back to article Save DAB! Send FM radios to Africa

Dumping tech is in the news again. Last week MIT's Nicholas Negroponte appealed for broken OLPC laptops to be sent to Haiti, but this will be dwarfed if the UK radio industry gets its way. Trade body Digital Radio UK wants Britons to send perfectly good working FM radios to Africa, in the hope it will accelerate our migration to …


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  1. LPF
    Thumb Down

    The problem is...

    That the DAB radio signal has not been increased to the point that it can be reliably listened while on the move.

    There are still massive black spots around the country, also the power requirements are still to high for portable radios.

    Plus there are still articfial restrictions such as only allowing people to slect 10 dab presets on portables, I assume becuase there is only a couple of suppliers of dab chipsets, becuase I'm at a lost to understand while there are raiods with fm that can store 20-30 channels why dab is restisted to 10 max on portables!

  2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

    Blackspots. I'll say!

    I have a 50 mile drive to work. I can get Radio 4 (which surely must be one of the stronger stations) on DAB for the first 5 miles, and the last 2. At one other point during the drive, I may just about be able to get a signal good enough to recognise the broadcaster, but not what they are talking about.

    This is on a properly fitted, car specific DAB radio. And about 13 miles of the journey which is DAB dead is on the M5.

    I'm sticking to FM, even though I want to listen to Planet Rock and BBC7, and I invite Peter Mandledroid down here anytime to see whether he would find DAB acceptable as an FM replacement (I would even refrain from haranguing him about much of the dross he says in public during the process)!

  3. David Gosnell


    The presets thing is a bit of a red herring. I used to think the same, until I bought a DAB stereo. The lack of presets isn't a big deal, because initial scanning on the DAB system inherently stores the tunable stations in a way that FM generally never did. So it's quick and easy to scroll through 30-odd proven stations rather than trust fate with FM searching that frequently misses. There are also presets, but they merely provide an even quicker shortcut to one's favourites, and to be honest we've never bothered setting them up. This experience is with Pure, but pretty sure they use the same off-the-shelf chips as everyone else.

  4. ChrisC

    Dib DAB Dob...

    "Plus there are still articfial restrictions such as only allowing people to slect 10 dab presets on portables"

    Not quite - there might only be 10 presets for favourite stations, but since the set has already scanned for and stored every station available at the time of the scan, accessing any other station is simply a matter of scrolling through the station list until you find the name you're looking for, and off you go.

    In comparison, run out of presets on an analogue radio and it's then a case of either remembering the frequency or (if its a FM station) hoping it's broadcasting the correct RDS info, and then waiting for the radio to scan through until it finds the station. In areas with lots of stations and using a radio which doesn't offer direct frequency input (i.e. most of them) it could take a while to get there, easily longer than it takes to find a DAB station by scrolling through the list ... So yes, on analogue sets the more presets the better.

  5. Anonymous Coward

    i'll rip my car radio apart then

    let me see - its built into the CD player, so i'll have to rip some of the circuits out and leave the ones that deal with the CD player intact.

    give me a few minutes and i'll grab an envelope and post it w- what did you say the address was "Poor person, Africa" .

    ok then.


    You have been.


    Fricking digital radio waste. As if anyone cared. Its had its time its had its power.

    I remember at school we built an AM radio out of a few scraps in the science lab. It picked up Radio 1 quite well. Now *that*s technology that'll survive the fall of mankind not this digital crap.

  6. Lionel Baden

    agreed i made a stereo FM transmitter

    new company van not 3 months old and yup you guessed it FM radio

    why the hell would i fork out £500+ for a digital replacement.

    oh thats right cause sooner or later they are just going to cut off FM transmissions :( regardless of how much we want to keep them .......

  7. Frank Bough

    You tell 'em

    ...there's nothing so bold as declaiming "this digital crap" on the WWW. Nice work there, son.

  8. Intractable Potsherd

    Are you familiar with the saying ...

    ... "horses for courses"?

    There is absolutely no advantage in going to digital radio - the current system works fine.

  9. Scott Wichall

    AV reciever

    Yeah, like I am going to send my AV processor (which is FM only).......

    Plus the sound quality from DAB is inferior IMO.

  10. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

    Sound quality?

    This is subjective, but I would say that a high bit rate DAB station when the signal is good sounds better than FM. But the problem is that only a small number of the stations actually broadcast a high enough bit rate, and you cannot depend on a good signal.

