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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Grenade

means global warming

a small FM set uses 100mw whilst your DAB set seems to use 8 watts.

This would then means up to 8000% increase in power usage for this change.

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FAIL

Now that the US is all digital TV...

...they are talking about shutting down over-the-air so thay can sell the spectrum to the cell phone companies.

That's right! No more "free" TV in America.

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Not just synchronisation...

I can't see the point in DAB until the time signal is broadcast at the right time. Andrew Johnson is right about the problem of different radios being out-of-sync: with two radios on, the time signal degenerates into a cacophony of random beeps.

Are we really saying that 'ooh, within about five seconds is accurate enough'?

I thought that new technology was supposed to bring in greater precision and improved service.

Oh wait, it's like Concorde's retirement: one giant leap backwards into a world offering less.

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Silver badge

Delays?

D-to-A conversion takes time. You cannot get away from this, and the delay varies inversely with the power of the microprocessor in the decoder. Exactly the same happens with digital TV. Try tuning TV's in different rooms to BBC One, one on digital and one on analog terrestrial (quick, before it disappears!) And for Sky or Freesat,, its worse still because of the longer transmission path. Nobody has complained about this yet.

I know all about the problems with the time signal, I use it myself (on FM of course), but you ought to realise that there are propagation delays in all transmission systems. When I was involved with radio clocks, there was a map that used t be published that detailed the NPL radioclock delays to the extreme edges of the country. This must have been upset when the service moved from Rugby to Cumbria. 200 miles will lead to a measurable delay in the milisecond range. Ignorable if you are setting your watch, but not zero.

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Silver badge

Not just the sticks

I live in the Thames Valley in what is laughing called the Silicon cooridoor (this country not being about afford a whole valley dedicated to "high tech")

I can get loads of commercial c£*p stations on DAB but in order to pick up Radio 4 I need a thumping great big roof mounted aerial, a number of my el'cheapo FM radios don't even need any external aerial. Now needing a roof mounted one might not be too much of a deal breaker, I could run aerial cabling around my house, the builders stuffed it into quite a few rooms already, but none of the DAB radios I've used have had a socket for attaching one. So you end up having to bodge it.

When I was looking at buying a DAB radio, the sales man was suggesting using rechargeable batteries and running mains powered when ever possible. I can't remember when I last changed the batteries in some of my radios.

As to quality, I don't think I own a either a good FM or a good DAB radio, but the sound quality on a pair of head phones seems better on my FM ones. Most peoples first exposure to digital was CDs. A cheap CD player sounds better than all but the best analogue music systems. OK a friend who had several grands worth turntable could outperform any CD player I've heard, or when I another friend had a Revox 1/2 track play and various studio cut tapes then sure they were better. But for the vast majority of the population CDs were better than anything they'd had before. Digital TV was mostly helped by being released at the same time as flat screens, so firstly people upgraded to those and got digital at the same time, then HD came along and offered the hope of higher quality.

This is just not true for DAB. So there is no need to change.

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DAB crap for non-electronic music

At home I have a hi-fi FM receiver and I can also plug my DAB receiver in to the same amplifier. There's a good emough DAB signal that I don't get any drop-outs or burbling, and since it's a digital medium I believe that what's going to the amp is a good rendition of what's transmitted.

On speech I can't really tell much difference.

On classical music, I most certainly can. DAB introduces highly objectionable, non-harmonic distortions. When the source is a solo instrument or a small ensemble, it is actually quite painful to the musical ear.

The problem is partly that all lossy digital encoding introduces tones that are not harmonically related to the music, but mostly that the DAB codec was obsolete many years ago. Interference on FM, in contrast, adds extraneous noises that one's mental listening process is very capable of filtering out. Over-compression by the broadcasters (or insufficient bandwidth) may be another contributory factor.

The only reason I haven't thrown away my DAB radio is that it's great for listening to BBC World service, compared to Medium Wave. They don't transmit World Service on FM. Sigh.

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Anonymous Coward

Size issue?

Just bought a Sony Walkman MP3 player with radio.

its the size of a large USB stick and the radio is FM. Very comfortable size for leaving the office lunchtime and listening to news/World at One. reception sound quality good

How big are the smallest DABs?

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Anonymous Coward

I gave DAB a go

I wanted to listen to 6 music in the bathroom, I gave up after I realised that a charge of 6 (2600mah) batteries would afford me roughly 1 and a half (usually rushed) showers.

I was half tempted to bodge the power supply into the light fitting.

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Silver badge

..but did you test the batteries?

