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back to article BBC in secret trial to see if you care about thing you plainly don't

In the last month the BBC quietly switched off AM radio transmitters to see if anyone noticed - and it seems not a lot of people did. Four local radio stations had their medium-wave transmissions axed in the last few weeks. Essex and Hereford are now back on while Nottingham and Kent remain absent in the interest of seeing if …

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Holmes

The cartoon will tell us we should be embracing the future, rather than clinging to the past...

Too bloody right! So - remind me - why are we persisting with DAB?

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Anonymous Coward

So..

..they are spending our money to convince us to spend more of our money to replace the reasonably small and adequate with the power-hungry, large and inadequate in the name of progress ?

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Unhappy

"why are we persisting with DAB?"

Sadly some of us aren't. Not that we have a better solution but because we can't get DAB in the first place

I would love to be able to use DAB to get some of the stuff available there and if they switch off Long Wave as well then I am stuffed. No more TMS for me!

I have no problem with moving to digital, if only they would let me receive it.

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Facepalm

"I have no problem with moving to digital, if only they would let me receive it."

Interesting how someone with no access to the Internet was able to post this.

(Hint: Digital radio is not only available via DAB, most stations are also available via the Internet.)

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Facepalm

Re: So..

"with the power-hungry, large and inadequate"

You might want to have a look around a bit before posting nonsense like that.

(Hint: Here is a very good portable DAB receiver that I've used and like: http://www.tesco.com/direct/pure-one-mi-portable-dabfm-radio-black/208-6060.prd?pageLevel=&skuId=208-6060 , Note: Other even cheaper options are also available.)

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Yes I could listen or watchto everything on my PC but that would use up a lot my limited monthly bandwidth.

Why shouldn't I just be able to switch on my radio and listen for free?

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Jad
FAIL

Re: portable DAB receiver

hmm ... doesn't come with a battery pack ... so not exactly portable for the price.

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FAIL

Re: portable DAB receiver

"hmm ... doesn't come with a battery pack ... so not exactly portable for the price."

As I said, other cheaper options are available, that one just happens to be the one I use and like.

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The Internet isn't the answer to everything

(1) Broadband required.

(2) Tech savvy required to maintain a computer. -- I expect many readers dread family tech support phone calls.

(3) How do you listen to a talk by that nice Mr. Reith in your drawing room while the servants in the kitchen have the Dales and Jimmy in his den freaks out that awful rock and roll? Most homes have more than one radio in different places.

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Facepalm

"Yes I could listen or watchto everything on my PC but that would use up a lot my limited monthly bandwidth."

Watch? I thought we were talking radio here, aren't we? And yes I know some people have very limited monthly download limits that even streaming audio can use up but that's your choice, you get what you pay for. And why on your PC, you do know that you can get Internet radio devices that link directly to your wi-fi don't you?

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Mushroom

Re: The Internet isn't the answer to everything

Heresy!!!!!!!

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@BadVok Re: So..

Are you serious? DAB is ridiculously power-hungry and there's nothing can be done about that, so in the end it doesn't matter what size it is, as far as I'm concerned if you can't get a day's use out of it on a single charge (and without a massive battery you can't) then it's not portable.

As an example of just how power-hungry DAB actually is, my Cowon D2 will give me about 70 hours FM listening on a single charge, or 40-50 hours of MP3s depending on bitrate (most of my stuff is 320kb/s), but the most I've ever squeezed out of it for (128kb/s MP2!) DAB is... wait for it... 6 hours.

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Mushroom

Re: So..

You some kind of shill for the DAB lobby?

Lets face it, DAB radios are still currently large (unlike an FM radio that can be small enough to be built into headphones, mp3 players etc.), power hungry (DAB radio power consumption about 40x that of an FM radio)

and the quality is shitty, (as the people pushing it are more about how many channels you can fit into the available frequency space than the quality of those channels, more money that way).

If you dispute this, please indicate your matchbox sized or smaller DAB radio of choice that runs for 40+ hours on a single AAA battery. Or any DAB receiver that runs on a watch battery.

If I wanted to listen to digital radio at home, I would use the internet based digital radio option, rather than buying a crappy DAB radio.

If I wanted to listen to the radio in my car (like almost all radio listeners do), then I guess I'll use the FM radio that has been built into almost every car on the road today. The cheap, reliable FM radio that doesn't require multiple digital decode circuits constantly running to handle the station shifts as I travel around.

Assuming the DAB lobby pushing their inadequate technology doesn't manage to bribe enough MPs / Celebrity shills to get FM turned off of course.

