Home Latin America III 1997 21st Century Radio:WorldSpace to bring Digital Sound to Latin America

21st Century Radio:WorldSpace to bring Digital Sound to Latin America

by david.nunes
Katherine Conradt Issue: Latin America III 1997
Article no.: 8
Topic: 21st Century Radio:WorldSpace to bring Digital Sound to Latin America
Author: Katherine Conradt
Title: Media Relations Manager, Latin America
Organisation: WorldSpace, USA
PDF size: 36KB

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Article abstract

Radio is the backbone of media in the developing world as the preferred, if not the only means of obtaining entertainment, information and news. For all radio’s advancements, there is still room to grow. With the planned launched of three powerful, geostationary satellites by WorldSpace, Latin America will have new options for gaining knowledge, being entertained and tuning in to the global economy. Digital satellite audio broadcasting will pave the way into a new and clearer sounding information age.

Full Article

Radio is the backbone of media in the developing world. Inexpensive, portable and unobtrusive, it has long been the preferred, if not the only, means of obtaining entertainment, information and news. In Latin America, the radio industry is not only popular, it is also well-developed and in many cases, highly sophisticated. Nearly 6,000 stations – from government-owned and commercial, to educational and grassroots – provide numerous programming options to the listening public. Mexico alone has about 1,000 stations, while its capital boasts 55. Indeed, Mexican radio enjoys the highest audience penetration rate of all mass media there, regularly attracting an estimated 85% of the population. Meanwhile, in the rural areas of Central America, Brazil and the Andean region, audio broadcasts play an important role in the dissemination of information to populations without reliable access to newspapers. For all radio’s advancements however, there is still room to grow. Despite broad coverage in urban areas, many rural communities remain under-served because broadcast distances in AM and FM are limited, and shortwave’s sound quality is often wanting. Additionally, commercial broadcasts dominate the industry, leaving only about 15% of programming for educational, cultural and other topics, according to the World Radio TV Handbook. Thus indigenous voices rarely travel the airwaves. Programmes for children and women are scarce. Also in short supply is air time for literacy and other distance-education topics, not to mention for medical, environmental and other non-commercial uses. This situation is about to change, not only for Latin America but for the rest of the developing world. Interestingly, the budding transformation has its seeds in Africa. A Visionary Concept A Washington, DC-based enterprise, WorldSpace is the brainchild of Chairman and CEO Noah Samara, a US citizen of Ethiopian-Sudanese origins. The company was founded on Mr Samara’s dream of bringing information affluence to his native continent, and through the dissemination of knowledge, to diminish the ever-widening and devastating spread of HIV there. Given the limitations of conventional radio technologies, the erratic quality of shortwave and the impracticalities of television in the region, digital direct satellite broadcasting seemed the ideal means of reaching Africa’s widely dispersed populations, particularly those marginalised by isolation or illiteracy. And upon looking further afield, Mr Samara’s vision broadened: this new medium would also be the ideal tool to fulfil the unmet needs of Asia and Latin America, eventually providing a platform for bringing the sounds and the rhythms of the world to the world. All Systems Go Over the next 2 years, WorldSpace will launch three powerful, geostationary satellites, providing unprecedented coverage for Africa and the Middle East, Southern and Southeast Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean. The satellites, each supplying transcontinental coverage via three beams, will deliver direct-to-person digital signals and hundreds of channels of entertainment, information and education to even the most far-flung corners of the world. With the unique WorldSpace system, radio broadcasters anywhere will be able to reach four-fifths of the Earth’s inhabitants. The quality of the system’s audio signals, like that of compact-disc sound, will be far superior to shortwave radio, without fading, noise or co-channel interference. Moreover the technology is accessible and flexible. An integral part of the end-to-end system is a special receiver designed to capture the signal beamed from space. The WorldSpace receivers will be small, portable units capable of receiving up to 100 channels of programming transmitted by each satellite. They will also be able to pick up local AM and FM stations when the listener is within their coverage areas, as well as shortwave transmissions. The system, then, will not so much replace conventional radio as enhance variety. Key elements of the receivers are the STARMAN™ chipset, a micro-integrated circuit that processes WorldSpace satellite transmissions, and a flat antenna. Other components are already in use on standard radios: e.g. amplifiers, speakers and keyboard buttons. The receivers will operate either with an internal battery or an