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back to article BBC in secret trial to see if you care about thing you plainly don't

In the last month the BBC quietly switched off AM radio transmitters to see if anyone noticed - and it seems not a lot of people did. Four local radio stations had their medium-wave transmissions axed in the last few weeks. Essex and Hereford are now back on while Nottingham and Kent remain absent in the interest of seeing if …

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Blowing air

We can huff and puff as much as we want, but at the end of the day if they have switched off several stations, and only a couple of people have noticed what difference does it make if they switch the whole lot off. We aren't going to see masses of radios ditched and replaced largely because no-one will notice that the only thing on that band is polish radio stations.

What I don't agree with is ditching FM. DAB does not have good enough coverage

http://www.ukdigitalradio.com/images/coverage-map.gif

Even in the areas marked as having coverage have massive holes in them

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Re: Blowing air

Far more people are always affected and object than the number that complain officially.

Besides will the BBC tell honestly how many complain? Will they have a dedicated freephone number advertised in the local "freeish" papers, A clear link on website with Form. a dedicated email address etc?

Will there be a well publicised consultation.

Or is the procedure and information gathering designed to give the answer they want?

Answers on back of a stamp.

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Re: Blowing air

Yes, DAB needs about x6 more TX sites and double the number of multiplexs or half the channels. 256K MP2 is fine.

Currently online streaming is higher quality than DAB. Current DAB suits a 2" loudspeaker. With enough TX and Muxs so as to have coverage and Quality DAB could be OK. DAB currently is a waste of spectrum and electricity.

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Re: Blowing air

Actually, switching off entire stations (rather than just the am transmitters) shold have been included as a "control". Perhap the reason no-one noticed the loss of am is that no-one is listening to those local stations "at all".

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FAIL

Then there is Radio 5

Where else will we get the footie then?

Don't say DAB. You can buy an AM/FMradio is really small and a single AA battery lasts for hours. Now compare that to DAB portables? you count the battery life in minutes not hours.

don't say on your mobile. Just you try getting a commentary in a stadium with say 60,00+ others all trying to do the same. Unless you put a cell tower in the middle of the pitch it ain't gonna work.

Pah

The BBC might like to take a little walk along to Old Trafford on match days and try it out for themselves. mind you they'd probably fall into the Ship Canal first.

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Black Helicopters

Re: Then there is Radio 5: Mobile?

Actually if you are streaming at 100kbps approx (can be more or less) then one mast can reliably manage about 30 to 90 connections at best. It's not actually possible at all as there are only usually 3 sets of 3 channels and so the masts would interfere if more than about 20 (generously). Can't see how you can have more than 2,000 users no matter how much money you throw at Mobile.

FM level of coverage needs about x6 as many DAB TX. AM level of coverage maybe x20 (lots of small fill in due to it being 200MHz Band III)

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Re: Then there is Radio 5

I think power of receivers is the only argument against the change.

The switch from analogue to digital TV has gone smoothly and, if my mum is anything to go by, people are generally happy with the result (time-shifting has become easier). The same would be true for radio. Of course, people would complain but then they always do.

AM does propagate further and require less power to receive than FM or DAB. Partly because of that there is more money in FM because it allows for a better carve up of the audience (radio is often very local) but there are limits on the number of stations that can run nationwide for the few stations that don't have identikit programming.

Anyway, FM propagation has its own problems: reception of the German version of Radio 4 varies from dreadful to shitty in my flat; it's not on LW and MW receivers are almost non-existent do DAB really is the only choice. I never listen to any of the other stations but then I never watch any of the hundreds of TV channels that are available either (more of the same old shit just at different times and in different languages).

As a society we have embraced digital broadcasting. DAB, or at least DAB+, is a good solution for radio. I suspect that, er, reception would improve if say mobile phones started supporting it instead of / as well as FM so that we could listen to it on speakerphone without having to plug a headset in.

The alternative, of course, given the popularity of radio of DVB-T might simply to extend that.

