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Is the UK ready to switch off FM radio for good?

Last week, Norway became the first country in the world to start switching off FM radio signal, going digital only. Is the UK ready to follow suit?

On Wednesday 11 January, Norway began the process of switching off its FM radio signal for good to go digital only.

Proceedings started in Nordland (one of the least populated areas of Europe) and will expand to the rest of the country by the end of the year.

The decision for the switch-off appears to be largely economic.

It’s expensive to get FM signals to a population scattered all over a country riven with fjords and high mountains. It’s also cheaper for radio stations to transmit broadcasts in DAB, rather than FM and DAB.

However, the general population won’t see any of these savings and many will have to shell out to update their radios, as millions of models will soon be rendered obsolete.

Those against it (two-thirds of the population, according to the country’s Dagbladet newspaper) said the move was premature and being forced upon them.

Is the UK next?

Understandably, many in the UK are now concerned about a move to digital-only radio.

And the fact that a week after turning FM off in Nordland, Norway’s DAB system temporarily went down will do nothing to allay any fears.

The UK government has said it won’t start a wholesale radio switchover until 50% of us are listening digitally and DAB signal coverage is comparable to FM.

But with that number now at 45.5% and new cars with digital radio as standard at 86%, we’re not far away from meeting the first target, which means the switch could start as soon as the end of the year.

Are we ready?

But rather than rushing in, as appears to be the case in Norway, I think it’s important we’re given adequate time to prepare.

For starters, the government needs to continue its work to strengthen the DAB signal, especially in rural areas where it can be patchy.

You’ll also need to update your old FM radios.

For your home, a decent quality DAB radio will set you back at least £40. In your car, you’ll either have to buy an adaptor, which cost between £50 and £200, or pay at least £40 for a whole new model, costing from between £90 and £400, to be fitted.

It isn’t all bad news though, as digital transmitters need less energy than analogue transmitters so are cheaper to run than FM radios.

There are also many more stations available on the digital spectrum – almost double in some areas. Plus, if your reception is good, the sound quality on DAB radios is far superior to FM.

Do you prefer to listen to FM, DAB or internet radio? Are you worried that, like Norway, the UK will switch off FM before everyone’s ready?


The BBC wants to keep FM radio for longer: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-43458695

Perhaps we need a consultation to see if citizens of the UK are happy for FM radio to be switched off.

I live in a rural area and DAB is useless. The only stations I can get consistenly on DAB are Radio 1,2,3,& 4 all others disappear despite retuning. At least with FM I can get good regular reception for BBC and local stations. If no FM relying on DAB would be a great loss and further isolate rural communities

dai bando says:
27 April 2018

It’s clear that we aren’t anywhere near ready for a full switchover yet. Reception is still difficult in many partys of the UK and quality radios are still expensive and beyond the reach of many on a fixed income, especially pensioners. The reviews of DAB sets on here tell us all we need to know. Much work still needs to be done.

One aspect which seems to have been overlooked is the processing delay between transmitted signal and output to the speaker. On analogue receivers (be they FM, SW, MW, LW or any other band for that matter), delay from transmitter to receiver is the distance divided by the speed of light, and delay in processing the signal from detector stage to speaker not a lot more. With digital, it is much, much greater.

Does it matter? Probably not a lot to most – but for the OCD folk who delight in checking the accuracy of the second hand of their wall clocks to the start of the sixth B flat pip….

Any reason for retaining analogue radio will do. 🙂

It’s not the inaccurate time that troubles me but the difference in delay between radios. I’m a keen Radio 4 listener and often have two radios on in different rooms. The echo effect soon becomes wearing.

I still do not own a single DAB radio.

I can get enough stations via analogue FM.

I can also stream audio and video via my broadband internet.

So, currently, I have no need for DAB at all.

Unfortunately, those who listen to radio via the internet or on digital TVs count towards the listeners to digital radio, bringing the planned switch-off of analogue radio closer. 🙁 Unless consumers object to the plans of government in collaboration with business, you might need to replace your radios, Derek.

We need a proper consultation to find out if the public is happy for FM radio to be switched off.

It’s just as well then that I don’t stream “radio” channels.

