back to article Analogue radio is the tech that just won't die

Comms regulator Ofcom has highlighted what devices and digital services Britons use ahead of the UK's annual shopping orgy. The data was actually released in its vast compendium of consumer habits, a tome so large details sometimes get lost. The big trends aren't surprising: the UK is one of the most rapid adopters of …

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  1. Caustic Soda

    The Government should continue to ignore the tedious bleating from the DAB industry that we should turn off analogue. DAB is a hopeless technology which delivers audio quality not much better than AM.

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Most radios are tiny, tinny, little things, so audio quality beyond 'good enough' is not most people's first priority. As long as there's no static, they're happy.

      1. Caustic Soda

        I get that, but some of us have very nice audio equipment which we expect high standards from. A high-fidelity broadcast will still be "compatible" with a 2" speaker on a kitchen radio. An MP2 DAB broadcast sounds absolutely terrible on my floor-standing Mission speakers. It costs nobody any more to produce a hi-fi signal than it does an MP2 one.

    2. wolfetone Silver badge

      We have a DAB radio in the house for the dog when we're out. One day I was at home and it was rather stormy, and I noticed the signal on the radio kept being interrupted. I dug out an old Ghetto blaster thing with an FM radio on it from the mid-80's, there was no loss in signal.

      Call me old fashioned, but DAB isn't ready for the mainstream yet.

    3. Alister Silver badge

      It's not so much the audio quality that bothers me, it's the inconsistent signal.

      Using a DAB radio at a friend's house, which is situated on top of a hill, with line of sight to the nearest transmitter, we still get regular signal dropouts. I would imagine it's unusable in a car round here.

      Is this push for DAB just so they can sell off the radio spectrum, or is there actually a sound technological reason to use it?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        that's the thing you need LOS Where I live on the coast we have no LOS to the transmitter so don't get any DAB

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        'Innovations' such as DAB, IoT, Smart <insert name of thing here>, are generally all about increasing control over the plebs and increasing profits. How on earth did we as the human race manage to survive 1000s of years without these things?

    4. Rameses Niblick the Third Kerplunk Kerplunk Whoops Where's My Thribble? Silver badge

      The Government should continue to ignore the tedious bleating from the DAB industry that we should turn off analogue. DAB is a hopeless technology which delivers audio quality not much better than AM.

      They can switch off analogue when I can receive something other than BBC radio on my DAB radio. Last year most of the DAB stations switched to another network, so the only stations my DAB radios (car and kitchen) get are from the BBC. Not that I mind BBC stations so much, but I bought a radio which should in theory receive any station, not just BBC specific ones.

      At home now I have bought a broadband radio as it is much more functional (in terms of choice) and reliable than DAB. In the car, I've switched back to analogue.

      1. Spazturtle Silver badge

        ". Last year most of the DAB stations switched to another network, so the only stations my DAB radios (car and kitchen) get are from the BBC."

        They probably switched to DAB+ (AAC) which cannot be picked up by original DAB (MP2) receivers. Ofcom has said that everyone should migrate to DAB+, so in a few years you will hear nothing on a DAB receiver.

        1. Ragarath
          Coat

          They probably switched to DAB+ (AAC) which cannot be picked up by original DAB (MP2) receivers. Ofcom has said that everyone should migrate to DAB+, so in a few years you will hear nothing on a DAB receiver.

          But when all the Dabby-ness of things was being debated, everyone in the know was saying mandate DAB+ but they decided to go with DAB. Now we are seeing what has happened because they did not listen. People purchased radios because they were told FM would get switched off. People can't get DAB+ but because they purchased a DAB radio don't understand why they can't get it, they got this new DAB thing that they were told to get but now it's not working.

          To top it off they've now been told that it's because the thing they purchased in good faith, as it was to be the standard, is now a brick because everyone is moving to what should have been a standard, and they have to buy a new thing.

          All they did with the silly awareness stuff and the lack of creating a proper standard for the UK was to confuse the whole issue and made people waste money.

          Sorry rant off I'll get my coat.