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Needless obsolescence

No, the primary argument is making hundreds of millions of FM radios - in cars, homes, phones, building sites - needlessly obsolescent overnight, for no benefit whatsoever.

The switch to digital TV made sense because it gave a massive improvement in quality, TV is mostly a full-attention medium where people care about quality, the devices were renewing anyway (CRT to LCD) and most households have only one or two of them. Radio is entirely different. DAB quality improvement is hotly debated; radio is for most people a background medium in a noisy environment, the devices don't require any upgrade and many households have lots of them. I count about 7 in mine, of which 4 are in active use (two cars, one phone, one wind-up portable).

DAB does have its place (where it works) for fixed installations for audiophiles. Fine, let them have it. But for 95% of users its completely unnecessary and because of the power and quality issues, a retrograde step.

... and don't even get me started on the death of truly local radio due to the bigger advertising regions.

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Re: Needless obsolescence

"DAB does have its place (where it works) for fixed installations for audiophiles. Fine, let them have it."

No, no, no! DAB is shunned by audiophiles and anyone with ears because it sounds awful. The stereo image is destroyed. It is totally unsuitable for anything except speech and highly compressed pop music.

And digital tv is no great improvement either. If there's a bit of interference the picture and sound disintegrate or drop out completely. All that happened with analogue was that you got a bit of noise.

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WTF?

Hmm

There is **plenty** of AM activity.. My AOR8200 is used mainly for such things as you can recieve transmissions on AM from all over the planet. Bloody good some of them are too!!!

Bollocks to the BEEB....

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RDS

5 Live on 909 and 693 is still hugely popular, so not an easy thing to do to figure out how to find spectrum for FM. It's about time though, that the large audience for this station could start using RDS whilst listening.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: RDS

Never understood why Radio 5 isn't also broadcast on FM, all the others are - seems a bit arbitrary to me. Annoying too because the reception of it is terrible where I live, no problems with FM though.

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Re: RDS

Never understood why Radio 5 isn't also broadcast on FM

I seem to recall that at the time it was decided that the BBC would not be given any more nationwide FM frequencies so that national commercial radio would have a chance to develop outside.

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Re: RDS

IIRC, Radio 5 was given Radio 1's AM slot when Radio 1 went FM-only.

No radio bandwidth was harmed in the making of this station.

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Boffin

Re: RDS

> IIRC, Radio 5 was given Radio 1's AM slot when Radio 1 went FM-only.

Not quite. Radio 1's frequencies (1053 kHz and 1089 kHz or 275/285m) were given to what is now Talk Sport (was Talk Radio).

693 kHz and 909 kHz were previously used by BBC Radio 2

Radio 1 was much later to the FM only party than the other national BBC radio station. That is why it is up at 97-99 MHz (was an old police radio band?), rather than in the much lower chunk that is Radios 2 (88-91 MHz) , 3 (90-93 MHz), and 4 (92-95 MHz).

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Re: RDS

Radio 5 got Radio 2's old AM slot. I know this as the radio I listen to in my bedroom is 25+ years old and still has the little stickers on it when they shuffled the channel numbers around back in the 1970s or 80s.

I listen to huge amounts of Radio 5. Especially for the sport. That selection of old radios - from bedside clock radio to car stereo via a tiny pocket sized radio for walking around town. It would cost me a lot of cash and endless batteries to replace that little lot. Not very "Green" is it?

And don't say I should be using my mobile phone's data connection instead. That is plain daft. Why would I want to pay to eat up my data quota on the phone? Or risk flattening the battery of my phone while listening to the radio? That is not progress or convenient.

I have introduced a problem into my house now. As noted above, there is something wrong with CE testing. I have a nice new 50" Plasma from Panasonic. And the moment I fire up that screen, it adds a nasty buzz to my AM radios. Frustrating as I prefer the Radio commentary to live footie matches.

Long live AM Radio!!

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Ok so who listens on AM

that would be mostly people driving around in their cars.