To be honest, I mostly listen to radio at breakfast time or in the bath.

For the latter, I could always take up singing and, for the former, I could always get some laptop decent speakers, always assuming the laptop would multitask streaming R4 whilst browsing W?C.

I also wake every day to R4 via a clock radio alarm, but, I hope to retire soon, and then I won’t need that anymore.

DerekP, I also am alarmed by Radio 4 and frequently doze a little longer before arising. I sometimes find that I am joining in the discussion, arguing with some stupid politician or asking a question and being extremely frustrated when no one seems to pay any attention to me and my question remains rudely ignored.

🙂 I get that all the time at work too…

Like most consultations with the public, many will have no understanding of the issue and what the consequences will be. This is where we need an informative, unbiased and balanced digestible case presented so those who are interested can weigh up the pros and cons and make a considered response.

One of my priorities would to have high sound quality for decent music. I will probably be in a minority but the wished of a significant minority should be respected.

Derek – Listening to Radio 4 is responsible for some mistakes in my postings. I’m not very good at multitasking.

I think you will enjoy retirement. No need for the long commute. 🙂

The coverage of digital radio is very poor in much of Scotland and Wales, which is a good enough reason on its own for retaining FM radio. I posted this map in another Convo:

Source: ukdigitalradio.com

Thanks wavechange. I’m sure I’ll miss my 15 minute walk to work.

You have mentioned it a couple of times. But do feel sorry for those sitting in their cars in traffic jams.

I get that – some days, even at my walking pace, I’m travelling faster than they are. Still, if they’ve got radios, at least they can listed to R4 while they queue. Also, the local buses have wifi, so on those folk can browse the ‘net too.

Has the battery life problem really been solved ? If all the DAB sets that use batteries are switched on to battery wont it cause a surge in global temperatures !!

I did tests on a radio I bought in the last two years and it was better than I had expected. The simple answer is to use rechargeable batteries. The most convenient solution is to use a radio with a built-in rechargeable battery that is charged up when the radio is plugged in.

I’ve recently returned to the UK, bought a new radio (not DAB) and now I find out about it possibly becoming obsolete before its two years old? The world has gone mad. Growing up, I remember having the same radio in the house all during my years at home. Such a thtow away society today. Sad.

I’m surprised that FM-only radios are still manufactured now that DAB has become so well established. If you look at the photo I posted above, there are large parts of Scotland and Wales without decent DAB coverage, so I cannot understand why the government is even thinking about turning off FM transmitters. It couldn’t be that our government pays more attention to the wishes of industry than to the needs of its citizens…..

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DAB radios use more power than FM radios for the same volume audio output. (Ten times more power in the case of those of my radio sets that I have tested). This means that switching to DAB radios will need more national generating capacity (producing more pollution and leading to higher domestic energy bills) in the case of mains-powered sets, and more frequent battery changes or charges for portable sets. (do we really need all of those extra dead batteries, and are we prepared to pay for them?). In times of national emergency or disaster, when mains electricity is not available, communication with the population may only be possible using domestic radios powered by batteries. DAB radios will all be useless within days, while FM radios will serve this duty for weeks.

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I would be interested to know which makes and models of DAB radios use ten times more power than FM radios, Brian. I’ve not seen this with any reasonably modern DAB radio. If you listen to radio on a TV (often the only option in hotel rooms) then you might see this sort of difference.

The mains power used by radios is small and I would be surprised if DAB radio listening made much of an impact on electricity bills or demands on power stations. It’s easy to use rechargeable batteries in radios and some portables have a battery that is recharged when the radio is plugged in, saving the need to remove and recharge batteries.

I’m very keen that we keep FM radio but I’m sure there are better arguments. For example, there is no DAB coverage in some areas, notably rural Scotland and Wales. The sound quality of FM radio is better too, especially if you have a decent tuner.

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I accept that a DAB radios do use a bit more power but if you carry out some tests on modern DAB radios I think you will find they are more economical than some of the early sets. I did post some figures in one of the Convos.

The least economical battery powered radio I have encountered is not a DAB radio but my 1975 Hacker Hunter RP38A FM/AM radio, which uses two PP9 batteries. I promptly built an 18V power supply for it.