          1. Spazturtle Silver badge

            "But when all the Dabby-ness of things was being debated, everyone in the know was saying mandate DAB+ but they decided to go with DAB. Now we are seeing what has happened because they did not listen. People purchased radios because they were told FM would get switched off. People can't get DAB+ but because they purchased a DAB radio don't understand why they can't get it, they got this new DAB thing that they were told to get but now it's not working."

            Same story with DVB-T (SD) which we rolled out for Digital TV, but by then not only had the development of DVB-T2 (HD) been going on for a few years but if was Ofcom's proposal for DVB-T2 that was accepted. Ofcom had demonstrated DVB-T2 back in 2007 and finalised it in 2009 and yet the government still went ahead with the roll out of DVB-T.

            One of the big annoyances of DVB-T that DVB-T2 fixes is not being able to support multiple resolutions and codecs on the same channel number, which is why BBC HD 1 is on channel 101, BBC HD 2 on 102, ect. DVB-T2 is designed to ignore any extra data it doesn't understand, so if a 1080p receiver sees a 1080p signal and a 4K signal it will simply use the 1080p signal. So 4K BBC One will share channel 101 with 1080p BBC One.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              bit like the other current fiasco SMART Meters!

              1. Ledswinger Silver badge

                bit like the other current fiasco SMART Meters!

                Yes, in two similar ways, the roll out, and the technology. The main public face of the smart meter fiasco is the botched roll out programme that DECC and BEIS conceived against all industry advice and against common sense. The imminent NAO report will bring this to light, and it will run and run, whilst government wander round with fingers in their ears going "LA-LA-LA can't hear you".

                The less obvious face, and the one that parallels the technology fiascos of DAB and DVB-T (amongst other "picking technology winners" disasters) is that because the bureaucrats are slow, uninnovative, and lack any vision or interest in the future, they repeatedly select technologies that are obviously going to be obsolete and inadequate long before they are rolled out. I work for an energy supplier, and our consumer research amongst smart meter customers can be summarised as saying "Wow. So basic. Is that all it does? Meh". Effectively, the smart meter programme has costs of around £20 billion or so, and by 2020 will deliver a technology that is barely up to commercial standards prevailing in 2007. You and I may be more educated, but the public judge all technology by the standards of a decent smartphone, or stuff like Alexa, and a smart meter falls down on so many levels, even if it has a phone app available. It just doesn't do anything, it can't be customised, and the potential to control equipment is so rudimentary that they needn't have bothered. To create their bogus business case for smart meters, government over-estimated the consumer benefits, under-estimated the programme delivery and capex costs, and under-estimated the operating costs. And all along, they never gave ANY thought to what consumers wanted - like most government schemes, this was all predicated on spending your money (in a hidden manner) on something for the presumed greater good, without asking what those paying actually wanted - very much like DAB.

            2. Andy The Hat Silver badge

              The basic commercial model here is to produce a standard, produce equipment to that standard, attempt/force market saturation, make loads of money and tie the punter in. Change the standard away from the previous equipment, produce equipment ... etc

              It's a cynically planned, government led money making scam - much like the smart meter 1/smart meter 2 fiasco.

              As soon as any of this says "more choice for the consumer" read "more cost to the consumer for more, lower quality product with more income stream potential" - as in digital tv ...

          2. Gerry 3
            Alert

            Beware of obsolete new radios !

            Buy a new DAB radio at Tesco, John Lewis, Sainsbury's, Currys etc and you may well find you've bought a lemon: many of their own brands are effectively obsolete because they don't support DAB+. They want you to buy twice.

        2. Rameses Niblick the Third Kerplunk Kerplunk Whoops Where's My Thribble? Silver badge

          They probably switched to DAB+ (AAC) which cannot be picked up by original DAB (MP2) receivers. Ofcom has said that everyone should migrate to DAB+, so in a few years you will hear nothing on a DAB receiver.

          Perfectly reasonable suggestion, unfortunately the radios are DAB+ compatible, instead I live in a corner of the country the commercial radio stations decided they could survive without. We simply don't have coverage here since the change over. When we go visiting family, the car radio's DAB signal magically comes to life and a whole plethora of stations are available. Between home and work? Not so much.