    In general, I would prefer to listen to hissy, uninterrupted FM in the car than to a DAB station that keeps dropping out for seconds at a time. But at it's (infrequent) best, DAB can sound superb. I listened to a carol service on Classic FM (on DAB - 160kbps) in a quiet environment through decent headphone recently which was simply breathtaking in its clarity, dynamic range and lack of noise or digital artifacts. Very rare, but a good indication of what is possible.

  11. JasonW

    Go on then, I'll bang on a bit more about DAB v FM

    Here I am, in Scotland, but because I dare to live outside the central belt - I cannot get any local (or local-national) radio via DAB because there's co commercial multiplex and OFCOM refuse to even advertise for it (because the service area is unattractive). So gone is any local news or any local programming. What a great idea.

    I can however get the World Service, 1Xtra, Asian Network - which between them would possibly garner a combined listenership well into double figures. In fact I'm so lucky that I can get 2 versions of all of the stations on the PSB bouquet but they're all in some crappy overcompressed format that is on a par with good medium wave or pre-stereo FM with ghosting.

    For my neighbours to the south, in England, they have the same story - because they're in a sparsely populated area (mid- & north-Northumberland)

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Because you 'dare' to live outside the central belt.

    Ooooh get you. So original and different. If you choose to live out of the way, stop whining when basic economics kicks in.

  13. Joe 3

    Basic economics HAS kicked in...

    DAB is an economic failure. This chap in the highlands can still use FM just fine. FM has economically kicked DAB in.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Same here...

    I'm in Scotland too ... in an area with no DAB coverage whatever. Barely a year since a local branch of a national supermarket was done over by Trading Standards for aggressively selling DAB radios no-one could use (their excuse that the radios were 'DAB ready' cutting no ice whatever with the court). As we were one of the first areas in the country to go 100% with digital TV, it's hard to see why we would even want DAB radio with so many radio channels on Freeview.

    DAB - like HD TV - is just one more way of getting us to fork out for expensive new kit to replace our perfectly serviceable (and much cheaper) existing equipment. Unfortunately, in RIPOFFUK Plc, between the media industries and bought-and-paid-for politicians, it seems the consumer isn't being given a choice.

    But then, when all's said and done, it's all only radio and TV. Personally, I'd sooner take the dog for a walk and buy a few good books...

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "As we were one of the first areas in the country to go 100% with digital TV, it's hard to see why we would even want DAB radio with so many radio channels on Freeview."

    You've got digital TV in your car? I am impressed.

    It is a serious point that many people only ever listen to radio in the car and most regular radio listeners do some of their listening in the car. So digital radio on the move really needs to be adressed. Not only are DAB head units horribly expensive there are so many blackspots that using it on the move is a nightmare.

    The Ofcom argument is that these blackspots will be adressed as uptake improves. That really is a crock. People won't pay a premium to put DAB in their cars unless they are going to get good reception, so the coverage needs to be there before people will buy into it. Ofcom don't just have a chicken and egg quandry there, they think people will buy egg cups when most of the shops don't even have eggs.

  16. MarkOne

    None of my FM radios work

    They are full of BBC and local radio crud. I have updated all the radios on my house to be DAB so I can get the channels I want to listen to, and not the "if it's not the playlist, you aren't playing it" crud.

    Sure it would be nice to get DAB in the car too, but I can live without that for the moment, a 30GB MP3 player hooked up gives me tonnes of music...

  17. Richard IV

    It's the other way round for me

    Every single DAB radio I've owned has broken inside a year. It's not as if I bang them around or anything. By way of comparison, I've had cheap as chips FM radios that the BOFH would struggle to break without WMDs.

    I'm skipping to streaming when they shut down FM...

  18. ThomH Silver badge

    I've had the same DAB for five years

    An intempo something. It was a gift and I've had good reception of a bunch of stations in Nottingham, Cumbria and here in London.

    That said, I expect an FM radio would last five years and give me good reception of a bunch of stations in Nottingham, Cumbria and London. So, no, I can't justify the cost or the change.

  19. Tanuki
    Thumb Up

    Thumpin' Choonz FM.

    From my PoV the only real benefit of BBC etc migrating over to DAB is that it'll free up a good slice of the FM spectrum for re-use by undocumented broadcasters.

  20. Version 1.0 Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Good Idea!

    Right - let's send the DAB radios to Africa ...

  21. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

    I'll second that and raise you..

    Good idea. Send them the DAB receivers and chuck in the multiplexes as well.

    There's absolutely no need for energy-hungry lo-fi digital broadcasting to chew up bandwidth that can be used for better purposes. Besides, you can get more and better programming with a much wider choice of listening off Internet Radio.

