/ Technology

DAB radio – can you afford the switchover?

Old-fashioned radio

As far as radio goes, we have the best of both worlds at the moment – digital and analogue. But the more we listen to DAB, the closer we get to losing FM. If you can’t afford to switch, will you be left in radio silence?

I like digital radio and listen regularly on DAB and the internet, but FM is still very much in my life, whether it’s through my mobile phone or in my car.

With listening figures holding one of the keys to national radio stations switching to DAB, am I driving myself towards a future of an expensive in-car conversion?

When will we switchover to DAB?

National radio stations won’t be disappearing from FM for a while – there are targets to be met before the switchover is announced and it still won’t happen for two years after that.

A target announcement date has been set for 2015, although some even think that’s optimistic. According to the government’s Digital Radio Action Plan, before Britain’s allowed to switchover to DAB, not only must coverage be comparable to FM, but 50% of all radio listening should be on digital.

‘Digital listening’ includes tuning in to the radio via the net, on digital TV and on DAB. And despite there being all of these ways to listen digitally, it’s still doubtful whether we’ll be anywhere near 50% of listening by 2015.

DAB’s been around for more than a decade and uptake is only at around 25%, so there are still loads of people to convert in the space of two years. And what about the other 50% of people who are still listening to FM, are they going to be forced to switch?

I’m fortunate enough to be able to receive a DAB signal at home, but that’s not necessarily the case for everyone. And even I can’t get it everywhere in my house, with FM coverage still being a tad better. So as commenter Ian Fair asks, is it worth the country switching over at all?

‘So why are we proposing to change a system that works for a system that isn’t better? Why not… just leave things as they are?’

In-car DAB still a problem

Digital radio in cars is a whole other matter as Richard Headland pointed out in a previous DAB Conversation. It’s not cheap to install a DAB radio in your car and many manufacturers still aren’t putting them in as standard. Plus, coverage on the move isn’t great, as commenter Gavin Blacket pointed out:

‘When [DAB] works, it’s fine, but I could barely go a whole journey without the signal cutting in and out – and that’s in an area of the country where the coverage is supposed to be good!’

With many decent digital radios currently costing around £100 and in-car conversions being a similar price, can we all afford to convert? Will coverage improve enough for cars?

It can’t be acceptable for those of us who can’t afford to switch to be left without radio. In which case will the government start handing digital radios out, or will it decide to keep national FM stations even longer?

Are you willing to pay to switch from FM to DAB?

No (51%, 224 Votes)

Eventually, but not until I have to (24%, 105 Votes)

I already have (23%, 98 Votes)

Yes, I'm planning to soon (2%, 8 Votes)

Total Voters: 435

Loading ... Loading ...

If you’re wondering why you can’t vote in this poll, that’s because we’ve closed it. We tend to keep polls open for a few weeks, or until votes on them die down. Sorry if you were trying to vote! You can see the final votes above.

Maybe it could be opened Patrick as its still a hot topic? I am surprised that there is not a huge anti-DAB vote as its hard to find anyone who prefers it!

Hello Mike, it’s certainly a debate that’s still going, however since this is an old Conversation it won’t get as much promotion as it would deserve. However, if we did return to the topic, it’s possible that we could reopen this poll, republishing it in the new Convo. Thanks

There are some compelling advantages Mike. Some DAB portable radios allow you to pause programmes (e.g. to answer the phone), record programmes, see what music you are listening to, etc. If I want to sit down and listen to orchestral music I use my old FM tuner connected to a roof aerial.

I don’t think FM will disappear until the coverage of digital radio improves and by then digital radio will be using more advanced technology.

DAB has not been marketed properly, there are many who do not have good reception, and many of the DAB portables that have been sold are not very good quality.

Lesley says:
7 November 2011

Why, oh why are we switching over to a system which gobbles batteries and sucks up electricity? And what about the landfill my four portable radios, stereo tuner and car radio will end up in?? Heaven help the planet.

The technology is improving, Lesley, and the latest DAB radios use less battery power. Rechargeable batteries have improved too, and cost very little to recharge. Using non-rechargeable batteries in any radio is expensive and will contribute to landfill.

At the moment you can carry on listening to radio on FM, though anyone buying a new radio would be well advised to buy a DAB/FM receiver.

Technology does move on and the current withdrawal of analogue TV will result in a huge amount of electronics waste, despite the fact that the old TVs could receive digital TV using a cheap set-top box.

The cost of batteries for DAB is still vastly in excess of that for “old fashioned” radios, so many aspects about DAB have to be linked with comments of the “better things to come” type. Why spend mega amounts of money, its a disgrace when we have a perfectly acceptable system already.

The biggest problem that some of us have with digital radio and TV is that we can’t get decent signals. Because of the necessity of avoiding interference to the French (we are told), the transmiters to the coast of SE England have to be kept at signal strengths and directions that won’t upset the French across the channel – result is predicted poor coverage of Freeview after digital switchover and current nil reception on Digital Radio without an external aerial – not much use for Woman’s Hour in the bath or CD Review in the potting shed.

Pete Alston says:
9 August 2012

The previous poster is mistaken. This has nothing to do with “upsetting the French” and everything to do with clear radio signals being essential for safety in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

It is difficult to know how to deal with these problems cost effectively. TV is easier because it is normal to connect sets to an aerial or cable system, but one of the advantages of radio is its portability, at least for those who do not need to use an external aerial. I am hoping that FM radio will be with us for the foreseeable future.

David says:
8 November 2011

The vote is surprisingly low but maybe the question is not ‘are you willing to pay to switch from FM’ but are you willing to see FM transmissions closed down. The sound quality on FM is unquestionably better (there are reviews of this from reputable sources) and the drivers behind DAB are to get more stations on the airbands plus a strong commercial drive by the governement to clear the FM band and sell it off to commercial users.

According to industry data cited in Parliament by Communications Minister Ed Vaizey, in the third quarter of 2011 some 17.8% of new cars registered were fitted with DAB radios.

My comment on this is what he didn’t say:
“Or, put it another way, some 82.2% of new cars did not have DAB radios fitted!”

Now that’s hardly a ringing endorsement from the motor trade – despite all the promises of “things to come”!

The deadline will have to continue to move, and the technology will become increasingly prehistoric!

FYI to recent commenters, you can find our most recent DAB radio Conversation here (though it’s still a bit old): “Let’s not be forced into a DAB radio switchover” https://conversation.which.co.uk/technology/dab-radio-switchover-we-shouldnt-be-forced/