The Government’s plans for digital radio are in the spotlight with the publication of a critical House of Lords report. The Communications Committee warn of a public backlash against the 2015 target date for a switch to digital, which could make millions of analogue receivers seem redundant.
The Government’s plans mean that FM would be used after the switch-over for what the Lords’ report describes as ‘an ultra-local/community radio tier’ of service. The committee were told that there are around 160 community stations on the air. Ofcom estimates that their broadcasts can be received by around 15m listeners and their actual audience may be around ten per cent of this figure (1.5m). However, the Lords were warned that if the BBC were to cease broadcasting its local services on FM, and therefore cease to maintain the local FM infrastructure, this could lead to financial difficulties for community radio.
Ofcom’s Head of Broadcasting and Telecommunications in Wales has warned that community radio could find itself in a ghetto following the switch to digital. Speaking at the University of Glamorgan’s Atrium in Cardiff earlier this month, Hywel Wiliam was highlighting the fact that broadcasts from community stations would be accessible only on ‘old fashioned’ receivers which would no longer be used for mainstream listening.