Economic and environmental savings drive Long Wave switch-off

30.05.2023 by Will Jackson

This week’s news from the United Kingdom that the BBC will stop scheduling separate content for Radio 4 Long Wave in anticipation of the closure of the platform follows several other high power Long Wave (LW) broadcasts ceasing.

The BBC started to run targeted on-air trails on Monday, giving listeners advance notice of the coming changes. It says the move comes “in anticipation of the closure of the LW platform, owned and operated by a third party, which is coming to the end of its life as a technology.”

The broadcaster’s statement added: “Digital listening has grown significantly over the past decade as the range of alternatives has become easier to switch to, and listeners are increasingly accessing content elsewhere on the BBC. The audiences for Radio 4 LW are small, but we know there are some who still tune in on LW for their favourite programmes.”

Last year, the BBC also announced the closure on Medium Wave of news and sport station Radio 5 Live, “no later than December 2027.”

The high cost of analogue transmission, coupled with a reported difficulty in finding replacement parts for older obsolete equipment, is driving these decisions.

On 1 January, RTL’s long wave transmitter in Beidweiler, Luxembourg was switched off. The broadcaster said the move would enable the group to reduce its electricity consumption by some 6,000-megawatt hours (MWh) per year, the equivalent of 3,000 people in France. Other similar broadcasters had already closed their Long Wave services: France Inter in 2017, Europe 1 in 2019 and RMC in 2020.

Meanwhile in April, the Irish public service broadcaster RTÉ also closed its long wave service. Its Director General, Dee Forbes said at the time: “While RTÉ has invested considerably in prolonging the life of the transmitter to broadcast RTÉ Radio 1 on Long Wave 252, we can no longer justify this investment.”

The broadcaster added: “The LW service is extremely energy inefficient and today represents approximately 2.5% of RTÉ’s total electrical energy usage (2021 figures from SEAI M&R system). Ceasing the service will bring a material reduction to RTÉ’s electrical energy consumption, equivalent to approximately one-year average energy reductions required to hit 2030 targets.”

Multiple studies from across Europe have found that DAB digital radio offers very significant economic and environmental benefits over analogue broadcasts, both AM (Long Wave and Medium Wave) and FM. In Germany, research by Bavarian public broadcaster, Bayerischer Rundfunk, found that broadcasting one service on DAB+ required, on average, one fifth of the energy required to broadcast a service on FM. In the UK, the BBC estimates that energy consumption per device hour (distribution and consumption) is lower for DAB than for any other platform, i.e., AM, FM, IP or DTV. In Switzerland, public broadcaster SRG SSR estimates that, after FM switch-off, total energy consumption for broadcast radio distribution via DAB+ will be less than 10% of what it was for FM.

5 June update: James Cridland's newsletter adds that "In Denmark, DR Langbølge will cease at the end of this year, and in Iceland, the RÚV will cease next year."

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