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back to article Talking DAB and the future of radio

DAB radio usually gets a flailing from Reg readers, and that was before this summer's "switch-off" controversy. Former FreeView chief Tony Moretta has the job of steering the DAB ship through such controversies as head of the Digital Radio Development Bureau, and here's an extended Q&A with him conducted recently. The Switchoff …

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FAIL

utter twaddle

so he says with better reception the audio quality will be better?

OK, now I'm no radio engineer . . . . so let me ask a question of the clever people on here

a station broadcasting with a pathetic bit rate (say 96kbps) but with excellent signal strength magically sounds like or better than one with a decent bit rate? (say 256kbps) . . how's that work then?

seems to me DAB = over promised, under delivered however you spin it, just too niche and will die out . .

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FAIL

DAB is wank

DAB sets are more expensive

Use more power (aren't we all meant to be green?)

And offer worse reception (analogue gracefully degrades, digital just cops out)

Quality is often shit

And what will happen with all the old radios? Landfill? At least an old telly can be plugged into a digital PVR or similar.

The entire DAB radio system in the UK is a raging cock-up from start to finish. Typical of Labourite, money-grabbing practice.

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FAIL

Deluded

This man is deluded. In its current form DAB does NOT work.

I cannot receive at least two multiplexes it in my home in the centre Birmingham. I cannot receive some of the local commercial services nor the local BBC service. This is a decade or more on from launch. At what point does he propose a satisfactory service?

Equally, driving around with (albeit) a portable set proves how flaky the service is.

DAB was a bad idea at the time - not enough people understood its limitations or where the technology might be improved - and it's not matured with age. Unfortunately we're stuck with it.

If they switch off FM - and for what, provision of more repetitive and dull music stations overloaded with commercial messages? - then as it stands, a significant proportion of listening will be lost. That is not what the radio industry needs.

I don't have the time to describe in detail first-hand experience of commercial broadcasters putting out deliberately low-bitrate programming to squeeze in one or two more vanity stations, but I've seen it happen. (Broadcasting a Scottish music station in Birmingham at 64kpbs mono was never a good idea commercially or technically - but it did give a Scottish marketing executive the chance to listen to his home station when working down south... even if it meant lowering the bitrate of one of his Birmingham music stations.)

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Not convinced

I can buy a pocket-sized FM radio for a pound, in the pound shop. Almost all second hand cars come with FM radios. Many mobile phones do too as the electronics are so basic.

This almost brings FM into the 'free' mentality of pirated music - why should we pay for a more restrictive service, when we can get what we want for free?

DAB is going to take a loooong time to take off; I think it's more likely that other data and content networks will replace radio, like Spotify and iPlayer but more evolved.

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FAIL

Quality

I was an early DAB adopter, and have now abandoned it. The key reason was reception, followed by audio quality. The response on quality seems now to be, to position DAB as the digital option of last resort, after Freeview, Sky, Internet etc.

My listening now comes from a general purpose wifi radio called a Mac.

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worra load of twonk..

"Do I think there's a fundamental issue with audio quality? No. There's an in-building reception issue, but generally in terms of population coverage, it's about there."

Most people I know live IN buildings. In fact, so do the VAST majority of the UK population. Ergo, if there's an in-building reception issue I'd call that a major problem with population coverage. Far from "about there".

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radio

i remember making a radio set in school with a couple of wires, a ferrite rod and a loud speaker. You could get Radio 1 good enough.

Hell, you can even make non-powered crystal radios.

That's all the sound quality anyone cares about isn't it? Thats the level of technology people care about?

When Civilisation Falls we wont be communicating by DAB from our dug-outs, will we?

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FAIL

To take a phrase from a Mike Oldfield CD inlay

We're not all cloth-eared nincompoops, if you've got a good speaker system or decent headphones the sound quality of DAB is very noticeably worse than the same station on FM. And, contrary to industry opinion we do care about it!

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FAIL

Yea.....

I have to agree with the others here, the UK digital radio structure/plan/fiasco is going nowhere fast. Technologies are moving on and DAB is being left well and truely behind. tech like spotify can come out of nowhere and make a massive impact, where DAB has had years and massive investment which doesn't appear to have given much return.