In fairness to DAB, a lot of your problem was probably the rechargeable batteries. I've yet to buy a budget NiMH rechargeable battery that wasn't a heap of fetid dingo's kidneys. The capacity written on most of them is a figment of the salesdroid's imagination.

I've tried cheapo ones with claimed capacities ranging from 2400 mAh to 2800 mAh but the measured capacities have ranged from 400 mAh to a whole 650 mAh. How do I know? When my Pentax DSLR ran out of steam after 20-30 shots instead of the expected 320 I stuck them on a ProPeak Prodigy II charger/cycler, ran a charge/discharge cycle and read off the numbers, junked them and went out to find something better.

I've only discovered two rechargeable AA brands that do what they say they can: Maplins Hybrids and Sanyo Eneloops.

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Anonymous Coward

I have no idea if they're near their rated capacity

But it doesn't hide the fact that my portable fm/am job will last weeks on less of them.

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Anonymous Coward

DAB is a poor platform

The problems with DAB are too many to mention. I have recently had the pleasure of renting a car in the US that had the XM/Sirius Satellite radio. The sound quality was very good but more importantly, the reception was faultless and you had the option to choose radio station by genre. I was even able to listen to Radio 1 whilst driving down International Drive in Orlando. A shame that we didn't settle on this platform for digital radio

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FAIL

DAB is already obsolete

The problem with DAB is that it's already obsolete. A few years ago DAB+ was standardised which offers far more efficiency, better quality audio and more robust error correction. It is far better to forget DAB and adopt DAB+ as indeed a number of other countries already are. Unfortunately a DAB receiver cannot receive DAB+ unless it was designed to or designed to be upgraded to DAB+.

I imagine in a few years the UK will adopt DAB+ and anyone who bought a DAB receiver that cannot be upgraded will simply be left behind.

Interesting article on how the rollout of DAB was so badly handled:

http://www.digitalradiotech.co.uk/dab/incompetent_adoption_of_dab.htm

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Anonymous Coward

DAB vs DAB+

Take up of digital has been very slow because it gives people very little that they don't already get with FM. When DAB was adopted in the UK DAB+ did not exist. The problem with switching to DAB+ is simple to explain.

We don't really have enough spectrum for DAB and DAB+ so in order to switch to DAB+ we would have to switch off DAB. The only realistic way to do that would be to buy back all the DAB receivers already out there or swap them for DAB+. Who is going to pay for that?

Of course once we have completed the digital switchover there will be spare spectrum about and then mayber DAB+ could be introduced and DAB gradually phased out in exactly the same way as may happen with FM. Except that it is unlikely that they will sell enough DAB receivers to switch off FM in the forseeable future, because people do no see digital radio on any platform as giving them anything they don't already get from FM.

You need to understand that people listen to radio in a very different way to the way they watch TV. It boils down to the fact that most radio's are always tuned to the same channel so what does the average radio listener care that digital offers them more channels than FM? Also FM quality is good enough for tha vast majority, so who cares that digital might give them better quality?

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@ AC

"so who cares that digital might give them better quality?"

Errr.. I do - because it doesn't!

In order to squeeze in more channels they've chopped the bit rate and thus the quality.

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Sim
Heart

DAB neither portble nor convenient nor affordable

My tesco value windup FM radio is great - I can listen to it anywhere -at home or in the garden for example and it cost me less than £10 .

Portable dab radios cost a fortune and probably require constant battery changes.

I will stick with FM radio.

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Megaphone

The REAL agenda

Oh, come on. Nobody ever thought this was about improving the experience for the listener, did they? It's not even about selling off chunks of the airwaves. No, the switch to digital radio is about one thing and one thing alone: Preventing the common person's voice from being heard over the wireless without the say-so of the powers that be.

Just look at the efforts made in the 1960s to crush the independent broadcasters such as Radio Caroline, and look at the security measures in place at transmitting installations today. Notice also *which* independent radio stations get closed down first by The Authorities. If all you're doing is playing a bit of music, you can stomp all over the broadcast band; you can even be putting out sprogs all over the emergency bands, and as long as you steer clear of the wrong material, you might as well be the BBC. Mention politics, though, and your studio door is going to be coming in before you can say "I'm as mad as Hell and I'm not going to take it anymore".

Any schoolkid can build a MW or LW receiver, and it's not that much harder to build a MW or LW transmitter. FM is more complex, but still not beyond the abilities of a dedicated amateur. Building a digital transmitter, on the other hand, is a whole new ball game and requires access to restricted, proprietary technologies.

