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Smaller radio firms call for government to abandon digital switchover plans

By | Published on Monday 11 November 2013

Celador Radio

UTV Radio and Celador Radio have both backed a call for the UK government to abandon plans for the long planned digital switchover, which would see key radio services taken off the FM and AM networks to force the masses to buy DAB devices.

As much previously reported, the shift from analogue to digital radio has been long-drawn out, meaning many radio firms have had to provide their key stations on both AM/FM and DAB networks concurrently for years now, adding to the costs of broadcasting.

Whereas digital TV was forced onto mainstream consumers (mainly to free up the spectrum for 4G mobile services), resulting in a pretty speedy switchover from analogue, the government has been nervous about fixing a date for removing key stations off FM until enough of the population owns DAB devices.

But those broadcasters that back a digital future, and want to end the extra costs of broadcasting on both FM and DAB as early as possible, say that a deadline is needed to speed up the switchover, because such a deadline would persuade customers to buy DAB sets, and car makers to make DAB radios in vehicles standard.

However, some radio firms reckon that, despite the number of DAB users continuing to rise in the UK, the country is still a long way off being ready for switchover. Some of those firms might go as far as to suggest DAB should be abandoned completely, so the industry can focus on FM and net-based services.

Though this new statement from thirteen radio companies – issued as the government considers its latest position on the move to DAB – doesn’t got that far, it does say that switchover plans should be put on hold, otherwise millions of households could lose access to key radio services, cash-strapped families would be forced to invest in new devices, and smaller radio stations would face big commercial challenges as their reach is hit.

Explaining his firm’s backing for the new statement, UTV’s Scott Taunton told reporters: “We think the concept of migrating stations from AM and FM [to digital] is flawed. There is no consumer demand for this and unlike digital TV switchover there is no digital dividend for the taxpayer. The bulk of people are quite happy with the radio services they already have. We’re not saying digital radio is flawed but it’s like saying mobile phones are so prevalent we can switch off all the landlines. This hasn’t been thought through and we shouldn’t be rushed into a decision”.

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey is due to clarify the government’s current policy on digital radio switchover on 16 Dec.