Media Lifeline: Digital radio

With governments vacillating over switchover, will consumers be able to embrace digital radio fully?

October 2005: The first national commercial DAB licence had been awarded to Digital One in 1998 and services had launched the next year. But uptake of DAB sets is slow and there's more interest in technologies, such as digital TV platforms and mobile internet. Then Digital One's confidence is further undermined when the Government announces it is to invite bids for a second commercial DAB multiplex. Digital One thought it had a monopoly.

February 2008: There's still lots of vague talk about DAB superceding FM and AM technologies - inexorably mirroring, some say, the move towards analogue switch-off in TV. But a devastating report by Enders Analysis proclaims that DAB will prove to be to radio what Betamax was to video. And even long-term DAB cheerleader GCap seems to agree as it announces it is closing its DAB-only stations and seeking to sell its Digital One stake.

October 2008: In 2007, 4Digital Group, a consortium including Emap, UTV and STV with Channel 4, was awarded the second DAB licence. But following a review of spending commitments, C4 pulls out and the consortium, headed by C4's Nathalie Schwarz, collapses.

June 2009: The Labour Government's magnum opus on the future of the UK's media and creative industries, Digital Britain, is published. The document aspires to new depths of vagueness and obfuscation. But its inability to set a coherent timetable (despite hinting that such a timetable might be desirable) for digital radio switchover is among its omissions. It does, however, reveal that it would be nice if the whole thing could be possible by 2015.

July 2010: The new culture minister, Ed Vaizey, confirms that the Government now hopes that a shutdown of FM and AM broadcast radio transmissions can be achieved in 2015. Provided we all throw away our existing sets and acquire new DAB gear.

Fast forward ...

July 2014: Despite desperate attempts to move the goalposts, it's still clear that the majority of listening takes place courtesy of FM radio sets - which are still being smuggled into the country despite being outlawed on pain of imprisonment. With a General Election looming and debate about a new DAB+ standard becoming ever more confused, the Government announces a new switchover target - 1 April 2030.

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