By the time ordinary people finally realise that there is no alternative but to get out of their armchairs and join the revolution, it will be too late. You will be strapped into those armchairs.

By the way, the Internet is absolutely not a viable alternative medium for clandestine communications. Proprietary players almost certainly can be disabled remotely to prevent the playing of "unapproved" (i.e., not encrypted against a restricted key) content, and chances are anyone who's using an Open Source player is with you anyway .....

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Anonymous Coward

Ho hum...

Except that you're talking bollocks. A chunk of the current FM band has already been earmarked for "community" radio post switchover. So pull your neck in and take your tinfoil hat off.

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What the hell is "community"?

You mean that some spectrum has been earmarked for licensing to approved groups or individuals?

While there may be something of the tinfoil hat about the OP, your reply actually makes their case stronger not weaker. Had you said some was to be set aside for public/amateur use, I could see your point.

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Troll

Why keep DAB?

Two words: Planet Rock

Another two: Rick Wakeman

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FM Radio's

Article got it totally wrong. It should say let common sense, good audio quality and battery life prevail and send DAB radios to Africa or bury in the ground

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Is all this digital stuff

really appropriate technology? DAB radio stutters and coughs, can't listen to my prefered station because the signal is weak. My aged tranny lives in the bathroom and keeps on going.

Have to admit that I'm a bit deaf , so what will I want with fabulous quality? FM works for me.

I sometimes wonder why we chase all these new alternatives without considering whether what we have does the job.

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Oz
Joke

No title is required as this is a reply

"My aged tranny lives in the bathroom and keeps on going."

Whatever floats your boat. I would have thought the bedroom would be more convenient for a "love-in" ;-)

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I just want to listen to Radio 4

Without interference from moronic urban-music stations broadcasting illegally either side of most BBC FM wavelengths.

The Dept of Trade used to go up and confiscate the equipment from tower blocks but presumably have stopped hoping we'll all switch to power-hungry, overpriced DAB.

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Headmaster

DAB head unit? Get lost!

I updated my car recently. I loath factory head units so thought it might be the time to go for a DAB model.

Of the literally hundreds of head units available to me, there were very few DAB receivers available. Sony had discontinued their model and there was only a rather nasty JVC that had DAB built in. JVC did offer a DAB module, but you had to spend an extra £130 on top of the JVC head unit. Not to mention the fact that ideally you need a DAB aerial (a proper one not some glass mounted tat). Probably looking at about 300 quid for the radio + dongle and then you'll need an aerial and probably professional fitting.

In short to have DAB in your car you have very little choice in head units and will have alot of expense and hassle. Who wants dongles hanging off the back of their head unit when space is often at a premium?

Instead I ended up choosing a high quality analogue unit. Loads of models to choose from, cost half of the DAB setup and was able to fit it myself despite VW's best efforts to prevent such tinkering.

If there was a demand for DAB, the head unit manufacturers would be falling over themselves to produce models. They aren't.

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Anonymous Coward

DAB? Schmab!

The radio industry want FM receivers to be chucked in the skip? But they are not in any way behind DAB. I live in West Yorkshire and BBC Radio Leeds is supposed to cover the whole of the county. I live within a couple of miles of Emley Moor transmitter. You know the one, it's the big bugger you can see from the far side of Leeds. Guess what? No DAB coverage of Radio Leeds.

So? The BBC aren't even apologetic. Try telling them this is a problem and they simply respond that you probably do not live in an area with good DAB reception. Like it's your fault for living there. They are, however, talking crap. The reception is crystal clear, but there is no Radio Leeds. The irony is that while I live near a huge transmitter which is transmitting DAB I can't get my local station on DAB, but I can get loads of local stations on FM, including stations from Humberside, North Yorkshire and South Yorkshire.

So when my wife's trusty old FM set died she bought a DAB unit. Which she uses to listen to Radio Leeds on FM. Why buy DAB then? Because this particular radio was as good as any of the FM boxes as the same price.

And I hear the same story from people all over the country.

More people listen to local radio than national radio, but DAB coverage of local radio is next to useless. Coverage of national radio is in a different league altogether. If the industry really want us to go digital they need to improve local radio coverage on DAB enourmously. Maybe they are so stupid that they believe that Wogan's 8 million listeners mean that national radio is more popular than local, but here's a simple question: When 8 million people were listening to Wogan how many people were listening to their local station?

