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A hearing by the British media company Ofcom, which is concerned with planned reductions in transmission power in the medium wave network of Absolute Radio, is causing quite a stir. The extent of the resonance is astonishing, because it is only a return to the previous state.

The goal is not even savings. The aim is simply to prevent a further increase in the fees charged by the technology service provider Arqiva for broadcasting.

Concrete details will not be disclosed. The only known figure is several million (pounds or euros) per year.

As an immediate measure, the transmission powers of the five large transmitters are to be reduced by half to 1215 kHz. The submission of Absolute Radio formulates this quite inconspicuously: as a reduction of 3 dB.

In fact, such a halving of the transmission power is not perceptible in practice. A noticeable difference to the previous state would only result from a further reduction; to about a quarter, which would be 6 dB in the level indication.

Moreover, this is ultimately only a return to the original state. In this case, the Moorside Edge transmitter (between Manchester and Leeds) worked with 100 kW and the other four major sites with 50 kW each.

Only with the installation of new transmission technology was the power amplified to 200 kW at Moorside Edge, 125 kW at Brookmans Park (London) and 105 kW and 100 kW respectively at the other three sites.

The reason for this was the nightly broadcasting of transmitters in the Kaliningrad region and in Albania. These stations have since ceased operations.

It remains to be seen whether information in the literature is correct, according to which the output of the Moorside Edge transmitter has already been reduced to 100 kW. This would amount to operating only part of the double transmitter system 2 x 100 kW (manufacturer: Harris, USA).

The submission of Absolute Radio leads to a “second step”: The shutdown of twelve of a total of 27 small transmitters to fill supply gaps in the five large transmitters.

The gaps are caused by the common assignment of the frequency 1215 kHz by the transmitter network. In this so-called common wave operation, interference and cancellations occur at locations where the signals from two (or even several) transmitter stations of approximately the same strength are received.

These confusion zones were placed in sparsely populated areas as far as possible during network planning. Since this procedure also reaches its limits, some of the additional small transmitters work on 1197, 1233, 1242 and 1260 kHz to supply places where the main frequency of 1215 kHz is unusable.

Common wave operation also affects remote reception (not relevant to Absolute Radio). The superposition of several separately emitted signals makes itself noticeable here by a characteristic hollow sound, partly also clear distortions.

This also applies to the other British common wave networks on medium wave, BBC Radio 5 Live on 693 and 909 kHz as well as Talksport on 1053 and 1089 kHz. Here, in order to fill the confusion zones, the large transmitters are already distributed over two frequencies each.

Absolute Radio’s medium wave licence contains the requirement to provide at least 90 percent of the British population with a defined signal quality. With the planned technical restrictions, however, this abstract coverage level, which can in no way be interpreted as a “reception or no reception” threshold, will fall from 90.5 to 88.8 percent.

This requires a formal change to the license. Absolute Radio gave the Ofcom an ultimatum: Ideally, the request should be granted in February. In the event of a rejection, one would be forced to stop broadcasting on medium wave in April or shortly thereafter.

Absolute Radio currently reaches 2.46 million listeners per week. In the case of a short-term cessation of medium wave operation, Absolute Radio expects a decline of 20 percent.

Today’s Absolute Radio started in 1993 on the earlier medium waves of BBC Radio 3, initially as “Virgin Radio” (or, until VHF was switched on in London in 1995, as “Virgin 1215”). A sale by the Virgin Group resulted in the current name in 2008.

Already in 2006 the then luckless managing director Anne Frances (“Fru”) Hazlitt declared that she wanted to give up the AM distribution channel by 2010 because it had become uneconomical. According to her, 70 percent of listeners were still using the medium wave at the time. The rhetoric used by Hazlitt in her announcement was remarkable:

In 2011 Absolute Radio told Ofcom that they would forego the medium wave license if the license fee was not reduced sustainably. The Ofcom obviously corresponded to this.

It is astonishing what a sensation the current submission of Absolute Radio causes. This is also true for the current omission of that quarter of the medium wave stations of local stations of the BBC, which only duplicated a VHF coverage. Here the resonance went up to detailed considerations about the future of the medium radio.

This is conspicuous because this echo in the Anglo-American region goes far beyond the interest that the complete discontinuation of AM broadcasting in German-speaking countries found there. The availability of information in English obviously plays a far greater role than its actual relevance.