And sensible people wouldn’t use a mobile while mobile to report the problem - even if they just happened to know the phone number to ring an complain. And anyway they probably had their channel hijacked by a traffic report about a cow on the road in darkest Lincolnshire 200 miles away.

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Re: Ok so who listens on AM

Yep - car listening. I listen to Radio 5, Radio Wales and Radio 4. Signals are generally consistent wherever I go, unlike FM.

FM for decent music only - but not BBC as Radio 1/2 are generally crap.

I certainly wouldn't bother shelling out for any DAB capability for my car.

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FM radio also being fiddled with ?

I wonder if the 'kill it and see if they notice' test is already being applied to FM as well?

For a few hours every 1-2 months the Radio 3 FM signal from Wrotham (Kent) inexplicably reduces by 15-20 dB causing noticeable degradation of signal. If one reports this (and manages to get a reply) it is said to be due to engineering work or an un-determined fault.

Why does it take the BBC/Arquiva hours to notice the problem?

Why do they make it so hard to report? One has to plough through pages of 'Why do I have a poor signal' web-based troubleshooting script before one can tell them it is their equipment at fault.

Perhaps the thinking is: Make it hard enough to report the problem and most people will give up, so only a tiny minority complain, so it obviously isn't affecting most people and can be switched off.

Lots of money saved, and quality down the pan.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: FM radio also being fiddled with ?

Why does it take the BBC/Arquiva hours to notice the problem?

Probably because the other 5 people listening to radio 3 are asleep and don't report it.

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Unhappy

*presumably* being digital the *transmitter* power efficiency is better

And with those being in the Kw to Mw ranges (I'd doubt less than 10s of Kw) that would save some on the electricity bill.

But IIRC it's behind the *rest* of Europe and not compatible, so taking your new (DAB) radio abroad will be useless.

Perhaps the BBC should accept that it's ability to *force* a new technology on people is over and

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Re: *presumably* being digital the *transmitter* power efficiency is better

Yes, the way of the future is DAB+. Much better ECC (so no "burbling mud"), more efficient codec. DAB is yesterday's technology, so why does the government persist in trying to foist it on us?

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What about outlying areas

When I'm at home in Glasgow city centre, I don't care about AM at all, and never listen to it (except Radio 5 in the car that is...).

But when out in the Scottish countryside, and up North, it is often the only reliable reception you can get. LW Radio 4 is often the *only* BBC radio station that can be received!

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DAB should not be more expensive

DAB is essentially a tuner and an MP2 decoder. Hardware costing £5 should be able to pick it up). It's too bad that the UK chose to adopt DAB given how poor the codec is. The brave / smart thing to do would be to legislate that all DAB receivers must be DAB+ compatible and for digital radio switchover allow DAB+ stations to intermingle with DAB stations. Over time DAB+ would naturally take over and the old format could be junked.

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Re: DAB should not be more expensive

Was there really any other codec choice at the time DAB was first planned and implemented? What they should have done was lobbied for DAB/DAB+ capable radios as soon as DAB+ came along. It didn't help that they never persuaded the car makers to fit DAB or DAB+ by default in new vehicles.

Or my favourite approach: the BBC *denies*, quite truthfully, that The Archers is to be moved to DAB/+. All of middle England refuses to believe them and after a quiet and well-mannered protest outside BH ("What do we want? A return to the status quo ante! When do we want it? As soon as conveniently practicable, thank you!") stops off at Curry's to pick up a new DAB radio.

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Re: DAB should not be more expensive

DAB+ Ha!

They would just use it to have slightly lower quality and twice as many stations to reduce the costs.

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Re: DAB should not be more expensive

"They would just use it to have slightly lower quality and twice as many stations to reduce the costs."

What's wrong with that? One of the main complaints of DAB is its expensive (for broadcasters) and I expect commercial stations would be all over an improvement that allowed them to place more stations in a mux without any perceptible loss in quality.

This in turn would drive consumer demand because there are a better choice of stations and the sound quality is better and there are less drop outs.

