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back to article Analogue radio will CONTINUE in Blighty as Minister of Fun dodges D-Day death sentence

A keynote speech by Culture and Comms Minister Ed Vaizey at the Go Digital conference had been billed for weeks as “D-Day” for UK radio. But in the end, Vaizey kicked the DAB can down the road, setting no new date for a switchover from analogue to digital radio, nor any new threshold for such a switchover. Vaizey thus avoided …

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Vested interest

The DAB lobby is full of vested interests. The big radio groups are so keen on it as it lets them and their transmission buddies get hold of the means of distribution and then squeeze out their smaller rivals.

The costs of DAB for smaller radio stations are terrifying especially if you've been managing without a transmission contract and maintaining your own facilities on the top of the nearest hill.

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Re: Vested interest

Shamelessly hijacking the top comment to kindly ask El Reg to make available the results of the "how much boost does it give an article to have a random thumbnail of girls in bikinis beside it" experiment.

Go on, we all like a good graph.

I saw an example of the same once where someone uploaded a youtube video explaining how to get more hits, but a shot of a hot girl as the very middle frame in the video. He uploaded it twice, once with and once without. The number of hits on both versions made the point nicely.

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Angel

Yes, make Radio 1 DAB

Cos at the moment you cannot tell if its just static white noise or music anyway. Radio 2 you can leave alone please, cos i sometimes do listen to that in my car.

Don't think DAB will ever replace FM. Radios are in far more places than TV can be - like as above, i only ever listen to radio in my car. I am certainly not going to upgrade the head unit in my car just for that. FM is fine for the job. Maybe when i buy a new car it will have DAB, but it won't be at the top of my feature list.

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Jad

Re: Yes, make Radio 1 DAB

My wife has a Digital Radio, and she uses it to listen to "Classic FM" ... (there's no accounting for taste) ... Fortunately it has an FM mode for when they decide that Digital radio is dead in the water, and with luck "Classic FM" already have a channel on that "Low Power Medium" ...

Seriously, if we only had DAB and someone came up with the idea of FM, it would be regarded as a great upgrade on the original system:

1) lower power usage requirements

2) allows for easier management of local radio stations, with a lower cost of entry

3) de-centralised control of transmitting (If the mast goes down, it doesn't take all stations down)

4) ... I don't care I just don't agree that we really need DAB!

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Re: Yes, make Radio 1 DAB

Turns out my new car does have DAB... And it sounds awful.

We just got rid of our only house dab radio and used the speakers as fridge magnets - much more useful. The future of radio is FM, internet, but not crappy obsolete dab codecs.

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Rob
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Re: Yes, make Radio 1 DAB

That's got to be the killer, is all those listeners using their car radios. I need to upgrade my head unit soon and my primary functions need to be FM and Bluetooth if DAB is included I might have a play to see what it is like in my area but other than that I won't look for this feature at the moment.

Equally I'm not going to upgrade my head unit unless it gets damaged so it's now or never for DAB in my car.

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Re: Yes, make Radio 1 DAB

Good idea - then the kids wont be able to listen to it in the car!

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Re: Yes, make Radio 1 DAB

>Radio 2 you can leave alone please

You could change its jingle to something less nauseating, and axe Jeremy Vine - we don't need three hour listener polls about, for example, whether it's okay to hog the middle lane of the motorway (it isn't, don't do it, it's not up for discussion).

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Stop

Re: Yes, make Radio 1 DAB

Add:

5) A weak signal or a bit of interference would result in bit of noise or a few crackles instead of complete break-up of sound.

6) Radios in different rooms tuned to the same station would be synchronised.

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Stop

Re: Yes, make Radio 1 DAB

Add:

7) Time signals that actually indicated the time

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Re: Yes, make Radio 1 DAB

Classic FM is on Fm and the quality is far better than on Dab, even if Classic Fm do have a better bitrate on DAb than other stations. I listen to classic FM on FM, only tried it on DAB once and that was enough.

