. 16th August 2017

#TonysColumn: 16 August 2017

TonysColumnMW – AM – PLUS FM

I get lots of questions regarding frequencies on the radio dial.  The confusion is initially “What is a Frequency”?  Most people understand that that is the number designated on their radio to tune in to their radio station of choice.

However, the confusion seems to be as to what is the difference between MW and AM.


Allow me to be slightly technical for a brief moment:

  • MW means Medium Wave
  • AM means Alternate Modulation.

Now to bust the mystery “They are both the same thing”, it’s just that some radio set manufacturers put AM on the receiving sets.  For example on car radios whilst some others put MW; If you cannot find this on your car radio, or home set, look for a sign that says “Mode”.  When you press this AM or MW and FM will pop up on the small viewing screen.

TC1For many years FM which means Frequency Modulation did not exist.  South Africa started using FM only in 1985.  This allowed stereo sound to be broadcast, thus MW or AM became virtually obsolete.  Now with the advent of stereo medium wave (D.R.M) Medium Wave or AM is now on a rebirth with Radio Stations like Magic 828am here in Cape Town, L.M Radio MW in Johannesburg and soon to be more Medium Wave/AM stations in Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg.

All of the AM/MW will eventually broadcast in stereo in the near future when South Africa finally converts to Digital.

Another question I often get asked is. Where is radio going with other entertainment so prolific and available these days?  I truly believe radio will always exist due to its easy cost free availability in your car, at home and portable. Many other choices for example T.V downloading, films etc. Are not so easy to obtain, especially to the less advantaged in our society.

Many countries such as India, Brazil and even Europe have invested in updating Radio Frequencies and receiving  sets, even to the point of Government subsidies.

This is not a luxury but a simple cost effective communication system (radio) for the governments of countries to get its message across to the people, especially in rural areas of developing nations.

Digital Broadcasting has enabled this as can be seen with television and the less advantaged shortly to be given free set top boxes to enable them to receive the new digital broadcasting.  The rest of us who do not have decoders will have to purchase the boxes.

The same will take place when FM radio is replaced by DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) and AM/MW is replaced by DRM (Digital Radio Mondial).

This in reality will be much like when FM came in to being in South Africa; we will have to replace all our old style radio sets including car radios.

Currently radio receivers are available overseas for the new systems, however they are quite costly for us to purchase at present in South Africa.  Like all modern technology these prices will come down drastically, what is needed is for local manufactures to recognise this advent and react sooner rather than later.

Recent European cars sold in S.A may well have these facilities already available. Japanese and American vehicles however will not, as they are exploring a different system.

It is rather sad that much like the old days of VHS / Beta Max recorders and players competed against each other until finally VHS prevailed; I feel the same will happen in this instance.

Obviously this will take place over a period of time and my advice is to prepare for it.  However, be warned if you’re about to purchase a new radio receiver of any sort do not get caught by manufacturers off-loading old technology.

Category: Tony's Column, Uncategorised

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