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Fitted dab to my car this week

I bought a new fangled Kenwood DAB car head unit with a usb socket that can take a flash drive this week. Was having trouble with analogue reception unless i wanted to listen to BBC radio or Kiss etc only about 4 channels I could get on FM without very bad interferance. The radio came with a new antenna which stuck on the corner of the windscreen but found I was losing reception on the DAB stations on my drive home over the south downs and didnt like the look of it a bit messy. I bought a splitter device that goes behind the head unit for 20 quid and converts the existing car aerial into a DAB one and the signal is much better just cut out a couple of times right in the vallys bits or near big hills. I have noticed some stations have very low bit rate though, one station last night Absolute Rock I think had a 60kbps bit rate which seemed to make the talking sound way too deep and harsh like speaking into a mic thats too close.

Much prefer DAB now as cant seem to get anologue reception very easily, my old sony radio alarm clock is waking me up with horrible static buzzing now because I cant find anything on that either well except for Radio 4 but I dont trust that to wake me up ;)

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Scrap DAB not my AM/FM radios

I listen to 5Live on AM only because the BBC refuse to allocate it an FM frequency.

Scrapping millions of AM/FM radios to introduce second rate DAB is madness.

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Alert

DAB vs AM/FM

Lots of places need the "Whip" up for FM. The AM is convenient and gives coverage to small number of places not reached by AM.

Battery costs

1) Old AM Valve Portable Radio using replicated battery packs: 60 to 400 hours and 6p to 12p per hour depending on model. The 1953 to 1960 models only used 25mA @ 1.4V per filament and 6.5mA to 9mA HT depending on model

2) Decent 1965 to 2000+ AM/FM portable transistor or IC set: 60 to 250 hours and typically 1p to 8p per hour depending on Model and loudness.

3) DAB sets : 4 hours (4 x AA some current models) to allegedly 120 (latest Roberts using expensive Alkaline D cells) 5p to 75p per hour. (Lower price assuming cheap supermarket Alkaline, not Energizer/Duracell/Panasonic and Roberts are truthful about consumption).

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Got DAB in my car

and love it. I wouldnt buy a car without it now. The choice of stations is excellant, ease of use is great, and if i like the track it even tells me who is playing.

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Meh

Re: Got DAB in my car

"... if i like the track it even tells me who is playing."

That information comes up on the dash display of my antiquated Opel Zafira from its crappy old FM unit. Many of the stations round these parts alternate the track info and station ident while they're playing music.

If you want to cheerlead for DAB, at least pick something that cannot be done with FM rather than something that's perfectly possible but just isn't done due to local implementation.

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Facepalm

I see it was LOCAL radio.....

....they switched off, which I tend to feel that hardly anyone bothers to listen to.

Maybe the Beeb could save money by getting rid of local Beeb radio stations instead?

Radio Norfolk is terrible.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I see it was LOCAL radio.....

"Radio Norfolk is terrible."

Radio Scotland is worse!

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Holmes

Re: I see it was LOCAL radio.....

Maybe the Beeb could save money by getting rid of local Beeb radio stations instead?"

Isn't that already in the cost cutting proposals? Not so much getting rid of "local" radio but amalgamating them into "regional" radio instead. On the other hand, they've been doing that for years after about 7pm.

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WTF?

Isnt DAB also....

20+ year old tech?

In that case why hasn't it followed all other tech and now only costs £5 or is given away with 5 litres of oil?

It always has appeared to remain reassuringly expensive.

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Economies of scale...

As DAB sets are effectively UK-only, they don't have the global economy of scale that other consumer electronics benefit from....

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MJI
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Older head units

Some of us have decent head units which we do not want to replace.

I have a FM-AM-LW MD head unit with CD changer control.

If FM disappeared I would simply not listen to the radio.

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Megaphone

I quite like DAB & FM

I have one of these Pure portables http://www.pure.com/products/product.asp?Product=vl-60799 when out-and-about. It's rechargeable and I certainly get a day's use out of it. Use it in the car via the phone socket and works along the M4 corridor from Bridgend to Newport but can't vouch for the Intercity to Paddington!