There may be hundreds more stations on DAB but you can still only listen to one at a time. We’ve got an internet radio but the only stations we listen to are radio 4 and the local BBC radio.
The only reasons I’d consider spending money on a digital radio are if it would improve the quality of the programmes and play programmes that I’d like to hear at a time when I want to listen or if I could fast forward over all the rubbish music that gets played in between the interesting news items on the local radio.

Vic Lanser says:
14 October 2018

This entire discussion has ignored those — mainly cricket lovers — who take their AM portable abroad in order to get R4 on LW.

No DAB or FM can provide this.

Are AM broadcasts on Long Wave threatened with extinction, Vic?

I am sure receivers will continue to be available so long as the cricket is broadcast. There are teams from two countries in international first class cricket and supporters on both sides will want to tune in and hear the BBC commentaries wherever they are.

What if we started playing cricket against countries like Germany or Russia and couldn’t understand their commentators? Cricket has it easy compared with football, but then you don’t get much football on Long Wave these days I suppose. Perhaps cricket should get out more.

Phil says:
14 October 2018

I was told some time ago that R4 continues to broadcast on AM so that politicians in their Spanish/French holiday homes could keep in touch with what was going on at home. How relevant this is in the internet age I don’t know.

It’s rumoured that the captains of nuclear submarines have permission to fire if the Today programme goes off-air!

There are times when I wish someone would open fire while the Today programme is on air. I get sick of the rudeness of some of the presenters who continually interrupt someone while they are being interviewed, and try to impose their own views. I want to hear someone answer a question they have been asked; I don’t want them to be dominated by the interviewers personal opinions.

There’s a problem with that. Politicians are trained not to answer questions they see as ‘awkward’ and instead employ the tactic of making a speech. They decide to say something they want to say,rather than answer the questions, and take so long to say it that the interviewer runs out of time.

“‘Minister, if I am pressed for a straight answer I shall say that, as far as we can see, looking at it by and large, taking one thing with another, in terms of the average of departments, then in the last analysis it is probably true to say that, at the end of the day, you would find, in general terms that, not to put too fine a point on it, there really was not very much in it one way or the other.'”

In the old days interviewers were duly respectful, which got them nowhere. Now, their brief is to get an answer to a direct question and that’s extraordinarily difficult to do when the interviewee is a professional politician and skilled at saying only what they want to say and not answering the question.

So you may “want to hear someone answer a question they have been asked” but you’re unlikely to hear the answer to the question asked if it doesn’t suit them. You are, however, wrong, I believe, when you state “I don’t want them to be dominated by the interviewers personal opinions”. Journalists – especially TV journalists – do not bring personal opinions into play during interviews. It’s a sackable offence. They do, of course, ask extremely probing questions and attempt to represent all sides of an argument. That doesn’t mean they believe them.

The most famous example of this was the Paxman / Michael Howard interview.

If anyone does not want to answer a question, they won’t however much they are badgered. Some might try to answer questions to which they don’t know the answer of course, exemplified by DA and JC. Why politicians cannot simply admit when the do not know something, rather than dig a deeper hole, may be down to their insecurity. I found it far better to tell someone “I don’t know the answer to that, but I’ll find out and get back to you” is far better than trying to bluff.

Long wave radio transmissions will not be preserved when FM services are shut down. Which? has not offered any opposition to the forthcoming switchover and the only help they are likely to give is recommendations on internet radios and advice on how to listen online.

Thanks, Wavechange. I was not aware of that.

It’s a sad day when an Englishman cannot go abroad and listen to the cricket commentary.

John, I agree about the importance of looking after cricket fans.

Are there any modern digital streaming platforms that might provide cricket commentaries, even if only to internet connected locations?

On the issue of intemperate argument, Peter Bone MP (Leave) and Sarah Woolaston MP (Remain) were both on BBC Breakfast today, and Bone was notable in his interruption and badgering of Woolaston as she tried to answer the interviewer’s question.

But to answer your question (“Why politicians cannot simply admit when the do not know something”) it’s all about the public perception of the individual politician. The interviewer is often armed with detailed facts and figures from the researcher, while the MP is relying purely on memory. To admit to a knowledge deficit on TV is seen as a public humiliation; even though no MP can be expected to be in full possession of all facts about everything they might be asked.

