DAB Radio – Dead and buried?

By David Kevin Williams

David Williams graduated in BA Radio from the University of Glamorgan and now works for the digital station Mountain FM. This was first published on his personal blogsite.

Back in 2010 the government released the ‘Digital switchover of television and radio in the United Kingdom’ report. As the title suggests, the document included plans which would see Britain move from analogue radio receivers to DAB sets.

But even the best laid plans can go awry and as time goes by it becomes harder and harder to see a world in which we all have DAB radios in our homes, cars and workplaces.

In my last blog I listed a number of reasons as to why businesses didn’t want to advertise with Mountain FM and number 3 on the list was: ‘You’re not on FM? We can’t listen to you in the car? No thanks’. While this may say more about the general public’s relationship with analogue than it does digital radio, it does show the public’s attitude to radio and how/where it’s consumed.

There’s definitely an air of mistrust and uncertainty and this isn’t helped by stories such as the closure of regional DAB transmitters across Britain and industry experts calling the proposed analogue turn off a ‘waste of time’. All this does is give the impression that even major radio organisations aren’t committed to the digital switchover.

Anorak or Anyone?

As a radio graduate I think it’s fair to say I have a pretty big interest in the medium; I don’t know if this makes me an anorak but if it does then that’s fine by me! However, despite my passion for radio I do not own a DAB set and don’t plan on buying one.

So this led me to wonder; if someone who loves radio doesn’t see the point in buying a DAB receiver why would the average listener go out of their way to purchase one? When the top 5 radio stations in the UK are all available via FM or AM, what is the incentive to go digital?

Online Works Fine

Of course, those who are pro-DAB will tell you that you get far more choice and stations are easier to find. All valid arguments (scanning for AM frequency stations can be a nightmare) but when it comes to the battle of choice, there is only one winner: the internet.

The latest RAJAR figures show that listening to the radio online has increased 8% year-on year and I’m sure that it will continue to rise as gadgets with internet connectivity (Tablets, Smartphones etc.) continue to grow in popularity and sales figures.

'D Love' is the new face of digital radio for the BBC

‘D Love’ is the new face of digital radio for BBCTV/Radio and commercial radio

A digital radio campaign fronted by the puppet ‘D-love’ has recently begun with the aim of raising the profile of the concept but with the rising in radio apps such as Radioplayer, TuneIn and the BBC iPlayer Radio, its hard to see why people require a DAB radio.

In fact, a prime example of the BBC’s apparent reluctance towards DAB came while I was listening to Radio 1 in the car to work. During Nick Grimshaw’s Breakfast show an ad promoting digital radio only mentioned ‘laptops’ and ‘mobile devices’; no mention of a DAB set anywhere.

Delaying the Inevitable?

While many are against the switchover, the Government seem unrelenting in their aim to move us from the dark ages of analogue to the shiny, futuristic Eden that is Digital Britain. Is it that they truly believe people will suddenly ditch their analogue radio and buy a DAB set? Or do they think they have gone so far down the digital garden path that they’ve reached the point of no return?

The fact that the government have had to delay the switchover until 2015 as the 50% threshold is nowhere near to being breached goes to show the reluctance of many to say goodbye to FM; but why should they when all their favourite stations are there?

Maybe the public need to be forced to change? If Radio 1 or 5 Live suddenly went digital-only I would buy a DAB set and a DAB in-car conversion kit within hours and I’m sure hundreds of thousands of people would do likewise.

DAB: DOA?

A digital switchover is inevitable and I will welcome it as there are many positives it will bring; choice, improved broadcast quality, improved usability. However, will it be DAB radios that everyone is listening to or will it all come through tablets, smartphones?

It seems we will have to wait and see but it seems the longer the switchover is delayed the further DAB will be left behind.

About James Stewart

Senior Lecturer in Radio Journalism. http://staff.glam.ac.uk/users/1713-jstewart
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