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Grenade

Coverage

I couldn't give a flying fuck about the guy's experience in driving around the M25 and down south - got a DAB radio in my car and I've NEVER managed to get a SINGLE station on it.

Whack my postcode in the BBC coverage checker and get a little warning at the top:

" The stations listed under "may receive" have variable coverage and may need an external aerial for best reception."

Guess what.... All stations listed are "may receive". That's another 30,000 who can't use DAB either then.

Until DAB can MATCH FM coverage then I won't be going out of my way to use it. Not worth the hassle.

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FAIL

DAB

Full marks for optimism.

DAB sound quality is knocked sideways by the latest iPlayer radio streams. They demonstrate what the digital dividend ought to be delivering - high quality programming and sound.

On DAB, the mess of nondescript commercial pop channels using an ancient codec at barrel-scraping bit rates = low quality programming and dismal sound quality.

To pretend that the commercial sector is going to start putting out high quality programming with great sound quality necessary to grab the audience away from cozy ol' FM, particularly when their major source of revenue is migrating to the web, is risible.

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Welcome

Well it works for me :)

I live in Perth and DAB works a treat for me. I've got two DAB radios in the house and a Blaupunkt DAB head unit in the car. Dunno what you moaning minnies are complaining about.

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FAIL

Oh dear

"If I genuinely thought audio quality was a real issue.."

It is, which is why I lost interest in DAB as soon as I heard it. I can't help it if the man has cloth ears, but putting him in charge of radio development might not be the best idea.

"one of the few media that you can do"

Having someone who could communicate in English would be useful, too...

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Go

I really like DAB

OK, I feel like Billy No-Mates now. I really love DAB. I don't notice any quality difference in the audio quality, but admittedly I listen to Radio 4, 5Live and 7. I quite agree with him when he says that people complain about the audio quality when they mean the reception quality. He know that needs to improve. Does Absolute Radio on medium wave really sound better than on DAB?

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Funny thing about quality...

My usual station of choice is Radio 4.

You'd think that quality would be less of an issue with it than a music station, but you'd be wrong.

Periodically I go into my local Curry's and try out the DAB sets there, few of which are less than £50, and most require mains for any sensible period of listening.

They all sound like the presenters are talking from beneath a pillow. We have decent reception, there is no garbling or breakup of the sound, it just sounds utterly flat. Weirdly this is much more noticeable when listening to speech than music.

It all compare very badly against my £10 Sony FM set that I use in the bathroom, which picks up the signal without problems, sounds absolutely fine, and lasts for three months or so on a pair of cheap rechargeable AAs (and has been repeatedly dropped without any problems).

I really just don't get what benefit I'm supposed to get from DAB in its current incarnation. I know what station I'm listening to, I know what I'm listening to (that's what the DJ is for), and I don't need to retune while on the road (surely that is what RDS is for).

This guy *really* needs to stop believing his own BS.

Very underwhelmed by it all.

And please stop all this bollocks about listening to the Radio through the TV. I don't want to have my TV or computer on all the time, just to have the radio on in the background. iPlayer is great when I'm at work or otherwise using a computer, but not terribly useful while in the shower, or making my breakfast.

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"Going forward"

Anyone who says this infuriating and meaningless phrase twice in an interview (once is bad enough!) is obviously far closer to management/marketing than the reality of the technology. I wish him luck, but he's on a dead-end road.

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Another disDABified listener here

I live in Scotland (just) - can I get BBC Radio Scotland on DAB? Not a chance - that's carried on the commercial multiplex for reasons only known to the BBC (yet they carry the World Service and Asian Network - which in this neck of the woods probably have a combined listenership of about 12), if I ask the BBC when it will come they say ask Arqiva, DigitalOne and OFCOM, I ask them in turn and they say ask the other three. It all falls into a very circular argument. So I look south to see what I can receive

I can receive a BBC Local station from the other side of the border to well in excess of 20 miles to the north of here - can I get that local station on DAB? Nope - why not? Well like BBC Radio Scotland, it has to be on the commercial multiplex for reasons only known to the BBC...

I know I can listen online or via FreeView/FreeSat - but try doing any of them when in a car that's moving - because the 3G coverage around here is "limited" (nearest is 12 miles away - which is a bit limiting when you want to drive to somewhere else) and without substantial engineering the FreeView/FreeSat option is tricky too...