      2. rmason Silver badge

        There's something quite specific keeping FM going too.

        Additional to the other users of FM local football has a big part to play here,

        For many people it's the only way of getting coverage for their team, and the money grasping nature of the way it is licenced mean that said stations can only broadcast it in their local area. i.e via FM. Stations that offer output over multiple / types (DAB, FM, MW and online) are made to replay random pre-recorded shows on the others and just broadcast football via FM (or else pay through the nose).

        Or in areas like mine with multiple teams FM will carry one, and MW the other. Or one frequency of FM carries one and another frequency carries the other etc.

        It's a dead specific "use case" but it is a thing, and in quite large numbers in many areas.

        If you support a team not in the top tier, it's often the only way available to those who don't trust/won't or can't pay for the online streaming all teams now put out, and even then they aren't allowed to stream the 3PM Saturday games to UK punters etc.

        1. FlashBangWallop

          Signal Delay

          It's not just football - my wife and I support one of the premiership rugby teams. We each use a radio with earpiece to get the excellent commentary from the local BBC station whilst sat/stood in the ground watching the game: the commentary really augments the experience. I bought a DAB radio expecting the crystal clear commentary, which I duly got - but the 2+ second delay while the signal gets digitised/compressed, fed through some network or other and then decompressed on my radio made the listening very frustrating - so I switched back to my trusty AM/FM radio and get synchronised visual and audio!

          1. Pat Att

            Re: Signal Delay

            I bought a DAB radio expecting the crystal clear commentary, which I duly got - but the 2+ second delay while the signal gets digitised/compressed, fed through some network or other and then decompressed on my radio made the listening very frustrating

            You need my new, pat pending, digital delay glasses. put them on and the world gets delayed by 2 seconds.

            I'm working on some that delay by 40 years, for Brexiteers.

      3. SkippyBing Silver badge

        'At home now I have bought a broadband radio as it is much more functional (in terms of choice) and reliable than DAB. In the car, I've switched back to analogue.'

        Similar problem where I live in terms of only getting BBC radio, if anything. I've now taken to streaming radio over my phone in the car as I get a much better 4G signal than DAB and I can listen to any station.

    5. RockBurner

      Re DAB

      That's if the DAB signal can be found at all.

      I've got a couple of DAB devices, and neither of them can be relied on to maintain a decent signal reception, even though they don't move about.

      It could be that I need better aerials, if so, then we're talking roof mounted, five feet in length TV-type aerials like you used to see on taller buildings, because that's what DAB seems to need.

    6. Mage Silver badge

      not much better than AM

      Actually if there is no interference AM can be BETTER quality than 128K DAB or 64K DAB+ stereo, especially if you have poorer hearing.

      1) Less distortion (no artefacts)

      2) The acoustic lossy data compression model assumes average hearing

      3) DAB+, where it's used (starting in UK) is simply used to double the number of stations, hence 64K bps.

      4) Ergonomics on most 1935 to 1995 Analogue sets is better than DAB or Preset FM

      5) Few DAB sets have decent cabinets and speakers. Most 1965 to 1995 sets that's larger than pocket sized sound better on AM.

      6) Power consumption. Battery valve sets can beat many DAB models! Transistor analogue sets can run x20 longer on same size cells.

      1. Tony W

        Re: not much better than AM

        Radio broadcasting as a means of providing high sound quality is probably an anachronism. If you want hi-fi you can get it on line - if someone is prepared to provide it. BBC R3 on line has quite respectable sound quality - better than FM or DAB. And as for AM - don't make me laugh.

        When DAB was invented, radio broadcasting engineers were excited about the possibility of overcoming the bad aspects of FM, particularly for car radios. What they didn't realise is that most people have no interest in high sound quality, and digital systems would allow the top management to decide on the balance between sound quality and the number of channels. The re sult was inevitable.

