Fine tuning radio

When advertising budgets dipped last year, more advertisers turned to radio to keep their brands alive. Consequently, radio suppliers benefitted as more broadcasters undertook major technical upgrades or improved their content, says Vijaya Cherian.
Fine tuning radio
Arabian Radio Network has equipped its facility with Electrovoice mics.
By Vijaya Cherian
Tue 23 Mar 2010 04:00 AM

When advertising budgets dipped last year, more advertisers turned to radio to keep their brands alive. Consequently, radio suppliers benefitted as more broadcasters undertook major technical upgrades or improved their content, says Vijaya Cherian.

The economic downturn in 2009 may have seen TV revenues dip significantly in the Middle East but it also provided an ideal opportunity for radio to shine through. We saw a huge focus on the medium last year in terms of both technical upgrades as well as efforts to make them more competitive in the marketplace.

A report from the Arab Advisors Group backs this claim. The average cost of a 30-second FM radio advertising spot is said to have risen from $112 in 2008 to $125 in 2009, according to the analyst.

It was especially interesting to see some broadcasters launch huge marketing campaigns to stress the efficacy of radio advertising last year.

One example of this was the Dubai-based Arabian Radio Network (ARN) , which launched several educational seminars last year to drum up how cost-effective and efficient radio advertising was to build brand awareness. The radio network also held a workshop guided by radio guru Ralph van Dijk to tell attendees how they could maximise the potential of radio advertising. Along with this business initiative, ARN undertook a major radio upgrade last year at its facility in Dubai Media City. It was the first broadcaster in the UAE to deploy two new Studer 2500 mixers. In addition, the broadcaster also linked all of its studios to the main control room as part of its efforts to make its workflow more efficient.

Recently, the University of Sharjah also undertook a large radio installation with a Yamaha console, Protools, DigiDesign and Peavey sound processors being key parts of the project.

Last year also saw Abu Dhabi Media Company pay more attention to its radio operations. After investing capital into migrating its entire TV facility to HD and purchasing the rights to the English Premier League, ADMC turned its focus to radio to promote it more aggressively in the market.
The state broadcaster launched two channels — Star FM and Abu Dhabi Classic FM — last year, bringing the total number of its radio channels to five.

Star FM is a trendy and modern radio station aimed at young Arabs. Unlike ADMC’s other channels, Star follows a different content format.

Back then, Farid Antone, the head of Channel at Star FM stated that “the best time to launch a radio station was during a crisis”.

Late last year, ADMC also launched Abu Dhabi Classic FM, a radio station focused on interactivity, to celebrate the Abu Dhabi Classics 2010 season. It was thought back then that more radio launches would be in the offing but ADMC has held back. Instead, the Abu Dhabi state broadcaster is currently upgrading all of its legacy radio equipment with Studer solutions.

Saudi Arabia is another country that is experiencing major changes to its radio landscape both in terms of policy as well as technology.

For the last couple of years, installation of transmitters, upgrading old radio stations and building new radio facilities has been ongoing at the Kingdom.

Last year, for instance, Harris Corporation provided a range of radio and television broadcast transmitters to Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture and Information (MOCI) as part of the ongoing modernisation of Saudi TV and Radio’s transmitter infrastructure.

To support the upgrading of its network, the Saudi MOCI chose a wide range of Harris transmitters: 21 AM radio transmitters, including 3DX(R) digital solid-state transmitters; 40 FM radio transmitters, including the ZX(R) range of low-power transmitters; and 36 TV transmitters, including Atlas digital solid-state air-cooled transmitters. These transmitters were deployed across multiple Saudi TV and Radio facilities to allow for the broadcast of audio and TV programmes terrestrially throughout the kingdom. The project was handled by Saudi systems integrator, First Gulf Company.
Likewise, STESA, another Saudi-based systems integrator aligned closely with Thales, was contracted to install and commission two medium wave radio stations in Hafr Al Bateen (6 transmitters 50 kW) and Taiba (4 transmitters 50 kW) in 2008. Both projects are scheduled for completion this year.

A key supplier to the transmission solutions in Saudi Arabia is Nautel, which is well known for its high power Radio Frequency (RF) products for AM and FM broadcasts.

Besides the launch of four new channels late last year by Saudi TV, the country also marked a milestone last month when KSA’s Ministry of Culture and Information (MOCI) granted the country’s first private FM radio broadcasting licence to Alf Alf.

The broadcaster paid US$20 million for the privilege. Under the terms of the deal, Alf Alf’s new service must cover 30 regional centres across Saudi Arabia, with 15 mandated by the Saudi MOCI. The Ministry will issue four more licenses in the coming months.

Significant radio upgrades have been undertaken across the Middle East and North Africa last year and a key supplier to this region is NETIA. New NETIA implementations include preserving audio archives and the installation of a complete radio automation system for Saudi Arabia’s Radio Riyadh, local archiving at Radio Jeddah and an installation in Mecca.

NETIA also provided systems for digitising all radio networks in Algeria and was involved in the launch of Radio Tunis Chaine Internationale (RTCI) in Tunisia. The company also recently teamed with Radio Fana, an Ethiopian media group, on an archiving initiative that included digitising the broadcaster’s media assets and upgrading its broadcast infrastructure with NETIA’s Radio-Assist. In Morocco, as well, the company provided solutions key to the launch of a new radio broadcast chain.

We expect to see more upgrades in the region as more broadcasters move entirely from analogue to digital solutions. Digital radio transmissions are still not on the cards here but this merits another discussion.

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