They tell us they will start to switch off FM when 50% of the receivers out there are DAB capable. Does their figure include DAB sets that are permanently on FM? Does it include DAB sets given as gifts but never used?

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Silver badge

I seriously don't get your problem

DAB in the UK was a great success. There are _millions_ of receivers in your country. You can see DAB receivers in your soap operas. You probably have seen DAB radios in stores, maybe even in other peoples homes. People know about it.

I am a geek, I have studied electronics with a focus on information technology. So far I have only seen 3 DAB radios in real life. One in a laboratory, one in a museum, and the last one in a transmitter building of the regional broadcaster.

You might question if a digitalisation rate of 50% are right or not. Here even 0.1% seems overly optimistic.

In Germany the radio solution for audiophiles certainly is DVB-S, or radio over the infrastructure for digital television. All public music stations are availiable in 320kbit MP2, while some stations even broadcast in Dolby Digital.

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Big Brother

Dab is dead

It's poor technology which is already out-dated, it has next to no take-up and anyway why pay 10 times as much as an FM radio which will be smaller, more energy efficient and more portable (if that's your bag daddy-o).

DAB take-up is what the lefties at the BBC want.

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Bronze badge
FAIL

Haiti=PROFIT

It wouldn't be so bad if the radios that were actually sent to Africa were going to be freely distributed to the needy. But you just know that they will all be bought by the container load at the docks, and then sold in shops, making hand$om£ profits for $om£body.

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I've got 150 million trannies in my shed.

Well I exagerate a little, but off the top of my head i can list 12 analogue radios in the house, from cheapo efforts to high end units. Plus the one in the car, and one in the garage (see what I mean). This figure of 150 million seems a bit on the low side to me.

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Traffic information on FM

Here in Germany (and several other European countries), TMC is broadcast along with regular FM radio stations. I am not aware of this feature being supported on any navigation systems using DAB. In the car, I listen to my own music rather than radio and I use Internet or satellite radio at home. On holiday, I sometimes listen to local radio stations on my MP3 player - using FM. I don't need or want DAB.

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DAB good, DAB radios bad

I need a clock radio by my bed, and only DAB gets me reception, as the old mansion block i live in kills anything else in that particular location.

I have tried two different DAB radios and, while they work, they are so @*!%#£ difficult to use that I have given up on both. I want the thing to turn on witht he right time and date, then allow me to find my preferred radio station BBC3, set a weekday and a weekend alarm, and that's it. But hours later, I was finally reduced to getting out my old battery alarm clock and using that, with the clock/radio gatthering dust at the back of the night table.

I am not sure it's DAB that died, or whether the unbelievably user-unfriendly radios killed it.

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Oz
Thumb Up

DAB Alarm Clock

I've got the Pure Siesta Flow. It's not cheap but gives AM, FM, DAB and Internet Radio. It has four alarms that you can set independently, to different stations on different sources, and at different volumes. The vanilla Siesta doesn't have the Internet radio feature, but in my opinion, is not so easy to use.

All the above said, I wouldn't change my unit for anything. It does what is says on the tin, properly.

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FAIL

DAB Expensive?

Sure any cretin can find a DAB radio for £70. Anyone with even an ounce of sense can find one for £35 (A Pure one).

http://www.amazon.co.uk/PURE-ONE-Mini-DAB-Radio/dp/B001DJ9OYK/ref=sr_1_18?ie=UTF8&s=electronics&qid=1265197900&sr=1-18

And you can even go cheaper than that £20 seems to be the cheapest online.

Perhaps it me, but every "news" items that Andrew Orlowski writes, it's about his hate for DAB. What gives? Who buys his lunch?

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Analogue has many advantages

Multiple radios in a house are always in synch.

Good reception almost anywhere (DAB was patchy in my old flat. It was top floor and looked over all the buildings in the area. My car on the street below wont stand a chance).

Where the signal is weak, you can still listen to it. A bit of hiss, sometimes almost unnoticeable, is ok. Try that on a DAB signal.

Ok, more channels, but if you are failing due to the above, its really less channels.

These problems also apply to terrestrial analogue/digital TV.

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Anonymous Coward

Dib DAB doh!

Why the UK is propping up the table of international DAB standards.

http://www.digitalradiotech.co.uk/dab/worldwide_dab.htm

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Silver badge
Grenade

DAB's dead, die dammit

DAB is pretty much uk-only with pricey receivers that have established about zero in overall market penetration. It seems the only organisation pushing DAB is the BBC and noone else seems to care.