        And for those extolling low distortion AM sound quality - when did you last listen to it? Restricting the frequency range to a theoretical best of about 4 kHz (from the 9 kHz channel spacing) is a serious form of distortion. And that's just the transmitters. When I measured a range of AM receivers in the 1980s the -3 dB bandwidth was typically about 2.5 kHz. Broadcasters use heavy multi-band audio compression, trying desperately to push more high frequencies through the system, to be louder than the competition, and to combat after-dark co-channel and adjacent channel interference. So the frequency response is continuously jumping about. That seriously alters any music and In my book that's distortion. I could go on. Yes, speech on BBC World Service DAB sounds nasty - but still better than AM. If you add typical AM background noise or restrict the frequency range to AM limits, it more than hides the DAB artefacts.

        1. simonb_london

          Re: not much better than AM

          @Tony W: "Broadcasters use heavy multi-band audio compression, trying desperately to push more high frequencies through the system, to be louder than the competition"

          Most DAB stations I here appear to be doing exactly the same thing :(

          At least the limited audio bandwidth on AM limits the amount of pain it can cause to listen to.

    7. simonb_london

      Doesn't have to be worse than AM, but it is

      DAB could give excellent quality if a station is over 96kbps and using AAC HE v2 codec.

      Unfortunately the main stations still use the bitrate-hogging MPEG 1 Layer II. And the rest are stations that all play the same narrow playlist at 32kbps AAC HE v2 and sound rubbish because of it.

      Get rid of duplicate playlist stations, phase out MPEG 1 LII and there would be enough space for some decent sound quality.

    8. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      There's also the problem that if they turn off analogue radio I'll have to replace a perfectly working radio in the bedroom, one in the kitchen, one in the workshop, one in the living room, one in the car and one in the shed. When they turned analogue TV off there was only one TV affected, and I didn't even need to replace it, just put a dongle on the aerial.

  2. Korev Silver badge

    Poorer households in the DE socioeconomic groups are keener to go online with their smartphones rather than PCs, possibly indicating lack of broadband penetration (as Ofcom speculates) or a simpler user experience (as your reporter speculates).

    Or maybe because mobile phones appear "free" to people who take out contracts; as opposed to computers which "cost money (ie you pay upfront).

    Also, the number of people who don't realise that it's cheaper to buy a mobile phone upfront and then go "contract free" is astounding.

    1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Also, the number of people who don't realise that it's cheaper to buy a mobile phone upfront and then go "contract free" is astounding.

      It may be that if cash is tight people find it easier to budget for a constant monthly payment, rather than a big wodge of cash up front and then lesser payments afterwards. The latter needs a cash surplus to start with.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        > It may be that if cash is tight people find it easier to budget for a constant monthly payment, rather than a big wodge of cash up front and then lesser payments afterwards. The latter needs a cash surplus to start with.

        Haven't these people heard of Scratchcards?

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "It may be that if cash is tight people find it easier to budget for a constant monthly payment"

        In one sense you're right. But it's constantly paying out rent that prevents you getting the required lump sum together.

    2. James 51 Silver badge

      @Korev I got an unlocked S9 for less than sim free price on a 24 month contract. I was effectively getting the minutes and data for free. Contracts are not always bad value.

      1. Kernel

        "@Korev I got an unlocked S9 for less than sim free price on a 24 month contract. I was effectively getting the minutes and data for free. Contracts are not always bad value."

        Agreed! - I would've saved a whole NZ$10.00 by purchasing contract-free upfront instead of on a 24 month contract.

    3. The Nazz Silver badge

      Or maybe it's also that many DE "households" around here have acquired, at very low cost, many such items initially bought by ABC'ers?

      1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

        Get yer boots on

        And once again we're back to the Sam Vimes Theory of Economic Injustice...

        1. Wellyboot Silver badge

          Re: Get yer boots on

          I've been applying that model since before the book & found that far too many people really don't get this 'lifetime cost' principle.

          25 years ago I bought a £300 Sebo vacuum after doing a little research. 3 beater brushes, 2 drive belts (cost under £100, both easy to fit) later its still going and yes new original parts are still available because the current model still uses mostly the same internal bits (and costs less now!). I can't see why it won't outlast me.

          I've also fitted a new motor (bearings shot on original) & drive belt (<£35 for both from the big-river) to a friends 6yr old Dyson but those chinese puzzle beasts need every bolt & screw removed & a total stripdown to fix.