As for Radio one going to DAb, would we notice? the last time i tuned to Radio one it was full of junk and the sound quality was awful as everything is over compressed, sound wise.

Freeradio is the same and have been for years, even when it was Wyebother, I mean Wyevern.

Localy I like sunshine radio, but again I will listen to it via FM, not DAB.

sorry, but DAb is a waste of space for music, fine for chat,

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Anonymous Coward

DAB's going nowhere. In the home its place has been taken by STBs, smart TVs and smart sound systems connected to tablets and in the car (which is, after all, where most of us listen to the radio), it simply doesn't work. Just a pity Vaizey has kicked the decision down to the next man rather than said what we all know. The sooner our abortive dalliance with DAB is ended, the better.

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My goodness..

"One source told us the cost of broadcasting a 128kbit/s MP2 stream is 16 times higher than broadcasting the same material via FM. Yet OFCOM structures its licenses so that if as a radio station you don’t commit to DAB, they’ll remove your FM licence."

So an almost unusably low quality audio stream is 16 times higher in cost than FM? It's worse than I could have imagined. Why is OFCOM pushing DAB? So they can make some quick money down the line selling off the FM bands? How does that serve the public good?

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the cost of broadcasting a 128kbit/s MP2 stream is 16 times higher than broadcasting the same material via FM

I'd love to see the explanation for that. There doesn't seem to be a logical technical reason, since multiple stations share one transmitter and 128kbit/s MP2 CODECs aren't exactly expensive these days. Just profiteering by Arqiva? Isn't that what Ofcom are supposed to stop (yes,I know, there are many things Ofcom is supposed to do)?

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Is there still a significant use case?

Given the high costs of DAB licences and the content providers' (can we silll call them broadcasters) ability to stream in higher quality, is there a compelling case for DAB these days ? I'm not sure even in a car the case holds as it's technically possible, though not yet prevalent, to pair your car audio to your phone (assuming that it's got sufficient internet connectivity).

It seems that internet streaming is where things are headed; I don't have the comparitive costs compared with AM/FM/DAB licencing so maybe I'm wrong..

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Re: Is there still a significant use case?

"It seems that internet streaming is where things are headed; "

No. That is a massively inefficient use of radio bandwidth. Also a very, very costly one. Why would I want to pay all that extra money every month for mobile 3/4g data just to listen to something I can get for "free" over the air from a £2.50 FM radio that will run for a week or two off £1 worth of batteries?

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Re: Is there still a significant use case?

You're basing your analysis of cost on current pricing models. Access to mobile data is becoming more and more important every day. Things like internet radio work well with multicast, so in terms of bandwidth costs for the ISP/mobile provider, they are lower than 'ad-hoc' streams, so there's no reason I can see why internet radio can't be the way forward but with the bandwidth paid for by the radio stations. The overall cost will be significantly lower than DAB licenses and infrastructure.

Not to mention, the overall amount of data used by an audio stream is not going to change really now, yet the amount of bandwidth available to customers will increase continually.

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Pirate

Dab in the car

I have DAB in the car but tbh I have been listening to FM lately. I had to retune my set to another London only feed which was supposed to offer much higher quality. However it doesn't sound very good at 80kbps and reception is not as good anymore. So much for being cultured, I am listening to random pirate stations now ;)

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Unhappy

If there is soon to be twice as much capacity

... why isn't the cost of transmission falling? Presumably, Arqiva being a monopoly, they are heavily regulated.

I wonder who the non-execs are? There is a trail to be followed here.......

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Sorry it can't be avoided

It's time the UK embraced the future, bit the bullet and set a date for the unavoidable switchover from DAB to FM

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Re: Sorry it can't be avoided

That's what happened in Germany noted on these very pages: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/01/28/germany_switches_dab_off/

According to Wikipedia, though, they started broadcasting again in 2011.

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Good!

Up here in the frozen North, DAB radios emit a squawk so hideously painful to my ears that I never want to own one.