The Howard / Paxman case was interesting, however; Howard had lied but then refused to admit to his culpability when questioned by Paxman.

There’s also the argument that MPs have a duty to answer questions about the decisions they take when in office, but then we also find the Party system plays a major role.

An MP of a party is expected – especially when in office – to adhere to the party line, but very often that conflicts with their own personal integrity. One of our close friends is a very senior Tory, yet finds themself often cornered by the very system of which they’re a part. As a side note, this friend is one of the most decent, unselfish, honest, open and charitable people you could ever hope to meet. So they do exist.

I don’t know, Derek.

It might be easier to watch it on TV with the multitude of channels now available all over the world. If Channel 4 are broadcasting the test match then fans should implore the company to make the service available worldwide; the problem is that cricket is a bit of a niche market in the realm of sport and not properly understood in most of Europe and other popular holiday destinations.

The beauty of the radio broadcast is that you can have it on in the background and keep abreast of the match while doing something else whereas watching on TV means you have to be indoors and in front of a television set. Cricket is the ideal game for radio.

The shipping forecast on 198kHz might be a better argument for keeping the Long Wave transmitter operating. This frequency provides the coverage needed to inform sailors in coastal waters around the UK of weather conditions. Viking, North Utsire, South Utsire….

John, radio channels are digitally streamed too – but they have to get broadcast in the first place.

Agreed, Wavechange. I support keeping the shipping forecast available even though I never listen to it but in coastal waters is not MW satisfactory? I expect mariners have more sophisticated means of getting a weather forecast now, though.

The LW single transmitter at Droitwich covers the entire UK and coastal waters, whereas it would require multiple MW transmitters to do the same job, John. I do not know what alternatives exist at present.

Government is keen on this idea so it can sell off the spare bandwidth that going digital will create . I own three F.M radios not including the car that will be fit for the bin . Can i claim for a set top box ?

I was given a DAB radio, with FM, about 10 years ago. The DAB never worked! We live in a rural area with terrible internet connection, so I returned to a much more reliable FM only radio. If a changeover comes, we will have to do without, as I doubt very much that we will suddenly have DAB reception!

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Counting up, we have about a dozen FM radios in our house. These range from a hi-fi tuner in the sitting room, several bedside radios in the bedrooms, a kitchen radio and another general purpose radio, a car radio, and also we have 3 smartphones with FM radios. To change all these to DAB will cost a fortune. Which? should point this out to the government. This is not like the TV digital changeover where the average house would have only a couple of TVs and it was easy to buy a cheap Freeview set-top box.

Iain says:
11 January 2019

Just completed a new build house and fitted out with LED lights throughout. Switch on the lights at night and DAB radio goes dead, no signal at all. Also goes dead with lap top switched on nearby.

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It may need some effort to investigate the problem. I suggest borrowing a battery-powered radio to see if that works. If it does then the interference may be coming in via the mains. Moving the radio away from the LEDs may show if interference is being picked up via the aerial. Buying or borrowing other LEDs may be useful to find out if the problem is due to the ones installed by the builder.

DAB needs to cover the entirety of the UK before a FM switch off is considered.

Leaving people in rural communities without the ability to listen to radio stations is incomprehensible.

The possibility of isolating people, from news, weather and local bulletins can not be allowed to happen.

Not everyone likes to own a television or have the internet but you can bet they have a radio.

In times of power outage due to storms and the like, battery powered and hand crank powered radios become increasingly important to those cut of in rural areas.

At times of heavy snow, when many schools maybe closed, this information is given on local radio stations.

I realize the government say that local radio stations may still remain on FM but if this is so, why switch off FM at all?

Even if local radio stations are still on FM, most modern cars are fitted with DAB, which won’t work in areas where DAB signal cannot be received.

If a car DAB cannot receive local FM transmissions and it is in an area where there is no DAB signal, the driver of that car can not get travel updates or weather updates!

Although mobile phones can cover a lot of these problems for a lot of the time, they often hold a relatively short battery charge and it may be difficult to recharge them in a power outage, whereas a battery or hand crank (wind-up) radio will keep going for days on end.