Then there's the bubbling mud/in wardrobe performance - I've sat 120 yards from the DAB transmitter and got it (3 different DAB receivers used) - I've sat on top of a hill with direct line of sight to the mast 10 miles away and got it, I've sat on a boat offshore with line of sight to the mast and got it...

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Silver badge
Stop

Why?

Does this person want to kill all radio listening? That's the subliminal message I get.

I'm (just) old enough to remember the roll out of FM radio. It was a remarkable improvement over AM radio, but nobody talked about killing off the old transmissions, things settled naturally to the current situation and everyone was happy.

Now we have a system that mostly doesn't work, is of inferior quality (yes we DO care) and gives the user zero warning of it's unreliability.

I don't suppose it has anything to do with very large sums of money. Noooo, couldn't possibly be that could it?

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Paris Hilton

Progress...

Whilst I agree with most of the posts here, I must give DAB some credit. I switched to in-car DAB a couple of years ago after being fed up with the appalling level of interference to National stations suffered in most cities. Take London for instance, there is not one free slot in the FM band, and bearing in mind that there is meant to be a 100Khz gap between stations to guarantee an interference free listening experience, with the pirates claiming their territory you'd be lucky to find "hiss" anywhere at all.

OFCOM seem to have given up all hope of tracking the pirates and as a result it is nearly impossible to use RDS's network follow function for the purpose it was intended for unless you are lucky enough to have a dual tuner car radio, or live somewhere that does not suffer any weak signal at all. More often than not, you'll end up hearing drum and bass punching through every 40-50 seconds and eventually, if you're not technically savvy, simply switch over to the local Independent as they invariably only have one frequency.

DAB doesn't suffer this "feature", and actually, the bubbling water effect happens so infrequently these days that I think it a bit unfair to keep harping on about it. I live in a valley that can only receive TV and National FM from a local low-power relay transmitter, but despite the nearest DAB transmitter being over 10 miles away and well beyond line of site you get good outdoor coverage on a portable radio, and reasonable coverage indoors (albeit by the window).

If FM was properly regulated, I'd agree that DAB was in many ways pointless, but FM isn't regulated at all unless it's causing problems for the emergency services, civil aviation or one of the licence paying stations. As such, the problem isn't going to go away unless the technology changes to a platform where the pirates will have to club together to transmit their services on a multiplex!

Paris because she likes a good multiplexing!

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DJL

Pirates

I can't see there ever being an FM "switch off" all the while there are still pirate stations out there...

Also, like others here, I think internet radio will quickly overtake DAB (if it hasnt already) especially now that mobile broadband is here and this will solve all the quality/reception problems once and for all.

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Anonymous Coward

(untitled)

I don't wish to knock technological progress but of late this imposition of digital switchover whether you like it or not, just seems to allow excess quantity in place of quality. And I don't see that radio changeover will be much different to TV. I object to being told all the stuff I've bought can not be used before it has ended it's useful life. Why should the public pay the price for that ? (Not that anyone else is going to.)

Being honest I have listened to and enjoyed DAB stations, but I have also discovered that the DAB tuner I have in the lounge is no longer finding any stations. It used to, albeit not all were well received, but now it finds nothing.

And one other thing, I don't agree with AM only being ok for talk radio. As I recall when I was a teenager, it was just fine playing all the music I wanted to hear. If it is now no use, one has to ask what they've done to spoil it.

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Crippling Sense of Mediocrity

"If I genuinely thought audio quality was a real issue for consumers, I'd be banging on the doors of my shareholders, but I really don't think it is."

Sack this twit. He's saying that we should stick with decades old, obsolete and inefficient technology when newer better tech offering higher fidelity and increased efficiency is here now (and growing older by the day). Why is this man involved in an area where future technology is being developed and pushed?

Some stations are already being forced into mono or massively reduced bandwidth now! They sound like crap. And this man thinks that in a medium that is entirely audio, audio quality isn't important. That's what the Digital radio Mondial is for ... low bandwidth, good-enough fidelity. DAB is supposed to be a replacement for FM. It's a 'future technology' but this muppet thinks it should be LOWER quality than what already exists.

Typical Britsh State: Lack of Vision.

