The surprising silence of DRM transmissions in Brazil: Interview with Francisco Braccini

By: Martin Butera
Photos: Ligia Katze

Martin Butera, together with his interviewed specialist in DRM in Brazil, Mr. Francisco Braccini

Introduction

Surely many remember, to see replicated, the news that was quickly echoed in all the specialized media about the supposed and definitive beginning of digital radio in Brazil.

Basically a small summary of that news was that exactly in the year 2020 the first digital radio transmission began in Brazil on the frequency of 11910 kHz in DRM.

Leaving behind more than 2 decades of controversies, it seemed that digital radio in Brazil was finally beginning.

This transmission was even successfully captured in various parts of Brazil, French Guiana, the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, among other countries.

However, these broadcasts were relatively short-lived and mysteriously disappeared one day from the air, with no further news.

Today we will try to unravel the mystery of what happened through an extensive and exclusive interview with Francisco Braccini, one of the main enthusiasts and a benchmark for Digital radio in Brazil.

Let ‘s start…


Our interviewed specialist in DRM in Brazil, Mr. Francisco Braccini

Interview

MB: I like to say that the readers are renewed, so let’s start a little from scratch, which is basically DRM?

FB: Basically, the DRM consortium, it is a digital radio platform, developed from the year 1998, when a group of stations joined, such as the BBC of London, Radio France international, Radio New Zealand Pacific, Deutsche Welle, among a few others.

These broadcasters met to define a new digital broadcasting protocol and this new system was defined with the name of DRM, from the acronym Digital Radio Mondiale. This system brought a series of innovations, such as the transmission of images, texts, high-quality digital audio and, for example, weather and seismic emergency alerts, among others.

MB: What are the other digital formats that today compete with DRM?

FB: We have the Digital Audio Transmission, called DAB from its acronym of the English term digital audio broadcasting, which is a European digital radio standard that only serves to be used in VHF band 3, as DRM covers all the bands of terrestrial broadcasting, there is also a very similar standard that was developed in China, the CDR, from its acronym in English China Digital Radio, which is a kind of DAB with some modifications and finally the HD which is an American standard, which initially It started just for the medium waves and expanded to the FM bands and today it works on those two bands.

MB: I just needed to ask you these introductory questions, to ask you what is the digital pattern chosen today in Brazil?

FB: Well, Brazil went through various moments, for political reasons, but today I can say that Brazil is closer to DRM because it is the only system that manages to unite all the bands in a single receiver.

At first there was a thought that DRM was only for short waves, it was in 2007 when the first studies began, until mid-2011, in that period HD radio was working in parallel on AM and FM, but from the beginning DRM As I mentioned, I already had the possibility of working unifying all the bands.

MB: So how long has the DRM system been around?

FB: In the world it is exactly 24 years and in Brazil around 15 years.

MB: No. Do you think that DRM, not being massively implemented all over the world and here in Brazil, was lagging a bit behind, for example, with the so-called Digital Web Radio, which uses the Internet and seems to capitalize on all the interest of listeners , through its streaming radio broadcasts?

FB: Internet and DRM, they are two very different things. DRM had a great boom in Europe in the years 2005 to 2012, where there were many transmissions in short waves, in addition to medium waves.

From the years 2014 and 2015 there is a significant decrease in shortwave transmissions throughout the world, but the technology continues to advance, proving that it is very effective, including India, which ends up adopting the DRM standard, with transmissions mostly in medium wave and also on short waves, reaching the population of thousands of people who live throughout the country.

Another example is in mid-2016, where China also joined the DRM consortium and produced 7 transmitters manufactured in its country, to transmit through various regions of China in DRM on short waves.

MB: Who are the world’s leading manufacturers of DRM transmitters today?

FB: Today some of the most relevant companies in the market are the following: Ampegon, a new company from Switzerland, which buys the old Thomson Broadcast from France and isin charge of transmitters and also rotary antennas. There is also Nautel, which is a Canadian manufacturer of broadcast transmitters. Also on the market is the old Harris Broadcast, today called GatesAir, another also old company that produces DRM is Continental Electronics, transmitters are also produced in China and in some other countries, but these are the main manufacturers.

Martin Butera, in an extensive and in-depth interview with the DRM specialist in Brazil, Mr. Francisco Braccini


MB: And how do you get to manufacture a DRM transmitter in the south of Brazil?

FB: In the south of Brazil, there is the company BT, for its acronym in English Broadcast Transmitters, it is a company that, thanks to an agreement with another French company called “Digidia”, jointly develops a transmitter. Digidia was in charge of the DRM part and the Brazilian company of the rest of the transmitter, with the agreement that they could not sell the transmitter, it was only something experimental.

