DAB comes under fire following Digital Britain

FM-to-DAB switchover plans criticised following Lord Carter's Digital Britain report
FM-to-DAB switchover plans criticised following Lord Carter's Digital Britain report

A number of radio commentators and industry pundits have criticised Lord Carter's plans for the analogue radio switch-off (and switch-over to DAB) mooted in the recent Digital Britain report.

While many of us are quite happy with our current DAB radio service at home, let's not forget that there are literally millions of FM radio receivers in British homes, that could – effectively – be totally worthless should the UK's analogue radio service be switched off within the next decade.

"We are grateful for Lord Carter's confirmation that broadband is essential," wrote Libby Purves in the Times earlier this month. "However, in the general brouhaha about top-slicing the licence fee and taxing granny's landline, the most preposterous plan of all has not had the raspberry it richly deserves."

Assault on radio

Purves goes on to describe what she considers to be no less than an "assault" on radio as "an arrogant, wasteful, environmentally damaging assault on daily life - a copper-bottomed vote-loser, a V-sign to the vulnerable" and she views the suggested requirement for FM user to migrate to DAB (ie for them to buy new digital sets) as nothing less than absurd.

Of course, there is more than a hint of nostalgia in Purves' arguments, when she writes about "that ramshackle collection of radios, perfectly functional despite the odd bent aerial or melted chocolate on the £5 tranny in the schoolbag, could in less than six years be deaf to Radio 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Classic or Absolute…" but the argument she raises is no less valid.

More presciently, she argues that "digital radios use more than four times the energy (8.5 watts) of analog (average 2 watts)" and despite the fact that "the industry is working on this, but the most optimistic forecast is 3.5 watts" the "conflict between green pieties and the rush to digital has never been addressed properly."

Massive disenfranchisement of the listener?

Over on MediaGuardian, ex-Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie claims Lord Carter has gone 'radio ga ga' arguing "he [Lord Carter] comes up with an anti-commercial solution to an industry that didn't have a problem and then does a runner leaving the listeners, the advertisers and the voters in disarray," claims MacKenzie, adding that "after 13 years, digital penetration is still only 18.7%."

"It's not like television where unlimited bandwidth has been a magnificent success, both in cash and content. For the old steam wireless it's been different. There is no evidence that either listeners or advertisers want it," steams MacKenzie, who also demands to know what the government plans to do with over 150 million old radios.

MacKenzie argues that the UK's DAB networks need a further £100m investment prior to any FM-to-DAB switchover and that he has heard that the BBC's "new head of radio is going around boasting that he can find £100m from his budget for the build."

"Really? I have been reliably told by the director general that the BBC was skint. Surely they haven't found 100 long ones down the back of the sofa."

Vested AM interests

Of course, as one Guardian commentator wryly notes, we also have to "remember that Kelvin has a vested interest in all of this…" as "his mission is to take the talkSPORT licence away from the present owners UTV by outbidding them with a silly amount of money (probably backed by Murdoch) so that between them they can launch Sun Talk on AM radio."

TechRadar has contacted the DAB trade organisation the Digital Radio Development Bureau (DRDB) for responses to these recent attacks on the proposed analogue switch-off, so stay tuned for updates.

Adam Hartley