Listen up Moretta: people are listening to BBC radio over their telephone lines right now because it's better quality than DAB. people are listening to radio on Freeview and satellite because it's better quality than DAB. Saying it's 'good enough' is not good enough.

Failure to move to DAB+ is to shackle Britain to a dead technology and leave us in the slow lane. Bandwidth needs ALWAYS increase and new services delivered over DAB+ will need it. Not increasing bandwith availability is to deny future opportunity. Capacity should always exceed present need. Your lack of vision will doom Britain to a digital radio backwater.

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Gold badge
FAIL

There's yer problem.

"But you're paying both while you're running both."

So, if you're a radio station do you A) pay to broadcast analogue where all the listeners are, B) pay to broadcast digital because........ah......anyone got any ideas? or C) pay for both 'cos you are as rich as Croesus* and enjoy pissing cash up the wall.

As for in-vehicle reception, there's a world of difference between 'sometimes gets interference, can be quite bad' and 'either works or doesn't'. The first is a pain, the second is completely and utterly bloody unfit for purpose.

Shame he found retuning the FM car radio such a PITA, most of us have had one that automatically retunes as stations switch frequency for quite some time now. Even more of a shame that this was the only reason he could give for DAB being "better" in-car, given that it isn't one at all if you're getting a new radio anyway.

Talking of getting a new radio, they're going to need a minimum of twenty years after setting a date. It's been quite trendy for some time for cars and such to have built in, unswappable units for some time now. There's no "set top box" option with radio and I wish people luck trying to source a DAB unit for a ten year old Ford Fiesta with the built in dash option......

*Or publicly funded - amounts to the same thing when it comes to wasting money.

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@Coverage...

Where do you live? Mars?

Unless you live in a part of the country that is more than 40 miles from a major population centre, extremely hilly or mountainous, or the former and never travel out of your hamlet then either:

1) Your car radio or antenna are faulty, or;

2) You've not had the multiplex learning feature explained to you; or;

2) You are not being entirely honest!

I've traveled most of the country (yes, up North as well) and listened to both National and Regional DAB multiplexes without much issue. I am happy to defend FM to the hilt - it works and it's great, however I get fed up with all the DAB bashing - it simply isn't that bad any more.

One of the bigger problems with DAB is that it does need to frequently re-learn what's available to it, and some of the older radios don't perform that function automatically. This, to my mind, is the biggest oversight with DAB; along with regional stations not linking their multiplex handover information.

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Let's not forget...

This is all about freeing up spectrum so that it can be sold off. That's why the country is pressing ahead with DAB despite the advantages being limited, the disadvantages being numerous and the technology being already obsolete.

Personally I won't be 'upgrading'. Why incur the expense (certainly not negligible) of a DAB receiver when I can receive internet streams via the internet on my PC, and WiFi or 3G on my phone?

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WTF?

This is a load of bollocks on a number of levels

Audio Quality

If the audio quality is so great, and he's already admitted initial claims were overhyped, why do the most expensive standalone sets only have one speaker?

Price

I have a little wind-up autoscan FM radio / torch thing given to me for nothing as a corporate freebie. Yes, you can get a DAB radio for £20 but analogue FM radios are frequently given away, are the size of keyfobs and last forever even on tiny batteries. DAB and it's less than stellar power performance is already well documented. The extra cost of powering the damned things has to be factored into any buying decision also.

Multiplexes

This has to be addressed and soon. I'm fed up re-tuning my DAB set only to find stations vanishing / duplicating or playing adverts for 'local' businesses 550 miles away. The variation of output power is also hugely noticeable too. Some BBC stations have the signal meter bouncing off maximum while others (Kerrang, are you listening?) very frequently make Ozzy Osbourne sound like he's farting in a bath full of beans.

Equipment and Features

If DAB wants to get any kind of meaningful adoption they should stop marketing and pricing everything like it's a luxury brand. No one I know has a £200 DAB / iPod dock / WiFi dalek thing in their kitchen. Instead those people, myself included, have an FM stereo cassette player parked next to the microwave which is listened to in the morning over coffee and cornflakes. There is one radio on http://www.uk-dab.info/portables.php and it's £60.