Some great math being used to "prove" DAB is popular, like only counting "kitchen" style radio sales, rather than including all the FM decodes built into phones, tablets, mp3 players and (or course) cars.

Or counting people listening to radio (at home only of course) on their PC's/Tablets as "Digital radio" listeners, thus implying they are using DAB and we should turn off FM to get more of the DAB they want to them...

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Anonymous Coward

Hint: Internet access is not only available at home

"Interesting how someone with no access to the Internet was able to post this.

(Hint: Digital radio is not only available via DAB, most stations are also available via the Internet.)"

It was 10:24 on a Thursday, like me they were probably at work

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Meh

Re: So..

(Hint: Here is a very good portable DAB receiver that I've used and like: http://www.tesco.com/direct/pure-one-mi-portable-dabfm-radio-black/208-6060.prd?pageLevel=&skuId=208-6060 , Note: Other even cheaper options are also available.)

Heh, I have that exact radio too. The FM mode is noticeably less muffled sounding than DAB mode. I'm about 11 miles as the crow flies from my local transmitter and it's more or less flat ground. Also, Radio 1 in DAB appears to lag R1 analogue by a significant fraction of a second.

I like the extra stations, particularly Radio 6 music which sounds great on iPlayer, just saying if they're serious about DAB they really need to fix the problems first.

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Re: So..

""with the power-hungry, large and inadequate""

The one you highlight is 10cm*16cm*4cm and weighs 250g

Quotes from reviewers "Need to buy battery pack or use on mains all time." , "Lack of opportunity to use 'normal' batteries may be a drawback for some people", "Cost of battery pack if wantind a portable radio (costs more than the radio itself!)", "The only failing is the price of the battery if you want it portable"

The damn thing is £30 and then you need to buy a mains adaptor

It''ll be no substitute for the Roberts' FM radio I use walking in the hills which lasts 8 hours+ on ONE AAA rechargeable and is the size of a box of matches.

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Mushroom

Re: So..

Amazing how many luddites there are here considering it is an IT site, of course DAB is more expensive and more power hungry than FM radio (as was FM than AM in its early years), it is a newer technology and it takes time for these things to evolve.

In my opinion DAB works well these days. The more people who adopt it the better, and the more likely there will be ever more improvements to the hardware and the service.

Don't you luddites worry yourselves too much, this article was about a trial of AM being switched off, not your beloved FM, you'll still have that for quite a few years more, and maybe by then you'll have evolved enough to accept some new technology.

As for quality, no it is not as good as getting a 'perfect' FM signal, but very few really have that anyway, and DAB beats a poor FM signal any day.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: So..

DAB may work well - so what ? - it's clearly got major drawbacks esp. in portable use - it provides some advantages and some drawbacks - I don't see that as a major improvement and a reason to throw away vast amounts of equipment AND force people to spend/change what many/most are perfectly happy with.

That's not being a Luddite that's just common sense

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Re: So..

The trouble is that people here talk of DAB being poor when really it's the implementation that is causing the problems. I used to use a Robi DAB radio, about 4 cm long that got its power from my iPhone. Worked brilliantly and power drain not too onerous but could be better. So to fix DAB I think we need:

- Increase the power levels so they're not an order of magnitude below the FM broadcasts. It's a SFN right? What's the problem?!?

- Switch to DAB+

- Remove whichever law it is that says all DAB/+ radios have to be mono and look like they're from the 60's

- Give us a decent selection of portable/personal radios at reasonable prices

- Build DAB/+ receivers into mobile phones. Apparently the Korean version of my Galaxy Note has DAB built-in? Why not the UK version FFS?

- Do whatever it takes to get prices down to reasonable levels. If I can get a cheap MP3 player free with my daily paper I don't see why a personal DAB radio needs to cost upwards of £40

My understanding is that DAB+ uses some form of AAC. Surely the power drain should be little more than that required to play my stored music?

These things are not insurmountable and considering the amount of money spent so far on DAB I cannot understand why they don't want to see it through to something that will actually work. Bear in mind most radio is listened to on the move so Internet radio is not a credible substitute.

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Facepalm

Re: So..

You are amazed that many people don't see the benefit in switching to an overpriced, lower quality, less portable and more power-hungry technology that offers very few additional benefits?

I personally don't see why we should have to switch to something that is crap in the hope it gets better.

Here's an idea, make it better, and then everyone wouldn't mind switching.

