FM doesn’t have room for new radio stations and transmitting on both DAB and FM costs broadcasters more. Fine, but this isn’t reason enough for us to fork out hundreds of pounds to replace all our FM sets.
As a nation we’re being ushered towards a digital radio future – one without national FM stations. The government’s Digital Radio Action Plan includes criteria to ensure that a switchover isn’t announced until there’s improved coverage and a certain percentage of us have tuned into DAB.
Great, but if these criteria aren’t met, does that mean we won’t switch? Only 25% of listening is currently on digital platforms, according to RAJAR figures from February this year. The target for a switchover announcement is 50%, so there’s quite a way to go.
DAB coverage is to improved before the announcement too, assuming a decision can be made as to who will pay for it. And it seems likely that a substantial proportion of the cost will be paid by the BBC – so it’s coming from licence fee payers pockets then?
Why switch to DAB radio?
I’m not opposed to a switchover – I listen to DAB – but I’ve never gone out of my way to buy a digital radio to replace my perfectly functioning FM model. Why is that? Being honest with myself, it’s because I don’t think it’s worth it – decent sounding DAB radios aren’t cheap.
Although DAB provides me with the extra stations and scrolling text that I like, it’s not enough to persuade me to replace my FM bedside or car radios. Plus, scrolling text wouldn’t really help me when I’m driving.
It’s clear that there needs to be more benefit to switching – improved content or better quality would help. I’m not certain that ‘Ambridge Extra’ – which recently aired for the first time on BBC Radio 4 Extra – will have Archers fans swarming to buy DAB radios. But maybe I’m wrong.
Some people are happy with the stations they already have on FM. And though I’d miss my DAB stations if they were taken from me, I’d still prefer that over being left without a radio in my car, or a £100 bill to upgrade it.
Half of us will have to tune into digital
I’d estimate that half of my radio listening is on digital platforms. So if everyone in the UK was like me, we’d be part way towards a DAB switchover by now.
The methods of measuring digital listening and coverage are going to be crucial. It’s highly likely that the listening figure will come from RAJAR, which bases it’s measurement on just a sample of the population.
Fortunately for FM fans I’m not part of that sample right now, but this does lead me to question whether a sample of the nation is enough to decide upon a switchover for all?