People aren't going to adopt a technology just because they're told they should. Nor are they going to shell out more than what they think that technology is worth. Digital TV was embraced because the set-top boxes were made with varying levels of expense and sophistication. When you need to sell the technology and no-one is listening perhaps it's time to listen to the concerns people have. Technology which is good enough very often sells itself.

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Won't Touch DAB

There is no way I will by a DAB radio whilst they are still using 10-year old codecs for the signals and the radios cost so much. I was given a PSION Wavefinder a while back and it was fun to mess with but you needed a PC to be running so might as well just use an online service.

I currently use one of the Logik wi-fi radios and it does all I need.

The only way DAB will get any cheaper is if the whole of the EU adopts the same system to help push the unit prices down.

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i'll buck the trend then

I got a DAB radio factory fit in my car. I'd never used DAB before. I rarely listen to the radio as my radio also has a USB port but when I do listen I have found the DAB to be far superior to FM. In fact, if I have service link enabled I can tell when DAB cuts to FM (only happens when im out past glasgow).

If the coverage improved then I can see the attraction of DAB but I doubt you will ever get to £1 dab radios or phones (as previous posters have said).

for reference it is a sony dab in a ford mondeo - standard.

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Sound quality again

It's just utter, utter bollocks to say that sound quality, even under perfect reception conditions, is good enough. If you're a serious music fan or audiophile (perhaps not even that serious) you know within the first few seconds of listening that UK's DAB is totally crippled in terms of sound quality. Bit rates have been squeezed harder than they ever should have been, and we're dragging around this ancient codec like a ball and chain.

This guy really, really needs to get real. I think he knows he's talking BS. Surely nobody is deluded enough to believe that load of nonsense.

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All welll and good but

When I've got my DAB radio suckered onto my windscreen next to my Sat nav, with the DAB aerial and the TMS aerial stuck on there too, what am I supposed to see out of?

Replacing the head unit is too costly as a car with steering wheel control would need all sorts of adapters to make these function with an after market system. So I just hope they keep FM on until I get a new car with DAB installed as standard.

As far as reception, we tried to use it at work to listen to the cricket this summer. The post code checker said we'd be fine, but in reality we couldn't get ANY stations.

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Anonymous Coward

AM

If people really don't care about audio quality, why don't we all just use AM in mono then?

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Bronze badge
Unhappy

It's the car, stupid

I, like many people, do most of my radio listening in the car.

Whilst I was very pleased to hear that Mr Moretta got a new DAB-equipped car with his job last year, I unfortunately didn't.

I'd accept changing the radio in my car if I had to, but like many cars nowadays it's a built-in unit so that's not really an option.

I guess I could get an add-on adapter of some kind, but who wants Yet Another Box dangling about and failing to integrate in any way with anything else?

No, there was nothing in here that compelled me to go to this much trouble.

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FAIL

@ @Coverage

I certainly don't live on Mars, I live within the M25. The terrain here is a bit steep but that affects FM reception not one tiny bit. My DAB set has been switched off since we moved here because it is completely unusable. I cannot find a single multiplex that gives anything but the bubbling mud. With such appalling performance from a decent quality non-portable set, why would I ever contemplate replacing the perfectly functional built-into-the-dashboard FM radio in my car?

Audio quality, critical to an audio only medium, has been covered very well by others.

The fool who thinks that reception indoors isn't so much of a problem needs to realise that there are, in the main, two places where radio is listened to. On transport (car, bus, train) and in buildings. There are some crazy folk who commute 2+ hours each day but that still leaves the rest of us spending the majority of our listening time *indoors*. No indoor reception means it will never be used. Internet radio isn't an option for those of us who are behind draconian content filters.

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FAIL

We do know the difference ..

between reception quality and audio quality. Both are pants. If DAB reception was any good shops wouldn't need to run their own local relays. I agree that the plebs probably don't care about audio quality - after all they bought VHS video. But why should everybody be forced to listen to the lowest common denominator sound?

You didn't ask about driving abroad. We need a single standard covering the whole of Europe (not just the EU).

How do you tell when the 50% point is reached? Many people who have mistakenly bought DAB radios won't be listening on DAB.

Any step change in technology should bring about a big improvement in performance. Think FM radio, 625 line tv, FM stereo, colour tv, nicam stereo. Now we are going backwards. The only objective seems to be to cram in more channels. Make more money and screw the listeners.

