/ Technology

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.

grumbler says:
19 March 2018

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

DerekP says:
28 April 2018

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.

DerekP says:
28 April 2018

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.

emjay says:
1 May 2018

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.

Dex says:
13 May 2018

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…..

Now there,s an UN–surprising thought Wavechange .

Brian Moss says:
3 June 2018

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.

Quite right Brian national communication is deliberately being denied , People should start buying second hand CB,s and old transistorized radios , especially with the short wave band so you can get by censorship. Once everything is digital in communications just like digital banking then we have lost any power that we used to have as its easy to cut off digital and block it. Invest in self generating equipment from all natural sources the Americans are way ahead in this .

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.

Wavechange-AM/FM transistorised radios (solid -state ) use milliwatts of power due to simple demodulation circuits , DAB needs a microprocessor to function which uses up to several watts . I have an ancient transistorised portable radio from Japan that works of of a single AA battery. A large collection of collectible plastic cased solid-state early portable radios which work for ages off of -two AA batteries or one 9 V small sized battery.

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.

DerekP says:
15 October 2018

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….

DerekP says:
15 October 2018

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 ?

Deborah Hanson says:
28 November 2018

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!

No need to do without Deborah, contrary to HMG concentrating full control over the airwaves by using digital means , therbye denying the population information worldwide why not buy an old communications short wave receiver ?

Contrary again to perceived “knowledge ” SWL/SWR still pulls in the foreign stations even the BBC still outputs in AM (BBC Overseas ).
Advantages —-innumerable !! – no snooping on you -no blocking-censoring of information like the Internet done by HMG .
Do you know our own Military Defence still uses it while decrying it to the British public read- quote –
Difficulty of censoring programming by authorities in restrictive countries: unlike their relative ease in monitoring the Internet, government authorities face technical difficulties monitoring which stations (sites) are being listened to (accessed). For example, during the attempted coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, when his access to communications was limited (e.g. his phones were cut off, etc.), Gorbachev was able to stay informed by means of the BBC World Service on shortwave.[29]
Low-cost shortwave radios are widely available in all but the most repressive countries in the world. Simple shortwave regenerative receivers can be easily built with a few parts.
In many countries (particularly in most developing nations and in the Eastern bloc during the Cold War era) ownership of shortwave receivers has been and continues to be widespread[30] (in many of these countries some domestic stations also used shortwave).
Many newer shortwave receivers are portable and can be battery-operated, making them useful in difficult circumstances. Newer technology includes hand-cranked radios which provide power without batteries.
Shortwave radios can be used in situations where Internet or satellite communications service is temporarily or long-term unavailable (or unaffordable).
Shortwave radio travels much farther than broadcast FM (88–108 MHz). Shortwave broadcasts can be easily transmitted over a distance of several thousands of kilometers, including from one continent to another.
Particularly in tropical regions, SW is somewhat less prone to interference from thunderstorms than medium wave radio, and is able to cover a large geographic area with relatively low power (and hence cost). Therefore, in many of these countries it is widely used for domestic broadcasting.
Very little infrastructure is required for long-distance two-way communications using shortwave radio. All one needs is a pair of transceivers, each with an antenna, and a source of energy (such as a battery, a portable generator, or the electrical grid). This makes shortwave radio one of the most robust means of communications, which can be disrupted only by interference or bad ionospheric conditions. Modern digital transmission modes such as MFSK and Olivia are even more robust, allowing successful reception of signals well below the noise floor of a conventional receiver.

You would be very surprised at the amount of uses our Defense Dept uses it for even in this digital age , I still have two valve operated ones both ex.Defense Dept.
I never get blocked “thrown off ” the Short -wave and guess what ? in times of National Emergency its extremely useful in providing non censored world information .

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.

Ian- as far as the laptop is concerned try moving the power supply to see if it makes any difference ,if not and its running on batteries then the signal is not too strong on your radio try changing its position .
It costs a lot to “RFI ” your ring mains where it acts like an aerial to amplify the interference also it will be transmitting over the air, if you stick to trying to get a better signal that would be cheaper .
If it was the lights alone that’s one thing but if your laptop causes the same problem without the lights being on then I would concentrate on the radio .

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.