUX's in England - but it's not practical to do so in Scotland or Wales.

Scotland has an advantage - which is the Regional MUX. This could, in theory, be expanded (and possibly paid for in most part by the BBC), whilst the BBC switch off those expensive medium wave transmitters that fail to serve all of the country anyway. They could vacate the local MUX's and put their FM, MW and Gaelic service on the regional/national MUX - and have near total coverage of Scotland - or at least match the coverage of the main BBC DAB services.

Talksport are already on the regional MUX, providing a "Scotland" service. Space that is left could be used for other specialist services not available on the local or national MUX's.

4 years ago

Personally as a Scot, I would buy into the plan as a first phase in around year 2020 & later phase in DAB+ on BBC National DAB at around 2025. This in turn will allow the BBC to fit in regional BBC services on BBC National DAB.
I could live with a manual retune of BBC Radio Scotland in six enlarged ILR areas in the meantime ( the sixth ILR area being Dumfries & Galloway, replacing Ayrshire which is destined to be swallowed up as part of the Glasgow North multiplex).

I am not sure about the commercial viability of expanding the regional multiplex as suggested!

I wonder if the Radio trade will buy into the OFCOM DSO plan? Inverness would be the ILR host to the entire Highlands and Islands region. A huge area for one ILR source!

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