And the idea that DAB (or Freeview™, which isn't free and half of it you can't view, for that matter) gives yoiu more choice is nonsense - it just gives you more of the same. More channels = more rubbish. You can easily add channels but that doesn't necessarily generate more advertising income or more talent - it just spreads it around more thinly so standards go down.

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FAIL

Dead As Betamax

Said it before and I'll say it again.

I note how he admits there is an in-building coverage issue. Guess what, numb nuts, I always listen to the radio either in the house or in the car. In fact, we usually have two or three radios going in the house, offering perfectly acceptable house-wide audio quality. Replace them with DAB and we would experience different group delays from each, plus drop-out (please don't call it "glitch" that merely reveals the level of your technical ignorance). Not an experience we would put up with.

Please give us a digital radio system that is engineered with the end use in mind, thank you.

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DAB is *currently* as bad as freeview - wait til 2012..

Surely, the reason is the low signal level, due to not wanting to interfere with the current analog signals!!

The level can be massively increased when "switchoff" comes(TV mainly, but....) surely then the service will improve..

What is also needed, is an ENFORCEMENT of a bitrate that would ensure at least FM quality... :)

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Gold badge
FAIL

Crap audio quality? Sounds great.

"Mistakes were made in the early days when they talked about CD quality sound.".... "If I genuinely thought audio quality was a real issue for consumers, I'd be banging on the doors of my shareholders, but I really don't think it is."

Sounds great! I'd LOVE to have to buy a new radio, to get poor-quality audio. I don't see the problem here at all. (This is sarcasm BTW...)

We've got no plans here in the states to shut off FM, thankfully -- the specs for DAB sound awful. I think they either do need to push DAB+, since it apparently has the efficiency to get good audio quality without blowing the bitrate budget, or give it up. I would find a 96kbps stream most unacceptable, and since the whole point of radio is sound, cutting the bitrate that far is really quite stupid. It's great that the Freeview chief doesn't care about crap audio quality but I sure do.

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Pint

As much as I would like digital radio to win....

As much as I would like a pure digital radio service, I can see not advantage.

I wonder if anybody will make FreeView Radio tuner?, since its signal streanth will be increased sooner for improved reception, and if they can make £15 TV set-tops then I am sure they can manage £10 audio only's for the kitchen and bathroom.

Of course, I am sure there is not all this funky multiplexing linking and such so I think I would use a diffrent tech for the car...... like analoge FM :)

I am no audio buff, but I do not accept music quality below that of 256mbs, because it sounds poor, so regardless of what they do it improve reception, its still a Fail IMO.

Beer, because its as traditional.

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Silver badge
FAIL

Just the look of a DAB radio puts me off!

When will they start trying to make them look at least slightly desirable?

All the DAB radios I see look like they were made from kitchen unit off-cuts from MFI including kitchen drawer carry handles.

That and as someone else mentioned..where is the second speaker for stereo????

Dreadful design for dreadful technology.

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Thumb Down

Problems, problems. Why DAB will fail.

The biggest problem - cars don't come with DAB, and DAB doesn't cope at all well with the inevitable interference in a moving vehicle travelling through dead spots and surrounded by moving interference sources. Since at least half radio listening is in a car (I guess), they'd better not switch off FM.

DAB could, in fact, have been an improvement for car radio. What they should have done, is transmitted the DAB signal with associated lower-bitrate versions of the same thing delayed, say, five and ten seconds. Car radios would buffer the high-quality data and when interference kills packets, splice in the low-fidelity version received 5 seconds later (by which time the car will have moved). The short degradation of quality would sound much like interference on FM does.

The second problem - DAB isn't green. DAB radios eat batteries at a frightening rate. They really shouldn't have made them to run on standard batteries at all, they should sell them with built-in Li-ion rechargeables like mobile phones or iPods. There are now a lot of people who think that you can't afford to run a DAB radio. Yes, I do know you can buy AA 2700mAh NiMH rechargeables and AA to C or AA to D adapters, but there are a lot of less clueful types out there, and it's still a pain to have to fiddle around moving batteries between radio and charger on a weekly basis. My old FM radio ran for about three months on one set of AAs. (Shame it ended up drowned in my bath - which incidentally, is why mains-powered is never an appropriate solution).

