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David Blunkett on DAB

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Andrew Smith | 13:13 PM, Tuesday, 29 March 2011

David Blunkett MP

David Blunkett, MP for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough and former Home Secretary, asked us to pass this comment about DAB on to Laurence Harrison of Digital Radio UK - AS

I just caught the end of your interview in relation to digital.

It is simply not true that 90% of the country have what normal people would describe as 'coverage'.

I can get digital in north Derbyshire if I hold the radio up to the ceiling or I find the exact slot on the kitchen windowsill! In the rest of the house it won't work.

Other experiences (including in London) lead to what I can only describe as 'overload' so that the much vaunted 'higher quality' can only be obtained if the volume is turned right down!

Coupled with the idea that Radio 4 Extra is something brand new and not simply rebadged Radio 7, and we are all getting the impression that the listener is being treated as a fool!

Honesty, openness and a degree of humility - and patience in terms of getting this right - might win us over a little more than technical assertion or evangelical fervour.

Best wishes,

David Blunkett


  • Comment number 1.

    Why are we advocating installing a 1980's technology in cars as if it was progress? Surely it cannot be beyond the wit of people with knowledge to come up with a way of putting internet radio into cars. That makes much more sense

  • Comment number 2.

    Wow, for once in my lifetime i've agreed with summat David Blunkett has said!

  • Comment number 3.

    How I agree with Mr Blunkett 7 others. Significant number of DAB stations are only in MONO ! What in 21st century; yes, even the latest Jazz FM.

    The BBC HAS improved DAB coverage significantly. However, the commercial multiplex DigitalOne has NOT. I have a Pure Highway in the car but with a ROOF aerial. Classic is forever dropping out within Bury St. Edmund's, along the A14 BUT BBC far less so.

    DAB is hopeless in forested areas like Thetford Forest. Surely they would have been better to put dab on Medium wave.

    I also have an excellent Roberts DAB2 sports radio used when on walking holidays. Sadly DAB often fails to reach to places even FM reaches but one ALWAYS needs MW/LW to be sure of getting a station.

    Come-on Digital One get those extra DAB transmitters up and running if you want to stand a chance of getting better public support for DAB.

  • Comment number 4.

    I agree with David's main point that we are not being told the truth, rather a marketing message.

    A good DAB radio with decent arial and coverage sounds worse that a good quality FM radio with a decent aerial. The BBC insist on telling us that the DAB is better quality, this is not correct and shows bias and as the major broadcaster undermines the BBC's independance.

    At least be honest, and say the price for more choice (which often equate to more of the same lower quality pulp) is the loss of high quality FM.

    I still enjoy excellent FM reception which exhibits a life and realisim totally missing from my 'good' quality DAB radio with decent aerial and just hope that this prven technology continues.

    By the way did you know that most of europe has thrown out the DAB std used in the UK as not being good enough and moved to a better version, whilst all the DAB radios the BBC have encouraged us to buy won't support this so would need to be junked if the UK made a similar move.

  • Comment number 5.

    I live only a few miles from David Blunkett's cottage and I have no DAB reception at all. Even the postcode checker admits we'd need a roof aerial.

    Also, I listen to the radio much of the time via a tiny (about 1cm x 2cm x 3cm) FM radio I carry in my pocket and listen to in bed. The smallest DAB radio I can find is 6cm x 13cm x 13cm. Too big to fit in any pocket or under my pillow.

    We own at least a dozen FM radios. This will cost a fortune to replace. I am only glad I bought a car recently so won't be lumbered with one with a radio which won't work in my own driveway.

  • Comment number 6.

    What concerns me the most is not the short-term reception issues but the long term broadcast quality issues. Because of the older version of DAB that the BBC and others have adopted they have been hit by the double whammy of bandwidth restrictions and inefficient codecs.

    This means that many stations are broadcast at a quality that is lower than FM and in many cases is mono where the corresponding FM broadcast is stereo. I don't think any station broadcasts at a bitrate anywhere near what you would get from a CD.

    I hardly ever hear this discussed on broadcast media. I think if this knowledge was widespread it would have a devastating effect on the confidence of the listening public. Therefore it is in the broadcasters interest to keep quiet and focus on reception quality over broadcast quality.

  • Comment number 7.

    Here in the Yorkshire Dales I can only get a DAB signal using a roof aerial and a preamp, which provides a signal just adequate for my hi-fi (sic, this is DAB after all!) DAB tuner. Funnily enough, when I lived in the southeast and had a strong DAB signal it would often break up into "bubbling mud", yet here reception has never broken up. Portable DAB radios won't work here at all, but FM is useable if rather weak. A DAB car radio would be useless in these parts.

  • Comment number 8.

    That spokes-lady on DAB was rather arrogant. When Mr Blunkett said he had three DAB receivers and they wouldn't work except up near the roof or in a small spot near the kitchen window, she just said he was wrong and that his radios were rubbish! And she ignored any mention of sound quality. Most people I know are just not interested. Just stick with FM - it works and you don't have to change the batteries every ten hours!

  • Comment number 9.

    I agree with David Blunketts comments.

    This is of interest to me being a retired BBC Engineer.

    Firstly quality : In the early 1990s a BBC Research Department report said that DAB was not quite as good quality as FM,since then it has got progressively worse as the bit rates have been reduced to accomodate more stations.
    Dont beleive all the radio industry trumpeting the BBC representatives repeat ad infinitum following the lobbying that has driven this campaign.
    If DAB + were adopted most of the difficulties would be overcome but that would make existing DAB sets obselete.