external AC power adapter. The system also will have the capacity to mix still images and data transfers with audio at a very low cost. The government of Trinidad and Tobago has issued the license to build, launch and operate AmeriStar, the satellite that will cover Latin America and the Caribbean region, to launch in mid-1999. It will follow those of AfriStar (June 1998) and AsiaStar (December 1998). Listeners in the Americas will have access to crisp, CD-quality programming before the end of the millennium. Pre-eminent Partners The project has attracted world-class partners from across the globe. Top engineers have developed the technology, and a team of engineering and scientific partners have created the software and are building the hardware for this new medium. WorldSpace’s prime contractor, Alcatel Espace, is designing and constructing the satellite communication payload and the ground control system. Arianespace will launch the satellites from Kourou, French Guiana. Design and studies of the radio system are being conducted by Germany’s Fraunhofer Institut, while ITT Intermetall and SGS-Thomson Microelectronics are manufacturing the STARMAN™ chipsets. At the same time, Matra Marconi Space is designing and building the satellite bus, will integrate and test the spacecraft, as well as design and implement the satellite control centre. California-based TIW will construct the Telemetry, Command and Ranging (TCR) stations for in-orbit control of the satellites. The new generation of radio receivers will be manufactured by four of the world’s electronic leaders. Hitachi, Matsushita (Panasonic), Sanyo and NC have agreed to develop and mass produce the radios, which will be on the market when service begins in Africa and the Middle East. Major Milestones The WorldSpace project is completely on schedule and is achieving milestones at an unparalleled clip. The company was founded in 1990 and, in June 1991, received a license from the US Federal Communications Commission for AfriStar. In 1992 a choice part of the radio spectrum (L-band) was allocated for satellite digital radio at the World Administrative Radio Conference. Trinidad and Tobago granted its license in 1993, followed in 1995 by Australia’s authorisation to build, launch and operate the AsiaStar satellite. All this activity, however, pales in comparison to that of 1997. This month the company conducted an end-to-end validation test, successfully completing a broadcast simulation using prototypes of the WorldSpace radio and satellite. The STARMAN™ integrated circuits, now completed, were developed in less than one year from design stage to finished product; a record time for such a complex chipset, and final assembly and integration of AfriStar is under way at the Alcatel Espace and Matra Marconi Space facilities in Toulouse, France. The company has also signed agreements with important broadcasters from within the coverage regions as well as those based in the US and Europe. In July Bloomberg announced an agreement to broadcast in six languages on all three satellites, including Spanish, Portuguese and English throughout the AmeriStar coverage area. Sud FM, a key Francophone broadcaster in Senegal, signed on in September, for AfriStar. Latin America’s first broadcaster to reach an agreement was Radio Cadena Nacional (RCN) of Colombia. Negotiations with other communications organisations in the region are ongoing. Pan-Regional Programming Direct digital satellite broadcasting will allow high-quality radio signals to go where they have never gone before. A Brazilian travelling in Chile, for example, could still have the opportunity to listen to his favourite hometown station. Likewise a tango aficionado in Caracas or a reggae fan in Quito could pick up their favourite broadcasts direct from the source. Indeed anyone, anywhere on the continent will be able to hear the-same radio broadcast direct from a satellite in space simply by using a small, hand-held receiver. National broadcasters, international communications corporations, private entertainment companies and news organisations of all sorts will create an optimal mix of offerings for the listener: soccer matches and other sports programmes, opera, news, financial information, popular music, and talk radio. In addition WorldSpace will transmit its own mix of branded programming and will work with multilateral and non-governmental organisations to arrange for channels that deal with non-commercial, but vital, topics for the region. In order to use the medium to improve the physical existence, mental capabilities and spiritual lives of listeners, channels dedicated to distance education are planned. A children’s channel, featuring stories from around the globe, is being considered, as are channels dedicated to women’s and environmental issues. Tele-medicine to remote regions, agricultural information for farmers, weather bulletins and early-warning systems for earthquakes, and cultural programmes in native languages such as Quechua, Aymara and Guarani also will have air time. Conclusion By the end of the decade Latin America will have new options for gaining knowledge, being entertained and tuning in to the global economy. Digital satellite audio broadcasting will pave the way into a new and clearer-sounding information age.

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