So it was that when the University of Brasilia, together with the Ministry of Communication of Brazil, decided to begin tests of a low-power transmitter of 1 kw in DRM, they reported the interest of Radio Amazonia, which lent the field of antennas.

These tests lasted about a year, on the air they were actually about 6 months, where the first 3 months the antennas were pointed to the north of the country and the other three months the antennas were pointed to the south of the country.

Seeing the results, the company EBC, Brasil Communications, which is a conglomerate of public media in Brazil, responsible for Radio Amazonia, felt interested and began the bidding for the purchase of 2 transmitters of 100 Kilowatt of DRM.

The BT company, which later manages to develop its own DRM modulator, was the one who was going to sell these transmitters, but everything was blocked by the start of the pandemic in Brazil and the tenders were suspended.

MB: Beyond the success of those tests, don’t you think these tests were a bit messy, when there were no ordinary people with DRM receivers and all those tests were only in the technical field?

FB: Yeah sure, I don’t know if I should call it messy, in that case I like to talk about India, which was the first country to massively adopt DRM, to begin with they acquired more than 50 DRM transmitters and in parallel they started with DRM propaganda on state television in India, so that people who were not aware of the digital issue would find out. Another very important thing is the production of receivers, for example in cars there are already more than 2 million vehicles with DRM receivers.

MB: So I understand that with more demand, the cost of receivers decreases. Here in Brazil, what is the reality? Are receivers manufactured and how much money does a person need to buy a receiver?

FB: Well, I looked for a way to take this idea in 2018, for example, to the Motobras company, a company that manufactures radios in Brazil, to produce receivers, but they were not sure of manufacturing something where it does not exist, still a regular transmission in Brazil. Currently, I am a kind of bridge between the China Gospell company throughout Brazil and I am definitely behind being able to bring a high production of receivers so that they can be sold in a relevant chain of products, which has more than a thousand stores throughout Brazil.

Today a DRM receiver, I can go from 100 dollars to 250 dollars, depending on the model. The idea is to lower that cost to between 50 and 70 dollars, since we already have a large number of receivers in the country, but negotiations are still very slow.

MB: But then in Brazil, it started the other way around, wanting to adopt a standard of which ordinary people to this day after 15 years do not have receivers, to enter the famous digital era of radio?

FB: It’s that before there was another joint idea of DRM in Brazil, for example I participated together with other people in a project, which was going to bring together 3 very strong secretariats or state ministries, for example the idea was to bring together the ministry of education, tourism and the ministry of science and technology, with the idea of bringing the structure of the DRM to education, to the area of tourism promotion in Brazil and the last ministry of science and technology was going to be in charge of the dissemination in public TV, schools, universities, something similar to the Indian project.

The idea was for the state to take charge of distributing many receivers to the most isolated peoples of Brazil, such as the peoples of the Amazon. That would have given a very strong incentive to definitively install DRM in Brazil, unfortunately the pandemic came and in Brazil we are in an election year, in October there are elections for the president of the republic and for the moment the priorities have changed, it will depend on whatever happens, this year 2022 for Brazil, this year will really be complicated, that’s why I think that until next year 2023 we will not have news about DRM in Brazil.

MB: Brazil has two very different and very mercantile government policies, one can be said to be leftist with former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula), who will stand for election again, and the current one with president Jair Bolsonaro, a politician and a former Brazilian military man, considered to be on the right, who will run for re-election. My question is which of these two governments believed more in DRM?

FB: About the current government I can say, the Covid 19 crisis was a determining point to focus on using public resources for financial aid, vaccines and everything related to the pandemic.

Regarding the previous government, it was not necessarily that they were not interested or did not consider the platform, unfortunately it was a government accused of a lot of corruption, which ended in the last time, stopping any bidding process or purchase project and what I am saying is not a In my opinion, it is a matter of public domain, for example, former President Lula da Silva was detained in jail.

MB: Do you think that if the current government has continuity, progress could be made in DRM?

FB: Regardless of who governs in Brazil, I think that we must continue to pressure the authorities so that they take notice, but of course some friends are leaving us along the way, for example recently at the beginning of this year the professor of the technology department of the faculty of Brasilia, the beloved “Plínio Ricardo Ganime Alves”, who was the coordinator of the first short wave transmission in DRM in Brazil. Also, many people who have been involved in the DRM project for Brazil for a long time have become discouraged over the years and it is logical.

But I do not lose hope that one day Brazil will adopt DRM for its broadcast transmissions, integrating all the Brazilian people.