Make the technology small and cheap and energy efficient enough that people could include it in car radios and so on for very little additional cost. Then travel back in time and do that 10 years ago so we might be willing to switch now.

Alternatively, make it small and cheap now, and then lets wait 10 years and see how it looks.

Don't make it large, expensive and power hungry, then remove your only benefit by (deliberately) making it low quality on top, and expect people to go "Yeah, lets switch to that"

The only ones who will befit from switching off FM is those who will get to sell off the frequency space to this allegedly huge number of commercial stations just waiting in the wings.

Assuming of course any commercial radio station can afford to fund itself once the same advertising cash is split between however may additional stations we end up with.

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Facepalm

Re: So..

it is a newer technology and it takes time for these things to evolve

That's just it though - it's NOT new technology. It's old, inefficient technology with a technical spec marooned in the late 80's.

Just because someone can see a technology's failings when you can't doesn't make them a luddite.

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Meh

"[...]why are we persisting with DAB?"

Aside from the piss poor quality of the chosen standard, I cannot even receive it where I am. Then there is the question of all of those analogue sets vs the few digital sets that have been bought; yes, I have one of the latter, my mobile phones have the former, my internet enabled amp has the former, my bedside alarm has it, the Hi-Fi in my kitchen has the former, my car does... ...and they want to foist a poorly conceived standard upon us without first making obvious noises about assessing our standard vs the continental one? Perhaps they want a similar difference as that which exists on our rail network; second best.

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"Hint: Digital radio is not only available via DAB, most stations are also available via the Internet"

Yes, and the compression is such that it is similarly mediocre quality.

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Thumb Up

"Yes I could listen or watchto everything on my PC but that would use up a lot my limited monthly bandwidth.

Why shouldn't I just be able to switch on my radio and listen for free?"

A point well made indeed, and that is the point of the Beeb receiving licence fee money plus the government top up, paid for out of your taxes.

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Thumb Up

Re: So..

"You some kind of shill for the DAB lobby [...]"

What an excellent post, and thank you for saying the things that I am currently too lazy to yell. It is very important that more people expose the current standard for what it is, risible. If we do not make a noise then it will happen, and we will be stuck with it for too long. If a good standard is adopted (better compression, better transmission strength) as a result of consumer power it will be used. As it is my current DAB lies unused, because the reception is poor so that I either don't receive, or I receive an over compressed sound punctuated by a squelching noise.... ....in fact it is more noise than reception, and I find it difficult to believe what I hear when people claim that with DAB you either receive it or you do not.

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Re: So..

"[...]- Build DAB/+ receivers into mobile phones. Apparently the Korean version of my Galaxy Note has DAB built-in? Why not the UK version FFS?[...]"

I've got a Huawei with FM analogue and a Dell Streak (which does have a FM tuner but requires some pissing about to activate [ http://www.pocketables.com/2010/10/easily-access-dell-streaks-hidden-fm-radio-with-streak-radio-app.html ] and I somehow do not see myself buying a mobile phone just for the current DAB standard. It will have to be a lot better than that to attract my attention. I thought the current implementation was the apple of Liebour's eye, but it seems that the coalition is similarly clueless as the last government.

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Re: So..

- Increase the power levels so they're not an order of magnitude below the FM broadcasts. It's a SFN right? What's the problem?!?

As I understand it there is a maximum power level and minimum distance between transmitters, if these aren't adhered to it causes reception problems .

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Stop

Re: So..

Using your ears != being a Luddite.

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Power Hungry

So, please tell me, how many new power stations will be needed just for the DAB 'historical' radios?

Just how much carbon dioxide will be produced to replace almost every car radio in the land?

What is the point of the downgrade anyway?

How big a battery mountain are they aiming to create via this new landscape remodelling exercise?

Or have the proposers not heard digital radio, (like most of the population)?

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Re: Power Hungry

You must not have heard DAB. I was in a test group back in 2000 or so and it's been excellent since then. The rest of the country should have caught up by now.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Power Hungry

The dab radio in my car is fine at least as good as the old fm in terms of where I can receive. Also you don't need to replace the existing radio, you can get a retransmitter and some modern car radios allow a module to be inserted to receive dab.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Power Hungry

The rest of the country should have caught up by now.

No it hasn't.

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Unhappy

Re: Power Hungry

My wife's DAB radio gets used for about a minute a day on average while she vacuums the bedroom. Fussy large and no great shakes, hence the limited use. My father returned the DAB radio he bought a couple of years back, one week's use two set of batteries and not a lot else to show for his trouble.

