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Save Our (wireless) Sounds

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A new campaign backed by everyone from professional footballers to Shakespearian actors is trying to get Ofcom to rethink its Digital Dividend auction.

Campaign group Save Our Sound represents 21 organisations opposing Ofcom's plan to shift radio users in the entertainment industry to smaller accommodation, at a different point on the dial, despite the regulator's promise of cash to ease the transition.

Groups including the Professional Footballer's Association and the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as the expected sound-engineering groups and unions, are all agreed that news gathering is "likely to become impossible", companies will go bust and the UK's balance of payments "severely affected" if Ofcom goes ahead.

At issue is Ofcom's plan for the Digital Dividend, part of which involves moving the PMSE (Programme Making & Special Events) crowd down to Channel 38, allowing expansion into the neighbouring white space, while paying them off for the equipment they can no longer use.

That proposal was open for comment until the middle of September, and comments there were: 58 people responded anonymously, while 212 were happy to be identified. They range from the Paraiso School of Samba to Autograph Sound (providers of kit to 70 per cent of the West End).

The first problem with the regulators plan is that Ofcom intends to recompense users for the estimated value of their redundant kit, not its replacement cost. Autograph reckons it has £5m worth of radio kit, 80 per cent of which will be made redundant but much of which is pretty old:

"A Sennheiser SK50 body transmitter purchased for £1300 in 1992 has appeared (well hidden) in Crazy for You, Sunset Boulevard, Les Misérables, Putting it Together, Alice in Wonderland, The King and I, Simply Heavenly, Pacific Overtures, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Anything Goes, Mamma Mia (Madrid), We Will Rock You and most recently The Lion King."

Being 17 years old makes the estimated value pretty low, not to mention Autograph might not still have the receipt, but if the proposals go ahead then the company will have to buy new kit.

The other problem is no-one can buy that new kit until Ofcom decides where they are going to be allowed to operate. Many of them are already knocking about in Channel 38, so that doesn't represent the green-field expansion Ofcom promised, and there aren't yet any national white space maps (showing frequencies unused by local digital transmission that might be usable).

The problem with fighting the proposal is the difficulty of drawing the public's eye to the problem before it's too late. Andrew Lloyd Webber complaining about radio mics engenders as much sympathy as Madonna complaining about music piracy, but when small bands complain about piracy, or sound technicians complain about radio mics, no-one listens.

The idea of Save Our Sounds is to bring more groups into the mix and bring the issue to the attention of those who care about the gig taking place in the local pub, or play on at the nearby theatre. If Ofcom is going to reserve frequencies for wireless entertainment, then it will cost money, and we're going to have to decide if it's worth it. ®

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