BBC Radio Blog

With the completion of a full switchover to digital television now imminent, focus is likely to increase on radio and its progress in the digital world. The story of digital radio in the UK is one of slow, steady progress, and lively debate, rather then breakthrough.

We have reached a point where over a quarter of all listening is via digital but there is a lot to do before the majority of listening moves off analogue, and a switchover would be accepted, and welcomed, by listeners.

As most people are aware, there are significant barriers to change.

Firstly, many listeners remain very content with their current analogue radios and see no real need to change. Indeed, radio listening has held up rather brilliantly in recent years despite the explosion of choice in a digital world.

Secondly, even if people have shown interested in upgrading radios, coverage has remained too patchy to guarantee a robust signal when travelling across the country.

Thirdly, digital radio has lacked unified, knockout communication which has made a compelling case for the benefits of digital radio.

Finally, there has not been broadscale industry, political and industry consensus about the way forward. Indeed, many people still believe that DAB is a technology that is unnecessary because internet enabled devices will make broadcast technology redundant. It is a question that I asked hard on taking this job but it is clear that radio, like television, will need a broadcast "backbone" for many years to come if it is to deliver robust free reception to a morning traffic jam on the M6. There is much comment on the BBC's obsession with DAB but our objectives are simple: ensure cost effective, universal access to our services (including the digital stations) while stimulating competition and innovation which helps grows radio as a whole.

Last week we hosted a meeting of car manufacturers at the BBC and we heard from Ed Vaizey, Minister of Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, as well as other senior industry voices.

Even hardened cynics saw that progress has been made since we started pulling together as an industry to build a digital future.

Specific news included:

  • The government confirmed its commitment to move radio to digital and to plan the move towards a switchover via a Digital Radio Action Plan which is endorsed by the BBC and the major commercial radio companies.
  • We announced that we would build out DAB coverage for our national stations from just over 90% to 97% of the UK population between now and 2015. This will cover all towns with a population of 5000 or more as well as delivering more robust coverage of the 25 large cities and towns. The whole motorway network will have very good coverage, and we are aiming to get close to FM for all primary roads.
  • The car industry indicated that DAB will (or has) become part of the standard spec in all new cars by the end of 2103 at the latest. (So far this year, 18% of new cars have DAB as standard versus 5% last year)
  • Absolute Radio announced two more new digital stations (Absolute 60s and 70s) and the BBC confirmed that as well as supporting current digital stations, it would launch a special temporary digital service to provide increased coverage of the Olympics.
  • Finally the industry confirmed that it would launch a much more unified approach to marketing digital radio.

There is much to do, but radio deserves to benefit from a digital future with increased choice and better functionality.

DAB is part of the story, not all of it, as we must innovate on the internet and ensure that listeners can benefit from the better digital functionality (catch-up, programme information etc).

As for an FM switchover, it will only happen if we make a clear case to listeners on the benefit of change, because evidence shows that when they switch to digital they like it and don't want to go back.

However, my sense is that what seemed unlikely to most people two years ago is now looking possible and may well become inevitable.

Tim Davie is Director of Audio & Music

Comments

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  • Comment number 38. Posted by first500

    on 19 Nov 2011 12:12

    There is another issue, concerning in-car DAB radios, which the BBC in particular has chosen to ignore. One of the features of the DAB radio that is factory fitted in my car is its ability to automatically switch to the equivalent FM broadcast in the event of the loss of the DAB signal.

    The benefits of this feature in a moving vehicle, with the current coverage of DAB are obvious, but sadly, this feature rarely works, particularly on BBC stations.

    I am given to understand that it does not work simply because the RDS "PI" Code for FM, and the "SID" for DAB as put out by the BBC, are different. Ofcom publish a spreadsheet of all the relevant codes at http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/broadcast/guidance/tech-guidance/tech-parameters/TxParams.xls

    For example for Radio 4 the FM RDS PI code is C204, on DAB the SID code is C224. (However compare this with Classic FM - it is C2A1 on both systems, and therefore the radio automatically changes to FM on loss of DAB signal).

    Why does the BBC ignore this facility, which at least is a convenience, and at best removes yet another eye-diverting task from a driver, and could therefore prevent an accident?

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  • Comment number 37. Posted by maurisource

    on 11 Nov 2011 23:26

    It doesn't seem possible to get a live broadcast on the web. Is is possible to have a ghost indicator in the address list so that when digital radios are scanning the available programmes it is recognised. But with some private services we can manage to tweak this and broadcast. Take a look at this web radio which has an interesting built up framework: [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

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  • Comment number 36. Posted by Dr Robert

    on 11 Nov 2011 15:14

    Why is the sound quality so poor?

    And why does my DAB radio insist on tuning to the Yorkshire transmitter when I live in South Nottinghamshire?

    When these problems are sorted I may consider ditching FM but not until then.

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  • Comment number 35. Posted by Paul Murphy

    on 8 Nov 2011 17:13

    Hello all

    I spoke to the DAB team here and have put together some answers:

    #2
    Time signals on DAB
    The time delay mentioned is a feature of all digital broadcasting - not just digital radio. It is caused by the time required to encode and decode the digital signal at either end of the transmission system. Whilst we can control the delay in the transmission, there is also a decoding delay in the receiver which is under the control of the manufacturers. Any delay we could add to the FM transmission chain could only be aimed at a few DAB receivers as not all receivers perform consistently.


