AIR's digitalisation to stretch beyond 2015

NEW DELHI: The All India Radio digitalisation programme may not be complete by 2015 due to shortage of funds, says AIR engineer-in-chief AS Guin.

The Short Wave bands will be digitalised first and this can be achieved by 2015, provided the Planning Commission releases the entire amount, but medium wave "which is the poor man's band" will not be fully digitalised and more specifically, there will not be complete switch off from analogue to digital radio, Guin explains.

The AIR has asked for Rs 59 billion from the Commission under the 11th Five Year Plan. They feel the amount is huge, and the government may not be able to release the entire fund. To go for complete digitalisation would take much more funds - almost astronomical - and AIR mandarins feel that they should not ask for the moon, which is why no further plans are afoot for asking for more funds.

Short wave transmitters that have been in use for more than 20 years will be replaced and these alone would be DRM compatible, not all.

"But in any case, we shall not switch off the analogue mode for the medium wave by 2015, because that is the wave compatible with the radios costing Rs 50 or 100, the one used by the poorer section of the society. They will not be able to bear the cost, so we cannot deny them the only source of information and entertainment some of them have," Guin stressed.

In fact, as of date even the fairly well-to-do would not be able, or may not wish to spend money buying a digital radio set.

"The ones available cost in today's prices about $70, that is Rs 3,500," Guin revealed, adding: "This is prohibitively costly."

So why bring in a technology that even the well-off may not opt for?

"It is expected the prices will come down as we go by," he averred. There are two factors at play here.

First, as and when DRM technology goes national, prices will come down. "As of now, most countries are using DRM technology for SW for their external broadcasting. National lever SW DRM tests have been conducted in Mexico and other places," Guin said. But when DRM goes national, the price will come down.

The other factor is that as the new digital mode becomes popular, the prices of the sets would also come down.

"The main thing will be the content," Guin said. The content for SW and MW have to be different, because if the same content is run on both, why would anyone buy a costly handset to catch SW?" he asks.

There have to be popular programmes specially developed for SW bands, he felt, otherwise the digital radio programme will not pick up in good earnest.

The digitalisation process would start with all the studios. Each state capital would have one Short Wave transmitter and there will be three transmission complexes with five transmitters per complex for national digital radio coverage.

These complexes will be suitably located., Each complex will transmit five digital channels across the country, including regional language channels. This will mean that these channels will be accessible across the country. So, a Bengali in Mumbai would not have a problem if he wishes to hear All India Radio Kolkata.

Explaining the merits of such a costly technology, Guin said that interactive broadcasts and a number of value-added services will be possible. One of the most important things will be the pro-active role AIR will get to play in disaster management.

AIR will introduce a system across the channels on the coastal belts, which will be integrated with the early warning systems.

Thus, whenever an early warning is triggered off the computer linkage with the radio stations will ensure that the channel would automatically switch over to transmitting the warning, with the ongoing programme switched off.

Once the warning has been issued, the radio station would switch over to the normal ongoing programme. This will give a huge lead time for people to evacuate.

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