    BTW, whatever happened to Digital Radio Mondial?

  22. Gary Myers

    Whatever happened to DRM?

    It is being trailed, but if you live near someone using PLT devices, you can forget about it! The conducted emissions from PLT wipe out the very transmitter frequencies used by DRM.

  23. thechanklybore


    It's not often I agree with you Andrew (in face you might say that I often vehemently disagree), but you're right on the button with this. Why oh why should anyone waste time, energy and perfectly good radios by shipping them halfway around the world when we're so busy listening to the terrifying reports of global warming caused by excess carbon emissions being broadcast on them? Bizarre.

  24. Sheppy

    DAB - killed by the compression...

    Gave up listening to DAB earlier when I discovered how bad the 128K MP2 sound quality is. Even freeview gets 192K

  25. Anonymous Coward

    I don't think so......

    Well, i know precisely one person who has a DAB radio and that's it.

    Let's see, I have 3 FM/AM radios in my house, one on my mobile phone, and one in my car. I get great reception on all of them other than with the mobile phone but I hardly ever use it for that purpose anyway and it's "good enough" for the times i want it.

    So, how much do you think it would cost for 3 portable DAB radios of decent sound quality, a replacement BMW in car DAB headunit and umm.......any mobile phones with DAB built in? None that I know of.

    Probably end up being cheaper to move to Africa to continue to listen using perfectly decent electronics than change over to crap DAB which i don't want.......

    DAB can get stuffed, overpriced and the portable radios are as ugly as sin.

  26. AndrueC Silver badge

    Hah hah.

    I was looking at replacing one of my radios recently (for some reason it's getting fainter and fainter and soon won't have any play left on the volume control). Anyway I did some research and discovered the cheapest DAB radio was £50. Cheapest FM..well if I held my hand out someone would probably push one into it. Worse still though the DAB site for the UK advised me to get a proper aerial. It did point out that it was available through my TV and the web..but that's rather pointless and wasteful.

    DAB might have some value if they used it to increase audio quality - but they don't. As with TV they are choosing quantity over quality.

  27. Chris Johnson 2

    DAB decoding delays...

    Main problem I have with DAB is that each reciever takes slightly different times to decode the signal. With FM, I can have the radio on upstairs, downstairs and in the bedroom whilst I'm wandering around the house doing things and everything's just nice -- can move from room to room with the radio twittering away seamlessly.

    With DAB I don't have that - there's always an audible delay, which makes it bothersome, especially if you're spending time twixt a couple of radios. If they can get that sorted, I'll be happy. Otherwise I'll stick with analogue, ta.

  28. Hate2Register

    Maybe... or NOT

    "Main problem I have with DAB is that each reciever takes slightly different times to decode the signal."

    I don't have that problem. My Denon dab and my roberts dab are perfectly in time with each other...

  29. Pigeon

    yeg but

    Not in time with an fm radio. If you set the clock from the pips, it will be a second out.

  30. Nigel 11
    Thumb Down

    Go back to the drawing board

    Dab is a technological mis-step, like the twelve-inch video disk or ECL logic. Time to start again.

    It needs a decent Codec. Preferably, one that can be upgraded across the airwaves, should a mark 3(?) Codec become preferable at a future date.

    It needs much better error recovery for use (especially) in moving vehicles. My suggestion would be as well as the standard broadcast multiplex, have a highly compressed version of the broadcasts available on a second multiplex with a five-second delay (and maybe a third one delayed even more). In a moving car, play with a delay. If the primary data stream drops out, splce in the low-resolution secondary or tertiary broadcast. You'll hear some transient distortion rather than a total drop-out. Just like FM!

    And it needs battery-powered portables that don't eat batteries any faster than an FM radio of the same audio wattage.

    If the next version of DAB can't do better than FM for car radios, with respect to both error-tolerance and broadcast coverage, just don't bother. Kill DAB and keep FM. Frankly, if you can't sell it to the auto industry for all new factory-fitted radios, then return to the drawing board.

  31. JMB


    "Plus there are still articfial restrictions such as only allowing people to slect 10 dab presets on portables,"

    And how many FM radios have more than 10 presets?

    Why do you need more than 10 presets?

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I've got more than ten presets on all my radios, FM or DAB. Shirley the limitation is not part of DAB technology but the individual receiver.

  33. Evil Graham
    Thumb Down

    Mine's In My Car

    Bit of a logistical issue, that.

  34. Hate2Register
    Thumb Down

    My thoughts..