    #28
    Can someone tell me if DAB radio has the Traffic Announcement capability that FM does? That is surely one of its biggest advantages for cars.

    Traffic Announcements are not available via DAB at the moment. Ideally, the BBC would like to replicate any service on FM onto DAB but we also need to ensure that the delivery of any service is as good as or better than that via FM. Traffic Announcements are only available via RDS/FM and they work by interrupting your listening (on CD as well as radio) whilst driving, providing the driver with the latest traffic bulletin and then returns to the original service. Research carried out has shown that some drivers find this an important feature whilst others find it an irritation. We are therefore planning to run a test with Arqiva (transmitter operator) to see if and how we may be able to replicate the service onto DAB whilst maintaining a good experience for the driver.


    #34
    The Daily Service (9.45 to 10 AM MON TO FRI has been removed from FM and is only available on Long wave (which is becoming rare on radios) and appears on digital for 15 mins then disappears. It doesn't seem possible to get a live broadcast on the web. Is is possible to have a ghost indicator in the address list so that when digital radios are scanning the available programmes it is recognised? It may be possible to include a text note explaining the temporary nature of the broadcast.
    PS the daily service doesn't appear on the home page as 'ON Now' when it is being broadcast - it's rival 'book of the week' appears only.


    The Daily Service is, as you rightly say, available on your digital radio - however, because Radio 4 Long Wave on digital radio is a part-time service it does not appear in the station list until it is on-air. It is on air from 8am during weekdays (starting with Parliament). However, you can pre-set the station (depress a pre-set button when the service is on air anytime from 8am) and the service will be stored automatically on your radio so you don't have to hunt for it every time.

    There's more info at bbc.co.uk/digitalradio

    Thanks,
    Paul

  • Comment number 34. Posted by punchaddle

    on 2 Nov 2011 11:09

    The Daily Service ( 9.45 to 10 AM NON TO FRI has been removed from FM and is only available on Long wave ( which is becoming rare on radios ) and appears on digital for 15 mins then disappears. It doesn't seem possible to get a live broadcast on the web. Is is possible to have a ghost indicator in the address list so that when digital radios are scanning the available programmes it is recognised ? It may be possible to include a text note explaining the temporary nature of the broadcast.
    PS the daily service doesn't appear on the home page as 'ON Now' when it is being broadcast - it's rival 'book of the week' appears only.

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  • Comment number 33. Posted by Marty Rare

    on 31 Oct 2011 14:11

    Let’s face it DAB does not have CD quality sound, reception is an issue, power consumption of DAB equipment is far higher than analogue radio. Plus if all the 150 million FM radios in the UK were to be replaced by their owners (the general public) at say £30 each, yes if only DABs were that cheap, it would cost £4.5bn. Once we have all been forced to go DAB the FM frequencies will be auctioned and the revenue used to come up with another scheme that will cost the public even more. Cancelling DAB now would still save the public billions. I would happily through my DAB OUT!

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  • Comment number 32. Posted by peterkirk1

    on 30 Oct 2011 17:34

    Well I love my in-car DAB; some signal problems when I installed it a few years ago, but it's fine now. I listen mainly to channels which are either DAB only or are only also in AM - 6music, 5live, 5 live sports extra, Jazz FM, Talksport, 4extra - and have no problems with listening tothe 2 FM staions (Radios 4 and, increasing less frequently, 2) on DAB

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  • Comment number 31. Posted by LondonMark

    on 29 Oct 2011 08:08

    Radio 4 Extra won't be going analogue, there are no available frequencies for it.

    It's also one of the main reasons for people to buy DAB sets, along with 6 Music, Jazz FM and Absolute 80s.

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  • Comment number 30. Posted by well-fired

    on 28 Oct 2011 19:43

    Andy Parsnip, are you a wind-up/stooge or do you really believe what you have to say?

    DAB is dead in the water - without the huge public subsidies accrued by the Beeb it would already have sunk without a trace. This is one of the worst aspects of dependent broadcast networks, give them sufficient and as well as some awesome programmes there is the appalling waste of money such as this. They're so big they can make it appear to succeed where no-one else could - shame the mistake made with our money can't be acknowledged and a better format organised. Unfashionable in today's fast-changing world to stick with what there already is (and when the alternative can help earn some mega-bucks) but preferably FM, MW and LW should be continued as it uses less power to receive, less energy to make the equipment and is a better sound.

    R4Xtra needs to go analogue.

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  • Comment number 29. Posted by pef

    on 28 Oct 2011 15:56

    I listen mainly to Radio 3 which sounds absolutely rubbish on DAB. Even when you get a good signal, it sounds flat and lifeless. DAB is actually pretty superfluous now, I've been listening to internet radio for some time; the choice of music and stations is huge and the sound quality is much better (Radio 3 @ 320kbps, as opposed to DAB's 192kbps). I've just bought a Denon network streamer, to replace my old Denon DAB/FM tuner. It includes an FM tuner so I can still listen to R3 in my preferred format, and I can listen again to programmes I miss via internet radio. Interestingly Denon, who have made the best budget hifi tuners for years have now dumped DAB which doesn't feature on their current tuner or network player.

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