DAB turns up the volume

Sixteen million DAB digital radios have been sold in the UK, they’ve become a standard fixture in a third of all new cars, and the number of hours people spend listening to digital radio is climbing every week.

The digital radio revolution has well and truly arrived – and it’s gathering pace.

“It’s fantastic to see everything changing. When I first started working in digital radio, you could have fitted everyone who owned a digital radio into a football stadium – and it would still have been half empty. But now we’ve reached a point where digital radio is mass market and mainstream. There are more people listening to DAB than AM, and digital radio stations throughout the UK are counting their audiences in millions of hours every week.”

And people aren’t just accessing digital radio through DAB radio sets, they’re tuning into it via the Internet, on their mobile phones and through digital television. In fact, 42% of the UK population now have a DAB digital radio and more than 30% of all radio listening is digital. Digital radio is also getting plenty of support from the right people. The government wants it to be the main broadcast platform for all national radio stations and the radio industry is gearing up to switch over from FM to DAB from 2015 onwards.

Benefits of digital

So why is our radio industry going digital? One of the key drivers is the lack of available FM spectrum. The frequency band has become entirely log-jammed and Ofcom is unable to license additional FM stations, apart from the launch of Community radio stations, which tend to have tiny transmission areas.

This situation could have seen the end of growth in UK commercial radio, as the main growth engine in this sector – over the past 20 years – has been the launch of new stations. But digital has opened up fresh horizons for radio stations, enabling them to launch new brands and draw in even more listeners. This, in turn, is giving consumers a much wider choice. They can also benefit from digital-quality sound, tune into stations easily, and view track and artist listings.

In addition, switching from analogue to digital radio will eventually free up valuable FM spectrum, which could be used, for example, to deliver mobile broadband to rural areas or more digital radio.

The DAB+ factor

The DAB standard includes a further development called DAB+ that uses a more efficient type of audio coding, enabling more radio stations to fit into a multiplex. Although many digital radios sold in the past are not able to tune into DAB+ stations, the good news is more and more radios on sale – and being fitted in new cars – are now DAB+ ready. This will mean radio stations beginning to opt for DAB+ in future, giving even greater choice to the listener.

Bauer gives its backing to digital radio

Bauer Media has signalled its commitment to digital radio by acquiring Planet Rock – the Sony Award-winning national digital radio station. Planet Rock is an established station that broadcasts classic rock to 877,000 listeners.

“Radio is in growth in the UK and Planet Rock, through its passion for great music, offers listeners and commercial partners an engaging and relevant experience.”

Another Bauer Media station – Kiss FM – has increased its reach by joining the Arqiva-owned national network Digital One last December. Instead of broadcasting via a network of local DAB transmitters, the UK’s largest commercial radio station for 15-34 year olds switched to Digital One to boost its UK coverage by 21%.

“We are thrilled that Kiss will now be reaching 85% of the population and we look forward to cementing Kiss’s place as the only youth radio station with true national digital coverage.”

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