Radio Pulpit 657AM underlines significant benefits of digital radio and DRM for Southern Africa

DRMSA (Digital Radio Mondiale Southern Africa) last month joined digital media experts from around the globe in presenting the future of digital radio in Southern Africa at the Southern African Digital Broadcasting Association (SADIBA) Conference in Johannesburg.

This conference was designed to update the Southern African media experts on digital media and presented Radio Pulpit 657AM, member of DRMSA and the Pulpit Media Group (PMG), with the opportunity to give feedback on Southern Africa’s first ever digital audio test trial, performed by the Station in co-operation with Broadcom International cc since July 2014.

Ruxandra Obreja, DRM Consortium Chairperson, focused on the DRM standard and the benefits that DRM presents to Southern Africa (and for the African continent). These benefits are significant as DRM covers large areas using a single frequency as opposed to the multiplex DAB+ option that covers smaller areas. DRM shows significant cost savings and is green, spectrum and energy efficient. In addition to these important benefits, DRM is brilliant for rural coverage and being on the move. With DRM a Station can broadcast up to three programmes (and one data stream) from a single frequency, giving listeners more choice and variety. Obreja also demonstrated the immense improvement in sound quality that DRM has to offer – offering a CD-quality listening experience especially in AM.

According to Obreja, DRM receiver development and production have huge potential for the domestic industry, and could create job and export opportunities in Southern Africa.

Dr Roelf Petersen, Group MD of PMG and Chairperson of DRMSA presented an update on the Southern Africa test trial. Radio Pulpit 657AM has made history by being the first radio station in Southern Africa to perform digital audio transmissions from their test facility at Kameeldrift, Pretoria. The Station has successfully been doing test broadcasts of DRM programmes in medium wave, with extra features, 24 hours a day. The results of this first phase of the technical evaluation have exceeded expectations – both in terms of service quality as well as coverage. Transmissions of the BBC are being co-transmitted as part of the trials and have been hosted on the second channel of the 1440 kHz frequency since 1 February 2015.

Radio Pulpit 657AM’s trial has been extended until October 2015 and will now be joined by Sentech for the remainder thereof. 

The dual-programme DRM transmission NOW ON AIR is further enhanced with DRM text messages (‘scrolling text’) providing useful on-screen programme information. In addition, DRM provides a text service Journaline. Chris Joubert, CEO of Broadcom International cc and technical facilitator of Radio Pulpit’s DRM test broadcasts, explains: “Through Journaline the listeners can learn about the DRM standard in general and receive information about the current broadcast being transmitted on their DRM receiver set. Journaline also provides a ‘Pretoria News Update’, automatically updated from the Internet via RSS-feed.”

DRM gives access to detailed text information to accompany or complete the broadcasts, without the need for an Internet connection and free of charge. This means excellent audio quality is available on less spectrum with internet data added.

What’s not to like? DRM on its own (or together with other standards) is a serious proposition for digitising South Africa and the rest of the continent.