    I like dab cos of its good quality audio. Also it's new and shiny. FM on t'other hand is crap quality and ancient, I'm sure everyone would agree. So, a no-brainer, except that all the regional and advert channels are on fm, not dab. Why? Fücked if I know.

    The solution of course is to offer the regional and ad-supported channels a rent-free period on dab. Also increase the fees for sitting around on FM.Then they all migrate to their new home, and eventually we switch off the FM bollocks. Like in 20 years, when the last prejudiced/jaded Reg hack has died, leaving his/her crappy old fm radio to their cat.

    If auntie and big-brother want us to switch over completely, then make it happen. Enough of this faffing around. Arseholes.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Here's a penny then

    You happen to live somewhere where you have good DAB and bad FM reception. If everyone would live where you do, then maybe everyone would agree with you. But then, maybe not. Since most people don't share your abode, reading the other reactions here, I'd say everyone would not agree with you.

    FM, as a technology, works. It's been around for ages and radio makers know very well indeed how to make an FM radio, good or cheap, as you like it. DAB is new technology, meaning that there'll still be kinks in the hardware on all sides even if the cheap plastic case hasn't dented yet. From what I heard DAB fails sooner and less gracefully than FM. Worse, it has limitations built into it that make it already obsolete as far as state of the art digital broadcasting technology goes, with no room for gradual improvements or upgrades. Meaning that all upgrades mean would-be listeners have to buy new radios again. And that before the broadcasters even got serious with rolling it out and replacing FM.

    As to what they use it for, well, don't hold your breath for anything "better" on DAB. That ecology is much the same once it has to hold up its trousers itself. But quite clearly already DAB is a losing proposition. Even if they stopped "faffing around" right now.

    I'll keep decades-old FM, TYVM.

  36. Tom 35 Silver badge

    Shiny turd

    "I like dab cos of its good quality audio." Next to an AM radio with a few holes poked in the speaker. It can sound ok if they don't use the minimum possible bit rate like most of them do.

    "Also it's new and shiny." So is a bronzed turd.

    "FM on t'other hand is crap quality and ancient, I'm sure everyone would agree." No I don't think they would.

    "Why? Fücked if I know." Because DAB is crap and already obsolete (DAB+ came out in 2007).

  37. Rob Beard

    Incentive for commercial stations

    Commercial stations (i.e. stations like Heart, Galaxy etc) already have a good incentive to broadcast on DAB. By broadcasting on DAB they already had their broadcasting licences extended (IIRC for something like 10 years).

    When I worked at a local radio station (now a Heart station) they mainly broadcasted the same thing on FM and DAB, however occasionally they would opt out of the normal programming on FM and do 'exclusive shows'. Sometimes they were 'celebrity' shows with the latest popular celebrity doing a show on a Sunday evening, or other times they did a local show for fans of the local football team with exclusive interviews with players etc. I'm not sure how popular it was at the time especially as the DAB feed was across two regions and the other region had an opposing football team.

    I personally pretty much gave up on DAB after I left the radio station. They provided me with a company car with built in DAB so it was a nice change occasionally to listen to Planet Rock and most of the time I got reasonable reception (although there was one section of the M5 and the North Devon Link Road where I couldn't get any reception, either that or it sounded like bubbling mud). However when I was made redundant and had to give the company car back, I was back in my own car with a Minidisc head unit from 1996 with FM, I wasn't prepared to replace it with a DAB unit, or get one of those DAB addon units as they were too expensive.

    I do have a DAB radio, in fact we have two in the house, one sounds pretty good as it's a proper micro system with separate speakers, but the other one is one of those crappy £30 Sainsbury's own brand units with a single mono speaker which IMO sounds crap on FM or DAB and doesn't do the music any justice!

    So anyway back on topic, I won't be sending my FM radios away, I don't use them much but I want to hang on to them for a bit longer yet.


  38. Peter Gathercole Silver badge


    Ah. The same section of the M5 and North Devon link road that I can't get reception on then.

    But for me, it extends north all the way up the A396 until I get nearly to the coast, when presumably, I start picking up the Welsh multiplexes.

  39. Cameron Colley

    Why "radio" at all?

    If I want to listen to "live" over-compressed pop music on my commute I'll plug some headphones into my phone and listen to a shoutcast stream. For anything else there are podcasts (not that I use them) and my personal music collection.

    Since it is already the government's stated intention to give us all internet -- why don't they scrap DAB and concentrate on the internet -- which can give us porn, endless babbling and El Reg as well as smug tossers and shitty music?