The third problem - DAB fidelity is terrible compared to FM. Maybe MP3-loving pop listeners don't notice, but DAB turns classical music from a sublime pleasure into a pain. The encoding generates non-harmonic distortion - tones that have no musical relationship to the actual notes. FM doesn't do this. Harmonic distortion - especially low-harmonic distortion - is far more tolerable.

The only reason I own a DAB radio at all is that I can listen to BBC World service in my bathroom without the cacaphonic noises one gets on Medium Wave. But my next household portable will be an internet +FM radio, I don't really care if DAB is part of the mix or not.

The final problem no-one seems to be thinking about, is emergency public service broadcasting. An FM transmitter is low-tech stuff, and not at all power-hungry. You could run an emergency service for days off a car battery. I doubt you can do that with DAB, and in any case, the DAB radios out there would have flat batteries within hours, even if they weren't mains-only.

I remember the 1987 "Hurricane". There could have been panic afterwards, with electricity and telephones both knocked out in parts of the country. But the BBC could still transmit FM, and people had battery radios to listen with, and so everyone knew what happened and that civilisation would soon get back on its feet. (Soon = 4 days, in some rural parts!)

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FAIL

Engineers don't fix DAB quickly in Belfast

Here in Belfast, DAB transmissions for local stations (like BBC Radio Ulster) frequently degrade or disappear altogether. Several mornings I have got up late because my radio alarm put out the silence of the DAB.

So while so few people use DAB, what engineer is going to bother keeping it working? Drop the FM signal and you will be flooded with complaints, but DAB - who cares?

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FAIL

BBC World Service/bubbling mud

I'm grateful to DAB for having introduced me to BBC World Service (in its comparatively hiss free incarnation therein), but, having just moved to Potters Bar in Hertfordshire, I'm unhappy to find that my £150 singing and dancing Roberts DAB radio, will not receive even so much as "bubbling mud" virtually anywhere in this property.

Did I mention BBC World Service? It's really good. When you can hear it.

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FAIL

I'd be able to tell you better if I could hear it...

I live near the top of a hill, just outside Bristol, so I'm hardly out in the middle of nowhere, and DAB reception is all but absent.

I bought a DAB portable - a decent brand - about 3 years ago, and was most disappointed to discover I'd got a choice of two stations that 'almost' worked, neither of which were BBC stations.

Nothing has changed in those three years - outdoors I can still get one station (the other one went bust) but indoors I can't detect a signal at all.

It's not the radio at fault, because another borrowed set had identical issues.

Where there should be a radio, what I've actually got is a £50 paperweight.

Gee, thanks...

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Bronze badge
FAIL

Good grief

Did he really say that he had to retune the FM radio in his Wife's car driving round the M25? How old does a car radio have to be to not have RDS? If the RDS is turned off perhaps he should RTFM and turn it on?

He's definitely missing the point on quality. DAB, no matter how good the signal strength, has terrible audio quality because of the stupidly high number of channels they squeeze through the multiplexes. FM, under good conditions (a widespread situation here in the UK due to the careful design of the FM network), is superb.

I think they should toss out DAB altogether and go for a new system (Digital Radio Mondiale anyone?). I don't think anyone will mourne the passing of their DAB radio, especially if it means upgrading to something that definitely provides a better service. By sticking with DAB we are being condemned to a miserable future. No other country will be using it, no money will be put in to design and development by manufacturers just for the UK market, no one will be able to receive radio when they drive to the continent, no one will be able to get radio on their mobile phone, etc. etc.

Also, how is it that DVB seems to be a reasonably widely accepted standard that works across Europe and there was almost no fuss about it, but DAB has been a disaster? How on earth did DAB ever make it through the standards bodies?

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FAIL

Europe

I live in Italy where my DAB radio is now silent, the Italians tried a few DAB broadcasts then gave up! some DAB+ is isn use (UK doesn't want people to mention DAB+ {advanced audio codec instead of Mpeg2} as it might confuse the consumer) Most of the Italian populace seem to be going to DVB-T/DVB-H mobile, though I'm pretty sure the elephant in DAB's closet is WiFi streamed internet radio. why have 20 crappy DAB channels when you can get thousands of crappy streamed channels ? , some of which are actually rather good! NPR All things Considered, ABC Radio JJJ (Dr Karl etc), some of the USA Armed Forces Radio & TV are hilarious and sincere and the US shock jocks on both sides of the spectrum can't fail to entertain! It's like Steve Allen all day!!!!