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Joke

Re: Good!

"DAB radios emit a squawk so hideously painful to my ears"

I agree, those southern accents do grate on the nerves...

P.S. Am I on the naughty step or is Mr O personally moderating all the comments on this article?

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'“We think it would be great if the BBC made Radio 1 or Radio 2 DAB only!”, Paul Keenan, Bauer CEO told the Go Digital festival'

I think it'd be great if Paul Keenan gave me all his money while being forced to listen to a legion of babbling DAB radios. Isn't it fun making up things that'll never happen...

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Who knows! One can always dream!

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FM radio will not be killed...

...it's just that it will be relegated to only carry local radio. It's only the national stations that will be forced to change.

So the FM radios that people have will not be come useless. They will still be able to be used, but only to listen to local stations which will still broadcast on FM.

Does not make me want the switch to happen any time soon. DAB reception is dire on my journey to and from work when I do most of my radio listening.

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Re: FM radio will not be killed...

I don't want to listen to tin-pot parochial radio stations. They're for the benefit of the broadcasters not the listeners.

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Re: FM radio will not be killed...

"still be able to be used, but only to listen to local stations which will still broadcast on FM"

So a rich, culturally varied mix of Top 40 playlists, generic commercial linefeed radio news and commercials and phone ins where you can listen to the very best froth mouthed local xenophobes and right wing nutters. I can hardly wait.

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Re: FM radio will not be killed...@DiViDeD

Agree.

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Re: FM radio will not be killed...

> They will still be able to be used, but only to listen to local stations which will still broadcast on FM.

Local stations that are all commercial, so have a 50/50 mix of adverts and crap "music" they have been paid to play. That'd be a good way to kill FM off once and for all.

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So basically, because the incumbent transmitter operator is price gouging people can't afford to put enough stations on digital to make consumers want a digital radio.

Simple fix, stop the price gouging.

After all, if it costs 16 times as much to run digital as FM then you'd be a fool to want to go digital.

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Anonymous Coward

Radio Birdsong

Doesn't *really* count as an ex-DAB station if it was only ever a test/placeholder transmission surely? :-)

Don't recall ever coming across it on DAB, but I do recall the FM transmissions (apparently the same loop of bird song according to Wikipedia) if only because they confused the hell out of me until I realised they were a test for the soon-to-launch Classic FM.

Given it was a loop, did people ever complain about the repeats (or more likely, did they even notice), or ask them to vary the schedule a bit more, like having Parrots Hour consisting of "who's a pretty boy then" and so on?

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Re: Radio Birdsong

Funnily enough, we have Birdsong down here in Oz too, and it's worth listening to if only for the missing bits. I can remember the FM test broadcasts in the UK, hearing the wind sighing in the trees, a quite decent sense of 'open space', the occasional car in the distance. Not a bad immersive stereo image too.

On my DAB radio, once I've carefully balanced it on the bathroom windowsill and turned the volume up, I can listen to what appear to be a series of electronically generated 'birdsong' samples, in mono, at 64kbps.

Isn't technology wonderful?

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DAB only

They've already made BBC World Service DAB only (well, apart from AM ... it wasn't ever on UK FM). This is the only reason my DAB receiver didn't get thrown in the trash can.

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Meh

I bought a DAB clock radio..but only because I couldn't find any other radio controlled units to replace the old FM Roberts unit that had failed after many years service. Sadly DAB isn't very good there either. The time can be out by anything up to 40 seconds. Randomly it seems :-/

As for actual audio output - meh. It has an iPod dock so I don't listen to the radio itself.

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Market Rates

..the cost of broadcasting a 128kbit/s MP2 stream is 16 times higher than broadcasting the same material via FM

But isn't OFCOM's rule to charge the market rate for frequencies to ensure maximum usage (and revenue)? So if more people want to use FM (and it uses more bandwidth compared to DAB), shouldn't they be practically paying broadcasters to use DAB, rather than shafting them?