    Granted, I'm not in Wogan^H^H^H^H^HChris Evan's or Mark and Lard's demographic -- but any teenager, or even my old mom, can tune into BBC iPlayer, for example.

  40. Stratman


    From the original article:-

    " Why don't they get the the first world investment and high grade IT they deserve?"

    Could it be because their leaders would rather spend the money on weapons, shiny uniforms and themselves?

  41. hplasm Silver badge
    Big Brother


    ... very much similar to our own then. Should get on like a House on fire. If only...

  42. Circadian


    Quick check - which country are we talking about again?

  43. Hate2Register

    Kill yourself..

    Anyone who says dab is bad quality obviously hasn't been listening to fm recently, which is often appalling. Even if the MP3 purists sniff at dab's 128 bit rate (you snobs), no-one would claim that fm gets anywhere near the audio quality. Add dropouts, interference, lack of coverage, and poor stereo reception and you'll agree that fm is strictly for valve-driven relics.

    Let's the gov take back fm frequencies and hand out dab ones on the cheap. Then we can all have good quality radio without the anal arguments.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You're not very nice, but very wrong

    You can come out from your hole under the DAB transmission tower now and try how it holds up at the edges of DAB reach. And look where those edges are. There's more places where DAB doesn't hold up and FM does than vice versa.

  45. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

    FM quality?

    It could be apples and oranges here of course. If you have a decent aerial on a radio that does not move, especially if it is in some form of HiFi, FM quality is predictable and generally quite good. But even in this case, the stereo decoding introduces hiss (try hitting the mono button on your tuner when listening in a quiet environment, and seeing how the hiss disappears). And you must remember that many of the commercial FM stations use dynamic range compression and dead space elimination techniques to boost the quiet parts of the music and make hiss less noticeable. Try listening to Radio 3 or Classic FM if you want to make comparisons.

    In a car, there is all sorts of interference, especially when the car is moving. There are drop outs as you move, especially in built-up or hilly areas, and cars are not good environments for electrically sensitive equipment (yours may be well shielded and suppressed, but you cannot control the rusty 20 year old Fiesta that pulls up next to you at the lights!)

    In some cases, DAB can eliminate this interference. If you get a good enough data stream, other interference can becomes irrelevant (it's digital!), and transmission and decoding hiss disappears. But more often than not, the same interference that degrades the FM signal will also damage the digital signal, and when the DAB receiver does not get a enough of the digital stream, it either burbles or just drops out for a couple of seconds, whereas FM may still be listenable.

    My guess is that a lot of the people who say DAB is good and FM is bad listen to FM in the car, and DAB in the home, whereas a lot of the people who say that DAB coverage is bad are probably trying to use it on the move, or just in areas of crap reception, where FM degrades more gracefully.

  46. Mike Shepherd
    Thumb Up

    Better still...

    Better still, why not send the DAB receivers to Africa, so we can keep our FM.

    The entrepreneurs (solvers of problems we don't have) can go with them.

  47. Campbeltonian

    Internet streaming does for me

    I've got one of those iPod/iPhone speaker sets with a built-in FM radio. I can plug in my iPhone and, using a radio streaming app, listen to local, national and international radio at whatever bitrate the station streams in. It doesn't work in the car of course, but from what I hear neither does DAB.

    What would possess me to buy a DAB radio?

  48. Harry

    Sounds like a silly question to me ...

    "Why do you need more than 10 presets?"

    At a guess, its so that you can store the details of more than 10 radio stations.

    You wouldn't ask "why does a browser have to be able to store more than 10 bookmarks", would you?

    Oh, perhaps you would.

    Of course, it is slightly rhetorical at present. Probably most people cannot get more than 10 DAB stations at an even remotely listenable quality. But that's Oftel's fault for allowing the multiplex operators to squeeze in too many stations for the allocated bandwidth.

  49. Alan Denman

    Power usage will soar!

    Guarantees a bit more global warming.

    Small FM radios use about 100mw whilst your average DAB set uses 8000mw (8 watts)

    So do we now get a maximum 8000% increase in our energy requirements?

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Reading the signs

    DAB sounds to me like a solution looking for a pork barrel. Only trouble is that it has been and will be for the foreseeable future outperformed by its non-digital ancestor.

    So, reading the signs on the wall, I will predict this: DAB will be pushed through regardless, it will fail, service will be abysmal, usage will drop, optionally there will be inquiries, but the perps will get their cosy promotion and/or followup assignment and will add "visionary project leadership" to their CVs. Thus we have another illusion of digital revolution added to the national infrastructure.


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