The switchover to digital radio is fast approaching, so it’s essential the government and carmakers act now to avoid DAB becoming an expensive headache for car owners in the future.
I was delighted to hear last week that the BBC no longer plans to axe its excellent 6 Music digital radio station. It’s a personal favourite in the Headland house – and is greatly missed in my analogue-only car.
It’s also frustrating tuning into the football on 5 Live when I’m driving, with its patchy, scratchy AM quality (when I’ve grown accustomed to the noise-free DAB signal at home). I’m sure I’m not alone. Which raises the question – why haven’t more carmakers embraced DAB already?
DAB in cars by 2013?
Culture minister Ed Vaizey announced last week that the new government is still fully committed to digital radio, stressing that the switchover’s 2015 target date is not set in stone.
But that doesn’t mean the government and carmakers can dawdle. The sooner DAB radios are fitted as standard in new cars, the smaller the problem of converting radios on used cars will be when (or if) switchover finally happens.
Apparently only 1% of UK cars can currently receive digital radio – a tiny proportion, mainly limited to more expensive models (like the Audi A8 and Range Rover). But the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) has indicated it would be ‘challenging but achievable’ for all new UK cars to have DAB radios by 2013.
It argues that designing new cars takes around four years (hence the ‘challenge’ of 2013). But fitting DAB isn’t about fundamental vehicle changes. It’s about getting a DAB receiver on board and fitting a suitable external aerial for the best reception.
Why DAB’s not a good option
When Pure can offer its ‘Highway’ DAB conversion kit for around £100, it suggests that DAB isn’t too costly for carmakers to build in. And there are plenty of new cars with a DAB tick-box option (usually for between £100 and £500) – so it’s achievable on current production lines.
But the problem is, most car buyers won’t tick the DAB box – it’s just a nice-to-have, rather than a must-have. Which is fair enough, but it’s storing up a massive problem for the used cars of tomorrow.
So I say the government and carmakers need to take this particular choice out of the hands of buyers and make DAB/DAB+ radios standard-fit as soon as possible. The prospect of converting all those old car radios (20-30m of them, the SMMT reckons) makes all of us twitchy, so it’s time for some decisive and swift action.
(And with any luck, we won’t have to put up with Sports Report on AM for too much longer…)