    I have 3 DAB sets of well known brands.
    All suffer from intermittent burbling and unpredictable dropouts appearing to clear when the radios are moved only to go bannanas once again,the DAB signal here is very strong but same effects occur in all places I have tried where the signal strength is not as high but still adequate.

  • Comment number 10.

    I get fairly a good DAB signal at home but am totally against switching off the FM signal of national stations.
    I am totally outraged that we will have to replace all of our radios at great personal cost.

    According to BBC research, the average household has 6 radios. A quick survey of average prices means it will cost the following. Let's say

    A half decent hifi for the living room £150
    A radio for the kitchen (more likely a cheaper hifi these days). £100
    A clock radio in the bedroom £50
    A portable radio for around the house and garden £50
    A cheaper hifi in the kids bedroom £100
    A personal radio for 'on the move'. £50

    We also must not forget the car radio and the new aerial it will require. £250 (i've excluded the silly option of a DAB/FM adapter for the car because of all the wires involved and the ease with which it can be stolen)

    Total Cost per Household £750.
    Of course, we may choose not to replace some of these radios but that leads to a loss of service for the consumer.

    If we now look at it from the other side of the fence.
    Total number of households in the UK 25million
    Total Expenditure £18bn (£750 x 25million)

    No wonder the electronics industry is so excited about digital radio switchover. It is also interesting that Frontier Silicon Ltd (who design and manufacture the silicon chips needed in DAB radios) dominates the market. Apparently, in 2007, their chips were used in 80% of DAB radios.

    When a single company dominates the market we don't tend to see prices coming down very quickly.
    When the vast majority of the world continue to use analogue radio we will not see the economies of scale that would see the price of DAB radios reducing to the level of analogue radios.

    By my calculations, that £18bn cost for new radios is equivalent to over 2pence increase in the basic rate of income tax rate for the average household.

    And at the expected switchover date of 2015, national government debt is expected to reach over £50k per household. Where are we expected to get all this money from?

    I guess the government is excited at the prospect of around £3bn in VAT receipts for all these replacement radios!!!

    It?s scandalous!

  • Comment number 11.

    I entirely agree with David and virtually all of the comments above. In the past a step change in technology has meant a big improvement in quality - I'm thinking of FM radio, 625 line tv, stereo, colour tv etc. This time we're going backwards. DAB is just about adequate for heavily compressed pop music and for speech; for acoustic music of any genre it loses all the spaciousness. It makes high quality BBC recordings sound flat and lifeless.

    The important questions are never asked. Like what happens if I take my car onto the continent. Will I be able to receive DAB there? Why don't we have a single standard throughout the EU and EEA?

    How dare that woman blame the equipment! If I buy a radio I expect it to work. Most stores have their own low power relays inside so that they can demonstrate DAB sets, which gives a totally misleading impresion of reception quality.

    Like Edward I have something like 14 FM radio receivers including car radios, portables, hi-fi tuners and a radio-tv. It will cost a fortune to replace them all. No way! Worse than that, if I have more than one radio on in the house they will all be out of sync because they take different amounts of time to do the demultiplexing and expanding. FM sets are always in sync.

    There's nothing wrong with digital per se - distribution to the transmitters is digital, but it's high bandwidth and uncompressed (apart from the dreaded Optimod) - it's the way it's being done. Quantity comes before quality in coalition Britain. It's all about getting money for spectrum and selling radios people don't need.

    As we've seen with tv, more channels don't mean more choice - just more of the same, more repeats and more dross. Creating more channels doesn't create more talent!

  • Comment number 12.

    I find myself in full agreement with David Blunket apart from on one minor point where he blames the technical Anoraks rather than the patronising marketeers (represented by your other interviewee) for foisting this inferior DAB standard radio on an unwilling public . I live in a part of North Yorkshire with excellent FM signal strength. At my location a thirty year old hifi FM tuner (using just 6W) can easily outperform a new DAB unit (using over 3x as much power) even when the latter is working to full specification.

    The chosen bit rate on DAB radio channels is insufficient for high quality music reproduction and the systematic delays introduced by the various decoding chipsets means that if you have more than one DAB radio on in different rooms there is a weird choral/flanging effect in the sound overlap zones as well as a systematic 1-2s delay in the time pips (rendering them totally useless).

    Once there are leaves on the trees and it is raining DAB reception quickly falls apart leaving pops and burbles and sometimes total loss of decode with deathly silence requiring one unit to be rebooted. As an early adopter I would like to say that newer models are better, but that is not the case. My latest DAB clock radio is the worst of the lot and is only useable because it can take WiFi internet feed instead. The other two both work reliably on dry winters days after significant improvements to their poxy aerials. Don't even consider one that lacks an aerial socket - the default piece of wet string or tiny whip areial supplied will not work well enough!

    Caveat emptor applies where DAB radios are concerned. The more people that refuse to buy them the more likely we are to retain a decent quality FM service in future. DAB switchover in 2015 - bah humbug!

  • Comment number 13.

    I'd like to make a few points please:

    1 - DAB reception here (South Wales) is pretty good but there are interruptions. Portable DAB is all but useless - very frustrating.
    2 - DAB Radios are slow to start and to shut off - other radios are instant. This drives me nuts!
    3 - DAB radios, I understand, use a lot more energy than regular radios - on this ground why are we switching?? For portable in-ear radios this will mean a lot more pollution from batteries.
    4 - FOREIGH STATIONS - DAB does not have foreign stations, such as French, Irish etc. I like to listen to these also.
    5 - Some DAB radios do also have FM but NOT MW/LW/SW - this I think is a huge omission.
    6 - Will Foreigh Stations be carried on DAB? If not why not? I see no reason that some German, French, Irish, Spanish etc stations should not be on DAB also


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