Do they even sell them these d

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WTF?

Re: Power Hungry

Where precisely?

My parents are out in the sticks in Herefordshire and switched all their radios to DAB about 5 years ago (before I did) - not a hiccup. The anti-DAB clan are amazingly vocal on El Reg, but it works perfectly well for me whenever I've travelled around the country.

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Re: Power Hungry

> Where precisely?

I'm pleased for your parents, that they can receive DAB well, living out in the sticks as they do.

I live in a heavily populated area round Wokingham & Bracknell. Sadly, the DAB reception here is utterly crap for the multiplex carrying the national BBC stations. The nearest transmitter of said multiplex is at Hemdean, about 20 miles away. We have one DAB radio in the house. It almost works properly if placed in an upstairs room next to the window. Needless to say I have no intention of buying any more, and I will be highly annoyed with any politician who renders useless the various VHF FM radios we posses by turning off the signal.

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Re: Power Hungry

Back in 2000 we only had a handful of stations and the transmission bit rate for each station was fairly high, now only Radio 3 is at 192k despite the BBC stating this was the lowest acceptable bit rate for DAB TX back in 2003 (see page 34 of this PDF version of the BBC R&D white paper WHP061 http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/rd/pubs/whp/whp-pdf-files/WHP061.pdf for more details. Classic fm is the next best at 160k but that's under the limit. Worse is the fact that the treasury is millions of pounds worse off because they didn't auction the analogue national licences whn they came up for renewal because they expected there to be an impending DAB switchover, so there wouldn't be any bidders for a shortened licence term. All ballcocks of course, DAB switchover will be 2020 if they're lucky.

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Silver badge

Shame really...

I started out with cats' whisker/galena diodes and miles of wire; it's a bit more complex to build an FM radio from first principles and a hell of a lot more complex to build a DAB receiver.

But it can't raise too much spectrum, so it's got to be financial; those transmitters, the power they use, and the circuits they need cost a few bob... what, with all that saving, and putting the talent on salary, they should be able to save enough to give me a refund on my license.

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Unhappy

Re: Shame really...

" they should be able to save enough to give me a refund on my license."

You wish.

I'll get the Tamworth's fed and ready for takeoff.

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Re: Shame really...

They have to save money on AM radio transmission in order to be able to use that money for other purposes. Your TV licence fee is frozen at the moment, and inflation is eating into how much content and distribution the collected licence money is able to buy. In addition, the government have top-sliced the licence fee to fund their pet local TV project and their rural broadband scheme, transferred paying for the World Service and BBC Monitoring to the licence fee (they were previously funded by the Foreign Office), and from 2013, the majority of S4C's funding.

The BBC estimated in 2010, when the freeze was announced, that it would amount to a 16% cut in funding over the six years to the end of the current Charter. I think inflation has actually been higher than the figures used for that projection, so there will be effectively a bigger shortfall.

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Re: Shame really...

"Your TV licence fee is frozen at the moment, and inflation is eating into how much content and distribution the collected licence money is able to buy."

They are being encouraged to cut back due to the current fiscal climate; before the current fiscal catastrophe occurred they allowed their imagination to run away with them (and thus with our money) and have more radio stations and television channels than any public service broadcaster that I can bring to mind, and more than most commercial companies come to that.

Yes, they need to save money, no, plunging into the current DAB standard is not the answer; the answer is to cut back on their pool of millionaire 'stars', on excessively paid presenters and anchors (tax dodges and all), on the excessive tiers of management and related expenses, and on some of the many radio stations they've created. Then they can think about DAB.

I suppose that the 3 and 4 TV channels will have to remain, though it should be noted that they have restricted broadcasting hours. For obvious reasons that preceded the current fiscal constraints.

For the while they will not be given any more of our money; that is to say, licence fee payers have recently been very vocal, given the many scandals coming out of the Beeb, and I do not include Savile. The salaries they pay to, e.g., the DG, to Wossie, to presenters on news programmes, the clip which made it appear that the Queen had flounced out of a session in a temper, the competitions which never were with prizewinning contestants who never were, news programmes that do not research original source material and come out with risible conclusions, and on it goes; that's before the current loss of faith in Auntie over Savile et al., and the arrests go on as this morning's headlines demonstrate.

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@Neil Barnes: What century do you live in where you need to pay for a radio license?

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"@Neil Barnes: What century do you live in where you need to pay for a radio license?"