    4. rmason Silver badge

      @Korev

      I don't think many people don't know about sim free phones being better value.

      I think what you're doing is underestimating the amount of people who can manage £50 a month IF it comes out on payday but know they don't have and "cannot" save 4-800 quid (or whatever) for a new phone.

      1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        £50 a month? FIFTY QUID A ****ING MONTH??????? for a bleepin' phone????

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Korev are you from Cornwall mate?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Analogue radio continues to be resilient: a third of households don't have a digital radio "

    because there is little tangible benefit to the end user of DAB over existing FM radio, and DAB devices are more expensive and less reliable.

    The good old Alpine AM/FM/CD/USB stereo in my car works brilliantly - there is absolutely no reason why I would even begin to consider replacing it.

    1. hoola

      FM vs DAB

      Correct, both or our cars (and I think almost all new cars) now come with a DAB radio. Ours are never used on DAB as it is constantly dropping out and is an abomination to listen to.

      The radio keeps trying to seek the signal and will then spend minutes "seeking"

      This on a high quality Kenwood and a built in VW unit.

      A friend who has a cube shaped "portable" DAB radio has it permanently plugged in because the battery life is beyond awful. It just does not seem to comprehend to the DAB lobbyists that a radio with weeks/months of battery life that does not constantly need retuning and can be operated by the less tech members of society is a good thing.

      It is all about the money.

      1. Barrie Shepherd

        Re: FM vs DAB

        "Ours are never used on DAB as it is constantly dropping out and is an abomination to listen to."

        ....and the absence of RDS traffic services - DAB is 'digital' but the broadcasters do not support the most useful car based feature of the 'old, out of date analogue' FM RDS.

  4. monty75 Silver badge

    Just because I own a DAB radio doesn't mean I use it. Haven't switched the thing on in years. If I do listen to radio (as opposed to streaming) it's the trusty old FM in the car.

    1. Mycho Silver badge

      Likewise, just because I don't have a DAB radio doesn't mean I have any other kind of radio either.

      1. Buzzword

        Re: No radio at all

        "a third of households don't have a digital radio"

        Some of those households (mine included) don't have a radio at all.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: No radio at all

          Down-voted for your own benefit. You are ignoring the clear advice given in 'Protect and Survive' that a radio and spare batteries are essential. Don't come crawling round my fall out shelter after the bomb goes off asking me what's happened in the Archer's.

          1. Gnomalarta

            Re: No radio at all

            I bet he doesn't have a brown paper bag to put over his head either.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: No radio at all

            you'd need a shit tonne of batteries at the rate DAB radios eat them!

          3. MachDiamond Silver badge

            Re: No radio at all

            The tech behind DAB is more involved than with FM. A simple FM transmitter is easy to construct and there are even many experimenter's kits available along with more powerful sets that can be legal to use at events. The AC makes a valid point that in an emergency, a local analog station can be used to broadcast critical information. Another big problem in the UK and the US is that government is allowing more large conglomerates to own more broadcasting stations. It used to be that they were limited to how many radio, TV and newspapers that any one entity could own or control. What it means that programming is often done at a central studio and stations are simply broadcasting "tapes" rather than locally produced live programming. There were some very good articles about this after hurricane Katrina in the US. The few independent stations that could still operate on generators were indispensable in providing up to the minute information. The legacy behind FM goes so far back that there will be several receivers within short distance almost no matter where you are. The FM band is not that big to start with and at a low enough frequency that it won't support enough bandwidth for very many DAB stations.

        2. Dagg
          Unhappy

          Re: No radio at all

          Some of those households (mine included) don't have a radio at all.

          Same here, gave up years ago. All you hear in australia is ego and adverts.

          1. MachDiamond Silver badge

            Re: No radio at all

            I don't listen to the radio that often, but I have several around including one in my mobile and the car. I use the car radio for traffic when I travel to or around the city. My SatNav has a traffic feature, but it's a lot more helpful to hear from an announcer if I'm coming up on a breakdown that is just being cleared from the road or a major accident where it's worth the time to get off of the motorway and find another route.

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