Source: Nick Tabakoff, The Australian
AUSTRALIA'S leading radio networks, including the Austereo Group, are likely to operate just one additional station for each licence they hold when digital radio is introduced at the beginning of next year.
The revelation comes in the wake of concerns expressed last week in the industry about possible digital radio black spots in the five mainland state capital cities, which could result in more than 20 per cent of city areas being left without indoor reception.
Initial expectations were that the digital radio, scheduled for launch on January 1, 2009, would see each metropolitan radio station launch up to three new stations, along with their existing current analogue station offering, on to the digital platform.
But Peter Harvie, chairman of Austereo, Australia's largest radio network, told The Australian the group was likely to launch just one additional station for each one it now operated, when digital radio commenced.
He said the existing licences would be able to operate, in all, "two stations (and offer) data, plus still pictures, plus interactivity".
Digital radio is slated to offer features like slideshows, graphics, animation, text and enhanced audio quality.
Austereo operates 10 stations in the five mainland state capitals through the Today and Triple M networks.
This means it is likely to have 20 stations once digital radio begins.
Mr Harvie said that while the network was "hopeful" of being ready for a January 1 launch, operating more than one station could compromise quality.
An Austereo source said: "Our primary business is music, and we'll want to keep the quality up."
Other radio industry sources have also indicated they may stop at two stations -- a simulcast of their existing analogue station, plus one other offering -- when digital commences.
Fairfax Radio boss Graham Mott said he would not be throwing huge resources at the new spectrum. "With initial penetration being slow, you don't want to spend a lot of money on something that will take a long time to give a return.
"Initially, the most important thing is to make sure your main analogue service is on digital," he said.
Sources at Macquarie Radio, which operates two stations, including Sydney's leading station, 2GB, said the station was looking for cost-effective options, including the possibility of "experimenting with music formats for a younger demographic".
Meanwhile, Austereo yesterday announced a one-year contract extension for its CEO, Michael Anderson, who has championed the company's transformation into a cross-platform digital media company, until mid-2009.
Mr Harvie said his CEO was a man for the current media climate.
"Our best estimate is that, in addition to our core radio listenership, another 20 per cent of our listening is done online, on iPods and on mobiles. Michael is very technology savvy, always pursuing new opportunities."
Among Mr Anderson's projects has been to trial a possible new youth-oriented digital music station -- tentatively entitled Super Fresh -- featuring edgy music, for a possible January 1 launch.