I rarely listen to AM stations and the bedroom radio is a Pure DAB and I have a small DAB in the kitchen. Nation Radio and Nation 80's are not on the FreeSat and a lot of the 80's / 90's stations are only available on DAB.

the two questions to ask are (a) is the BBC going to save much money by switching off some or all of their AM transmission but (b) is there anything sensible that can be done with the FM spectrum?

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They should clearly axe the obsolete standard

DAB, that is. The sheer amount of wastage that would be caused by abandoning FM is eye-watering, and the power consumption and complexity of DAB is ridiculous in comparison.

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Re: They should clearly axe the obsolete standard

The sheer amount of wastage that would be caused by abandoning FM

What wastage would that be?

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FAIL

Re: They should clearly axe the obsolete standard

"What wastage would that be?"

How about millions of car radios for one? How about millions of home radios (including clock alarms, AV receivers and radios on the shelf in the back street garage)?

Such a silly question.

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Re: They should clearly axe the obsolete standard

200 million plus radios for the tip (for example, I have 6 FM radios in use at home).

A large increase in energy consumption.

For what, exactly?

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Is the spectrum released by shutting down these transmitters going to be made publicly available?

Or is it going to be auctioned off to the highest corporate bidder?

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They can leave FM alone

I'm just not convinced that DAB is sufficiently better than FM to justify trashing all the FM radios that are about and in service. I'm all for progress, but only when it is going to make things better. The move to digital TV is better because we get more channels, better reception, the EPG, etc, but for radio, you just need it to work and for the signal to degrade nicely.

If they want to get rid of AM, that's fine by me. I used to play around with it as a kid when I got my first radio purely because i was fascinated to see what you could get (talk stations and some foreign ones) but I've never used it seriously.

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First off, I like DAB. Have a receiver I bought a few years back in the kitchen, and it's great for listening to while I'm cooking.

The only other place I listen to radio is in the car. Herein lies the problem: I don't have a DAB in the car. I am unwilling to go out and buy another radio when FM suits me fine for this. When I'm driving, I don't much care what I'm listening to (within reason). It's just background noise to stop me getting bored on the motorway.

As for AM, I haven't listened to it since I built my first crystal set as a kid. However, I would hate to see it turned off, purely because I want top be able to teach my kids to build a crystal set. It was a fantastic learning experience with an immediately useful result. You wired it up, and you could listen to the radio. Something you built yourself was picking up professionally produced content, and it inspired me to learn HOW it did so. It was probably the first moment I was truly excited to learn, and inspired a lifelong love of electronics.

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FAIL

D-Love?!

An animated character called 'D-Love'?!

After that hideous robotic thing that invaded my TV during the digital switchover this might be the tipping point.

Why do people think 'cheeky, loveable, cute, funny, SAFE' children's characters are a suitable marketing ploy or that ANY sane adult will appreciate them ... ?

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Radio 5 should be on FM

It always amazes me that BBC Radio4, and even more so, Radio 3, are broadcast on so many of the BBC's FM channels yet 5 Live with it's superb news and sports coverage is demoted to MW and is almost impossible to listen to at night.

BBC Radio needs to be on FM now!

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Stop

The Problem with DAB

T-- --obl-- ---h --- --- is ---- --ro-

Oh bugger this *changes back to FM*

I said, the problem with DAB is that, from personal experience, living near to a tree reduces the number of DAB stations from 30-ish to 0. Also, having walls in your house stops the signal. Even thin walls; and if you're round the back of the house even just thinking particularly hard stops the broadcast.

Now you can accuse me of being Too Northern (I live within clear sight of the Cheviots) to get modern radio, but if you're in direct line of sight of a transmitter and simply covering your (extremely expensive and battery gobbling) radio's antenna with your HAND can stop you getting radio signal, then it is hardly a stable and equally provisional service to venerable FM is it now?

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Anonymous Coward

I get turning off AM but not FM, think of the number of FM radios out there...

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