Radio: Special Report

Newspaper, magazine and TV companies have tip-toed into the digital age with a nervy, wide-eyed reluctance. But as far as commercial radio is concerned, the sooner our homes have a DAB set in every room, the better.

When people buy a digital set, their listening increases by nearly one-fifth. Commercial radio desperately needs this media time, Alasdair Reid explains (see opposite). No, 2005 hasn't been a great year for radio.

On the brighter side, the uptake of DAB sets has been fast, doubling every year since 2002. There are some good reasons for owning a digital radio: they are not too expensive (the cheapest is £49) and digital radio is free once you've bought a set, unlike most digital TV services; there are roughly double the number of stations available and you can wave goodbye to that irritating hiss and crackle of the old analogue sets.

But they are not selling fast enough. Experts believe one in three households will own a digital set by the end of 2008 - hardly a figure to set the Government thinking seriously about a date for analogue radio switch-off.

But even if DAB radios were to enjoy a surge in popularity, fewer than half the analogue stations now broadcast on DAB and the current allocation of spectrum for DAB broadcasting is full. Analogue switch-off will not happen until there is enough spectrum for all stations to broadcast digitally. Another problem for Ofcom.

Digital could help creatives write better radio ads, too. For a start, websites and phone numbers can run on the screen display rather than be screamed repeatedly at listeners. Yes, for too long now radio advertising has shared unholy similarities with the self-proclaimed "birthplace of radio", Chelmsford (as three creative directors ponder, page 29) - it has a few nice spots, but is mostly unmemorable or embarrassing.

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