Sydney trials digital radio

A consortium of four radio networks today joined forces for the launch of digital radio trials in Australia. The ABC, Australian Radio Network, Austereo and 2KY have formed an association, Digital Radio 2000, to test the service, which is set to commence nationally in 2001.

Although Australia is still deciding on which standard to adopt, the consortium anticipates the technology it is trialling will be eventually implemented. Known as the Eureka 147, the system has already been put into operation in the UK, Canada, Europe, Singapore and shortly Mexico and Malaysia.

An existing transmitter tower is located in Parramatta, and soon another will be purchased and located in the CBD to transmit digital signals over the next 18 months.

Digital broadcasting provides near CD quality sound, using MPEG2, Layer 2 audio compression, a sample rate of 48kHz and 256KB stream. CD quality audio sound is achieved due to the compression process during transmission.

The transmission is also designed to be interference free, which means that the robust signal will alleviate the "black holes" which commonly occur due to obstructions, such as buildings and tunnels.

Tuning into the new receivers will no longer mean a flicking of the dial, with end users viewing an onscreen menu and selecting stations with a point and click method. Digital radio broadcasters will also be able to offer further services including song title and artist details, news headlines, advertising logos and messages, and in the case of racing networks, even photo finishes of the races.

So how do you receive digital radio broadcasts? The receivers are currently quite expensive, ranging from $1000 to $2000 a unit. Although the industry believes these prices will drop as the technology develops.

Singapore has invested heavily in the technology, and has plans to close down its FM frequency, while the AM band has already been shut down. The demand in Singapore, it is also hoped, will reduce receiver costs over time.