AIR battles 5-hr ‘blackout’ hitch as Prasar Bharti eyes digital switch
Avid radio listeners in many parts of Uttar Pradesh have reported what they call, a “curious disturbance” during the transmission from Lucknow centre of All India Radio’s (AIR’s) primary medium wave channel these days.
Aired at 747 kilohertz frequency, the primary channel goes blank daily at 9 am, just when AIR’s Lucknow channel is broadcasting Urdu news that is run daily from 8.50 am to 9.05 am.
After lasting for two hours, the disruption clears at 11 am only to return again during the evening broadcast at 3 pm; the second disruption lasting three hours making it a total 5 hour ‘blackout’ – a development which has caught the listeners unaware.
Barring those five hours, the transmission for the rest of the day is done on simulcast mode – meaning both analogue and digital.
The AIR officials have a reason for the twin disruptions being experienced by those whose radio sets are tuned to receive programmes relayed only from analogue mode transmitters.
“Each new technology comes with some teething problems but that doesn’t mean one shouldn’t make the switch. All new vehicles which previously were equipped with to receive only FM/Medium Wave (analogue mode) transmission are equipped with DRM receivers,” says PP Shukla, currently the station head of both AIR and Doordarshan Lucknow.
However, several radio programmes, including popular ones, like Yuva Vani, the youth affairs programme, ‘ziley ki hulchal’ – a roundup of districts, ‘shramikon ke liye’, programme for labourers, ‘Lok geet’, the popular show – airing folk songs on request, another programme detailing major achievements and schemes of Narendra Modi government among many others aren’t available to most as majority don’t have radio sets equipped with Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) technology receivers, radio officials admit.
DRM is a French technology which is available free of cost to all who want to make use of it but the transition is costly for DRM receivers are priced anywhere between Rs 2000 to Rs 15000, radio officials say.
“Radio being a poor man’s medium for news and entertainment, this switch has led to people missing out several popular radio programmes. In rural areas radio is still very popular and hence this blackout is shocking,” says Pramod Srivastava an avid radio listener from Tiloi, Amethi and the president of Radio Listeners Association, which he set up in the 90s.
“I am the type of listener whose day starts with the radio at 5.55 am beginning with Vande Matram, moving on to news, then the health capsule, Hindi news, the Ram Charit Manas recitation ... Radio is everything for us,” says Srivastava who has decided to write letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
AIR officials of course, defend the move.
“See, the cost of receivers would come down once the demand goes up. The benefit is that in digital mode, one can drive seamlessly without any programme disruption or disturbance from here to let’s say up to Gorakhpur. Naturally, DRM is the technology of the future,” says Shukla.
“Only primary channel is being tested on digital mode. There is analogue transmitter nearly every 100 kilometer. In Lucknow too Vividh Bharti and FM Rainbow are airing programmes on analogue mode. So, gradually as we go digital, the companies would also start preparing cheaper DRM technology receivers. DRM technology also has an error detection and correction technology which means improved audio experience,” Shukla said.
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