Neil is essentially correct in that the BBC run some stations on AM. However, the amount of money the Beeb saves axing AM would be small enough that it'll be barely noticeably - it might pay the salary for a few window-watching middle managers or the fees for lawyers to protect them from FOI requests or Saville victims attempting to sue them.

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Flame

@Contents MayVary

Oddly enough, when I was born, a radio licence was necessary. It cost ten bob.

These days it is subsumed into the TV licence, and even that's changed now.

For the record: I worked in various bits of the BBC, but mostly in an engineering field, for thirty-two years. I kind of like the BBC and what it used to stand for. Mind you, I do wish they'd go back to the engineers that invented DAB and be reminded that it's critical for its correct reception that the receiver be *moving* between adjacent cells... if you're stationary and in a boundary area or a poor signal area, you'll get nothing; that's the nature of the beast. Beyond that, and given that it is intended to be listened to in a moving vehicle - always a paragon of good acoustic practice! - there's little wrong with it beyond the decisions to provide insufficient bits for the signal, a change made entirely in the interests of getting more channels in the space. It's not that DAB is bad per se; it's that it's not being used the way it was designed to be.

But then, when the BBC no longer believes in engineering excellence...

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Megaphone

What about Long Wave?

As someone who prefers listening to Radio 4 by Long Wave, as the signal is much better how would that is affected?

Megaphone - Because someone needs to shout about this.

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Mushroom

Re: What about Long Wave?

It's unlikely to be affected - Economy 7 relies on this, as do the UK nuclear sub fleet (as a means of verification that the UK has or hasn't survived a nuclear strike). Apparently there are only a few spare valves left to generate the signal, so it may expire naturally by mid-century.

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Coat

Re: What about Long Wave?

I heard the BBC had reduced R4 LW power by half.

I know it has been much worse at dawn and dusk than it was and there is interference more often. But is this the season, more chargers or the BBC reducing power?

Also

There is a problem with CE mark and lack of policing:

1) The EMC limits are too high

2) They are not properly tested in terms of radiation from the house wiring

3) Radiation from Lighting wiring is worse as often it's loops, not "Twin and earth"

4) It's self certified, so often the product doesn't really meet CE

5) The capacitors in CFL /LED lamps "dry out" with age and the interference rises due to heat from lamp

6) Powerline/Homeplug adaptors are not realistically tested. All basically would fail CE if "real life" testing used.

7) Individual models of TV or charger can lack filter components (deliberately or accidentally), but neighbour has no idea why the Radio is poor or who to complain to.

8) Ofcom (and Comreg in Ireland) are trying/have offloaded Spectrum protection/complains to others and it's nearly impossible to get them to investigate. Even though it's one of their primary roles and ordinary Domestic reception is protected by Wireless Telegraphy Acts, EMC directives signed into law, EU and International Treaty.

You have no "absolute" right to have a newspaper delivered every day. You do have an Internationally agreed right to receive Broadcast without jamming, even from another country if it's not on a frequency allocated to your more local national transmitter.

Mines the one with a Spectrum Analyser in the pocket

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Paris Hilton

Long Wave is Long!

1) Isn't AM actually "long wave"?

2) Submarine communications are around 50 kHz. I don't think the BBC is involved and many people have the required numbers of meters in their garden to span the antenna for that...

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Boffin

Re: Long Wave is Long!

About the submarines: "Journalist and historian Professor Peter Hennessy claimed in his book, Secret State: Whitehall and the cold war 1945 to 1970, that he had been reliably informed that the test a commander of a British nuclear-missile submarine was to use to determine whether the UK has been the target of a nuclear attack (in which case he had sealed orders which may authorise him to fire his nuclear missiles in retaliation), was to listen for the broadcast of Today on Radio 4's frequencies." (source)

I presume LW would be easier to pick up from a random spot in the Earth's oceans than VHF...

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Re: Long Wave is Long!

People are confusing the wavelength/frequency band with the modulation method. You can have AM (amplitude modulation) on any frequency, ditto FM or any other type of modulation.

Frequency bands are Long Wave, Medium Wave, Short Wave and then VHF - for radio.

Nick m0NjP

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Re: Long Wave is Long!

"Frequency bands are Long Wave, Medium Wave, Short Wave and then VHF - for radio."

No, frequency bands are Low Frequency, Medium Frequency, High Frequency, Very High Frequency and Ultra High Frequency. Long Wave, Medium Wave and Short Wave are wavebands.

And no you can't apply audio frequency modulation to low frequency carriers because you wouldn't be able to get enough bandwidth (in the correct sense of the word).

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