If they followed their own rules, more broadcasters would move to digital, and that would lead to more consumers buying DAB kit for the greater choice. (Positive feedback, I believe it's called.) Once DAB is heavily used, switch off FM and ramp up the DAB charges.

Maybe OFCOM should look up the phrase "Loss leader"

Silly me. That's a logical, rational argument; something OFCOM know nothing about.

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Meh

97% of the population

It's frustrating that this is another digital switchover which is being pedalled on the basis that coverage for 'most of the population' is a satisfactory target.

Digital TV was touted as the panacea for lousy reception of terrestrial broadcasts for those in outlying areas. Prior to the TV switchover on the North Norfolk coast, we were treated to mostly flawless Yorkshire TV, but nothing local.

After switchover, the DTV signal doesn't broadcast across The Wash - and the local signal hasn't been boosted to reach the coast. The same is true of DAB where the terrain leaves us in the shadow of the nearest transmitter. And don't think the internet will solve it... we're too far away from the exchange for that. Kill the analogue radio and it’s strictly a pay service (Sky TV isn't brilliant but at least it works).

Unfortunately, the 3% of the population could be the ones who need the service for public broadcast. During the recent floods, the only way we could find out what was going on was via satellite TV or analogue radio. I’d imagine the same could be true for a lot of outlying communities where providing coverage is just inconvenient (i.e. expensive).

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Re: 97% of the population

Ahh, but 'everyone' (who doesn't live at the bottom of a ditch) can get Freesat (from the BBC and ITV) for only £50-£200 for the box and about £90 for the installation, so that's alright then...

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Re: 97% of the population

it’s strictly a pay service (Sky TV isn't brilliant but at least it works).

What about Freesat? Mostly the same channels as DTV/Freeview, upfront cost is just antenna + STB, no subscription.

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Re: 97% of the population

> North Norfolk coast, we were treated to mostly flawless Yorkshire TV

But did you understand it?

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MJI
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Re: 97% of the population

Freesat - get a Humax HDR, dish and quad LNB (2 spares)

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Re: 97% of the population

Arf, arf. Guffaw, guffaw. *wipes eyes*. Brilliant, just brilliant.

Sigh.

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Re: 97% of the population

Thank-you Freesat fans - but unfortunately it's still not a panacea. Perhaps we can prevail on OFCOM to sponsor "free" satellite dishes. Plus installation. Plus replacement after five years when the salty sea air corrodes them to uselessness. At the moment Sky prevails locally, but only because some residents pay for the service and the regular replacement of the kit.

(hashtag unhappyyokel, minorityinterest etc.)

The point is that turning of FM broadcasts would remove an important public service which is available to everyone. Whether or not you like the content, FM Radio remains free and accessible in a way that TV isn't.

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Re: 97% of the population

Understand it? We dreamed of visiting the metropolitan excesses of Grimsby and Hull... as seen on TV.

Er no, I guess not...

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Boffin

Re: 97% of the population

"After switchover, the DTV signal doesn't broadcast across The Wash" - yes it does. My mother lives in Dersingham, and I pointed the main high-gain aerial at Belmont - which is straight across The Wash - and it works just fine. They are lucky in that part of North Norfolk as local TV (BBC1 East and ITV Anglia) is provided by the Sandringham transmitter. Got to keep the royals sweet!

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Across the channel

This malarky has started on this side of the channel (In the Netherlands) as well, with a lot of radio commercials. Everytime I heard one I was thinking: "Why would I want tech that is in most ways exactly the same and in practical use often inferior?". I just don't see DAB as adding anything useful to already existing FM broadcasting.

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Re: Across the channel

And, ironically in the UK, I hear most of the DAB commercials on .... digital radio stations! Makes me laugh.

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Pint

“We think it would be great if the BBC made Radio 1 DAB only!”

Me too... and I'll stick with Radio 4 FM.

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Thumb Up

Re: “We think it would be great if the BBC made Radio 1 DAB only!”

I see nothing at all wrong with this comment.

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