Francisco Braccini is a young lieutenant with a degree in Communications from the Agulhas Negras Military Academy and in 2016 he wrote about DRM in his dissertation, talking about its possibilities. In 2017 he visited one of the offices of the DRM Consortium in London and Rádio França Internacional, interacting with personalities such as the president Ruxandra Obreja and the director Carlos Acciari. In 2019 he personally participated in the DRM General Assembly in Palma de Mallorca, Spain and in the IBC RAI Amsterdam conference. During the pandemic he has participated in the meetings and presentations of the DRM consortium that have been held virtually. It currently has an official representation in Brazil ofthe Chinese manufacturer of Gospell receivers, facilitating the acquisition of buyers, as well as spreading its enthusiasm and knowledge of DRM through its YouTube channel, Francisco Braccini, where it presents the weekly program “Momento DRM” on a weekly basis, which is available on Saturdays at 22:00 UTC, with the latest DRM information in Brazil and in the world.

https://www.youtube.com/c/FranciscoBraccini

In Portuguese, the channel has more than one thousand two hundred subscribers, a number that does not seem to draw attention, however Francisco Braccini, has more subscribers than the official DRM channel worldwide, which at the time of writing this article does not even reach the 800 registered.

Francisco Braccini is also a certified monitor for many of the international shortwave stations that today broadcast in DRM. As a curious fact, on December 4, 2019, Lieutenant Francisco Braccini, managed to have an informal conversation at the exit of the “Palácio da Alvorada”, home of the President of the Republic of Brazil “Jair Bolsonaro”, there he exchanged words about the need that Brazil definitively adopts the DRM system, in the following link, you can see the video of that meeting.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3Lfm3Tj1c8
Francisco Braccini, in his hand the DRM prototype radio, Gospell brand model GR-220P, unique outside of China and in Brazil

Final conclusion by Martin Butera

The implementation of radio took place in the 1920s and every time other means of communication emerge, such as the Internet, the phrase “radio will die” is present.

However, the Internet is no longer a threat, on the contrary, thanks to its creation, the radio gained a new place.

It’s just that fewer and fewer people tune in to the radio in a conventional way, that is, using a radio receiver.

Listeners have turned year after year to listen to Internet radio using their mobile phones and related content such as the famous “podcasts”, where Brazil is the third country in the world to consume this format, with more than 30 million listeners, only behind from Sweden and Ireland, according to an investigation by Kantar Ibope Media, formerly called Ibope, a Brazilian company that the British multinational Kantar Media bought and merged into Kantar Ibope Media, which operates directly in 16 countries.

According to data from the Brazilian Ministry of Communications, 12 Brazilian capitals are already fully prepared in terms of infrastructure and legislation to receive the fifth generation of mobile internet, 5G, even in this year 2022.

Brazil, with a population of 212,559,409 people, is one of the most populous countries in the world with 25 inhabitants per Km2.

Brazil currently has 152 million consumers with Internet access, a very high number, but at the same time, unequal in a country with so many inhabitants.

I believe that this inequality was the opportunity for the digitization of the radio, through DRM in Brazil, to have become a reality.

Without a doubt, I think that the DRM system had all the potential to be a success in Brazil, as well as in India.But the DRM process in Brazil has always been slow and bureaucratic due to the indecision of the different governments in adopting a definitive norm.

This is truly a pity since in Brazil, due to its large territorial extensions, shortwave and tropical wave transmissions are fundamental, and DRM would have brought quality to these transmissions, precisely because of what we are mentioning about the inequality of the Internet, where there is no there is connection to the network, the only thing that arrives is the radio.

While politicians do not agree, each time in Brazil, there are fewer shortwave and tropical wave transmissions.

DRM seemed to be the future of radio in Brazil, now it just seems like something of the past, however our interviewee does not lose hope and dreams of the possibility of a digital Radio in Brazil, which integrates the entire Brazilian society.

Martin Butera, says goodbye to his interviewee, Francisco Braccini, DRM specialist in Brazil
Our team for the Radio Heritage Foundation in Brazil, Mr. Martin Butera, together with his wife and Photographer Ligia Katze and Francisco Braccini, DRM specialist in Brazil

This article was published for the first time in the British magazine RadioUser, in the month of August of 2022, where Martin Butera also collaborated with reports.

RadioUser closed its editions last year 2022, this is a new extended and exclusive version for Radio Heritage Foundation. We thank Georg Wiessala, director of the fantastic RadioUser magazine, for sharing Martin’s work with all of us.


Reception of DRM Brazil tests in New Zealand

In February of 2021 EBC in Brazil was conducting DRM tests on 11910 kHz from Basilia using a low-power transmitter but with a very high gain antenna. Most of the tests were beamed north from Brasilia, but for a couple of days they beamed south and the signals were received in New Zealand by New Zealand DXer and DRM enthusiast Chris Mackerell.

Reception was understandably not perfect, but did demonstrate some of the potential of DRM on shortwave.

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