Nothing is going to replace FM until it's at least as convenient to use - the last DAB unit I tried was 'orrible (not to mention what everyone else brings up - battery (non-)life....)

I listen to digital radio at home - via a cheap freeview receiver plugged into the aux input on my home stereo. Can't be a***d buying a DAB unit when what I have does the job quite nicely.

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Anonymous Coward

It's patronising a developing country. Mondial, AM/SW or Mobile Internet Radio is better.

FM receivers to Africa is patronising them with our cast-offs.

Digital Radio Mondial (digital radio over AM), existing Short Wave or other AM-based analogue services would serve a large rural continents much better with greater, wider transmission range covering larger areas for reception.

FM should be kept running in UK and in parallel the future should be Internet Radio:

1) streamed by Wireless WiFi in the home to a dedicated set such as the Revo RadioStation and

2) for portable radio, to our ubiquitous swiss-army knife featured better value for money mobile phones via 3G or even GPRS with increasingly generous data packages offered by our mobile operators.

Internet Radio offers:

- maximum choice: stations all over the country, all over the world

- unlike DABdoesn't patronise the listener by their location (e.g. you can't get Kiss on DAB on the south coast but you can in London)

- latest efficient codecs, AAC+, eAAC+ (great for mobiles particularly)

- listening on good-value for money devices that do other things, such as on mobile phones: email, cameras, etc.

Battery life and reception are increasingly advanced on mobile phones, with ongoing incentive to enhance further. Whereas on a single purpose device like DAB this is behind - and why re-invent the wheel?

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Pint

Why I want to keep my FM radios, a personal view...

There are certainly a lot more negatives, in my view, for DAB than FM. Reception, power consumption and sound quality being the main things. Here is the reasoning why my FM radios will be staying in this country.

Reception can be down to a variety of things, distance from the transmitter, structures and buildings can affect both analoge and digital transmissions. I seem to recall that when Freeview came along we were told that a new larger outdoor aerial would been needed and, for most people, this was the case. The slightly all or nothing nature of the digits means that a higher level of signal is required to prevent drop-outs which, in the analogue world, would just have resulted in an increase in back-ground noise. Unfortunatley, DAB set makers seem to have omitted this requirement from their designs and provided us with aerial systems not up to the job. I have yet to see a portable Freeview TV with a rod aerial.

Anyone who says there is no power problem with DAB is living on another planet. Just walk through John Lewis and look at the consumption figures of their fine range of radios to see what I mean. If FM were abolished there would be no incentive to improve on this either. I must be one of the few who feel that some sort of local and national emergency broadcasting by radio is important (though not well implemented I grant you) but, if resorting to batteries, you would stand little chance of hearing any message with DAB.

And then there is the sound quality. CD quality (44.1kHz sampling at 16-bits) does quite a good job and if DAB worked at this resolution most people would be happy with the quality. Sadly this uses a lot of the spectrum up so broadcasters have to reduce the data rates using lossy compression. Some of the sound is taken away to get the bit rate down therefore more channels fit in a given block of spectrum and generate more revenue. The effect of taking some of the sound away is usually loss of ambience in recordings making them seem very 2 dimensional, or on voice a harder attack to the speach which makes it quite tiring to listen to for long periods. Last year I did a test by taking a recording of a piano and encoding it with various bit rates in mp3. The original sounded best by a long way (and that was recorded onto a compact cassette from Radio 3 in the late 1980s - you can't beat TDK-SA tapes). The same exercise can be done comparing FM, Freeview and DAB broadcasts of the same station and' I'm sure' most listeners will detect a difference, maybe a little more hiss on FM, but not a lot on good quality radios.

DAB is good if you want a wide choice of channels, most of us can survive with what is on FM.

Ramble over, back to pint. Have a good day!

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Paris Hilton

It's a chicken and egg problem

"It's a chicken and egg problem"

No it's not it's a catch-22 problem.

Anyway, the egg came first obviously.

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(Written by Reg staff)

Re: It's a chicken and egg problem

"Anyway, the egg came first obviously."

Not if the chicken was a mutation, or the result of an experiment by a visiting Martian, etc.

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Gold badge
FAIL

Why FM's in for the long haul.

Get into a car in, say, Prague and drive to Manchester*. Listen to the radio on the way, retuning as necessary. Now do that with a DAB tuner.

FM won't go until cars have been fitted with digital tuners as standard for at least five years. Vehicle manufacturers won't find the things as standard until they get to somewhere above chocolate teapot in the usefulness stakes.

*Yes, you probably will need to stop for a wee a few times.

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