As is often the case in the UK, it is the infrastructure that need massive investment, whether it be DAB signal coverage, fast broadband to rural areas or up grades to the rail network and public transport.

The UK government need to realize that the rural economy is a very important part of the UK economy and those people need access to all of the modern conveniences which people in the towns & cities enjoy.

So i say “Until all of the UK is on a level footing, no services should be cancelled , turned off and that they should be improved, so that all citizens of the UK can be supplied with the tools with which to live their everyday lives, without disruption”!

A friend asked me why their DAB radio had stopped receiving one of the commercial stations and on investigating I found that it had moved from DAB to DAB+, which provides better sound quality for stations that are allocated a very narrow bandwidth. Not only is there the possibility that we may lose FM radio, but older DAB radios cannot receive DAB+.

I have an old gramophone with FM, AM and MW radio settings. Can I still listen to it now? How can I adapt it to digital. It sounds beautiful and would hate to not be able to listen to the richness of sound.

Little has happened yet, so carry on listening. Some commercial stations, but not BBC Radio, have switched to DAB+ and cannot be received on older DAB radios, but that will not affect you.

Simon says:
3 September 2020

And Finland, Canada and India a free switching Off their DAB transmitters. Here in UK the system is run for maximum profit with plenty vacant space and many music channels being transmitted in AM quality bit rate and mono.

I thought that the reason that many of these DAB stations are broadcast in low quality was shortage of bandwidth, Simon. If you could provide a link that shows that there is plenty of vacant space in the UK I would be interested in looking at the information. According to this page I have 69 DAB/DAB+ stations available at my address: http://www.ukdigitalradio.com/coverage/postcodesearch/

The signal quality of FM is much better than DAB, also the battery life is usually very poor on DAB radios. Not everyone wants to use a mains adapter, which most DAB radio makers expect you use.

I agree about sound quality but it might be worth comparing the battery life on modern radios. I checked one and found little difference between the power consumption on DAB and FM. Rechargeable batteries remove the need to use a mains adapter except when recharging.

Mike says:
7 May 2021

The situation is currently appalling. The UK committed to the wrong DAB standard, and the rollout of what it backed is bad. Signal coverage is like mobile/cell phones in the 1980’s.
For motorists the DAB coverage is hopeless. The signal cuts out everywhere making listening, if at all possible, unenjoyable and frustrating. Every bridge, tall building, hill or dale defeats the weak linear digital signal. On journeys it is not just missing music or talk programmes, but potentially interrupting important traffic news.
As long as the requirement remains for coverage to be “at least as good as FM” then changeover should be years away as massive investment in broadcasting is still required. Watch out for the FM signal being ‘weakened’ though, to artificially match bad DAB levels.

For the home there may be a few DAB radios that are ok if not moved, but most are large and unattractive. The other problem for DAB adoption is that internet radio is becoming so accessible, so why do you need DAB in the home, unless it is portable. However there isn’t a decent portable DAB radio at all. I cannot find something that equates to the portable AM/FM radios of yesteryear. I tried the Monty (Which BB!) and the (expensive dedicated rechargeable) battery discharges within two days with the radio switched off. Useless. You seem to have to keep it plugged in all the time for the battery to be charged which completely defeats the point. Also, there isn’t a compact portable DAB radio that I can throw in a bag to take away for the weekend without the possibility of it switching on accidentally. All rubbish design – poor displays, small displays, small buttons, bulky, or ugly.

I have had a very different experience with DAB radio in the car, though as with mobile phone coverage there are some rural areas with poor reception. I do not often experience DAB radio cutting out as you describe.

If your battery is discharging when switched off it is likely that the rechargeable battery is faulty, though there is a small chance that the problem is with the radio. You can find out by removing the battery for a couple of days and finding out if it holds a charge. My Pure Evoke-3 retains its charge for weeks when switched off and that is a 15 year old radio (on its second battery).

DAB+ offers better sound quality than DAB, although it is still inferior to FM with a decent external aerial. Unfortunately the old DAB radios cannot receive DAB+. I don’t believe that DAB+ was available when digital radio broadcasting started in the UK.