WiFi is planned to debut in EU cars, soonish, by EU mandate if i'm not mistaken. maybe we need the 6GHz/60GHz roadside beacons first or a serious WiMax infrastructure?

personally I rebroadcast UK Satellite BBCR4 to narrowband analogue UHF in Italy and listen to my own repeater as I drive around, though Radio MonteCarlo France on longwave has Brigitte Lahaie who is often more entertaining than Kathy Clugston and is worth a listen in the afternoon!

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FAIL

@Jon 77

"Surely, the reason is the low signal level, due to not wanting to interfere with the current analog signals!!"

Er, DAB broadcasts at around something like 210MHz.FM currently sits at about 88-108. No interference necessary.

The only interference of analogue signals will come from some twat in government wanting to turn them off. For that same hard-of-thinking twat, radio IS NOT LIKE telly. Tellies are fixed and can have decent aerials, and powerful signal amps and signal processing. (Unless you're a moronic chav in Coventry, you don't drive around with one on your dashboard.)

Radios don't work like that, and haven't for about 50 years. They're light, power-efficient, and able to resolve weak signals easily... at least when dealing with analogue transmissions. If you still don't get it, digital radio WINS NO VOTES.

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FAIL

Monopoly

.... and a cartel that actively discourages new operators from joining.

I ran a radio station in the Midlands for a while and we were very serious in trying to obtain a space on a DAB mux. We contacted the main players who ran the existing multiplexes, but were told they were full. Upon closer inspection they had self-filled with automated services (carrying no advertising). When we queered further the costs quoted were more than prohibitive for anyone other than operators trying to maintain their dominance through sheer size.

The economics don't add-up and while listeners are not getting more choice or a perception of an improved service this 'switch-over' will never happen.

Forget the quality issue for a second, the real problem lies at Ofcom's door for not thinking the regulation through.

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Megaphone

S'OK for a kitchen radio

My limited experience of DAB is OK, though I'm in London and only really listen to Radio 1 (I like to skew their target audience demographics) and Heart, Capital etc. I bought a Pure Evoke Flow for my girlfriend for Xmas as it covers her requirements (radio, can plug in MP3 player) and mine (DAB, over the air upgradable to DAB+ if it happens, Internet radio, streaming from Mac/NAS). Mind you to get all that wasn't exactly cheap for what is effectively a radio!

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WIFI Radio "Return Path"??

Nice job completely side stepping the question of WIFI radio by only talking about it as a return path, not for content delivery. I have a WIFI radio and it doesn't even have a return path. The quality of (a) reception (well, it's coming over the internet) and (b) audio (once again, streaming over the internet) is far superior to traditional delivery methods.

Doesn't do me much good in the car of course, as I funnily enough, my car (a) can't connect to the internet and (b) doesn't have a WIFI router.

One of the problems with DAB seems to be that, beyond outright lies about reception and audio quality, there's no reason for anybody to switch to it. Am I missing something?

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Big Brother

Barking up Wrong Tree?

For all the multitude of FAIL signs up above when talking about the technology, it is my guess that analogue switch off is still a certainty. The important word is CONTROL. Not the controls on the set, but the control that BB will have over your listening.

At present, given the right bits of kit and suitable atmospheric conditions, one can hear news, comment and music from around the world. And only you know you are listening to it. The DAB system that they have decided is right for the UK will be unique. It will keep the rest of the world out. When all the analogue sets have been thrown away, no-one in the UK will be able to hear what is going on outside. Much, much better than the jamming systems that the USSR employed in days gone by. Of course, once everyone is digital, then they will be able to enforce a licensing/fee payment scheme, just like Sky do for their satellite TV output. Those who do not sign up to BB's "correct thinking" requirements will not be allowed to listen, or watch.

No doubt in my mind, crap technology or not, it IS going to happen. Stop arguing, just roll over and feel the love of Big Brother.

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