DAB radio is coming. It’s been coming for years and it’s still not here for everyone. It’s not in every room in every home and it’s in very few cars. So do we really want it?
I quite like DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) – I regularly tune in to digital–only radio stations. But unless I could get clear, uninterrupted digital radio in every room of my house, in my car and on my mobile phone, a national switchover from FM to DAB would feel more like punishment than progress.
Farewell to FM?
The previous government set a target date of 2015 for switching radio stations over from FM to DAB. After this point nothing but ultra-local and community radio stations would be available on FM. To receive national radio you’d need DAB or the internet.
But 2015 is nothing more than a target. Yesterday Culture Minister Ed Vaizey announced the Digital Radio Action Plan and confirmed, ‘We will only consider implementing a Digital Radio Switchover once at least 50% of all listening is already on digital’.
How listening will be measured doesn’t appear to have been determined yet. Listeners in rural areas, cars, more vulnerable listeners and those on low incomes are unlikely to be part of the 50% of digital listeners that start the switchover process. Still, they’ll be the hardest people to convert.
Cost of switching
Which brings us neatly to cost. Who will foot the bill for the transmitters needed to improve coverage – and how much will it cost us to replace every FM radio? Not to mention the environmental cost of disposing of all the analogue radios after switchover.
It’s not like the government isn’t aware of the issues. Yesterday’s Digital Radio Action Plan announced key elements to investigate – and most of these were on the list.
This is all useful stuff and (aside from the fact that maybe we could have used some of this thinking earlier in the process) getting car manufacturers onboard will also be key.
Some are making encouraging noises but that only helps get DAB into new cars. What about the cars we already own? We’ll need retro-fit devices or in-car converters – another cost to consider.
With so far still to go to improve listening figures and coverage, it seems a switchover is still many years into the future. But what will happen if, after so much investment, digital listening never reaches 50%? Is ‘not switching’ an option?