It also says the government needs to put in place a radio scrappage scheme for old FM radio sets and a fund to help poorer people make the switch.
The report by the House of Lords Communications Committee has warned there could be a danger of a major public reaction when the radio switchover policy is implemented.
It says :“If the UK is to go ahead with digital switchover, there needs to be the utmost clarity as to what will happen, in order that the consumer and the industry can proceed with confidence.
If current plans for 2015 go ahead, between 50 and 100 million analogue radios will become largely redundant and around 20 million car radios will need a converter. “The Government should work with car manufacturers to ensure that digital car radios are fitted with multi-standard chips as soon as possible and inform consumers of availability and benefits of digital radios containing the multi-standard chip.”
The warnings of the House of Lords Communications Committee should be heeded. I have already raised concerns at the government’s handling of the future of radio, particularly that, when radio follows television in moving to digital-only transmission (DAB) by around 2015, many people may lose out in receiving radio reception and many local stations may not be available on digital.
Many local radio stations – for example Wave 102 in Dundee – are not available on Digital Audio Broadcasting. Also, reception of DAB is limited and many people simply cannot get consistent DAB reception.
I have now received the following response :
“Dear Councillor Macpherson,
Media Desk Officer
Department for Culture, Media and Sport”
The views you express are not those of the industry and it is a concern to see correspondence of this nature be so freely released purporting to be a ‘cross sector’ set of views when they are not. You are a campaign group funded by a select few in the UK who stand to commercially gain to the detriment of others in the sector.
Firstly, and somewhat confusingly you use the term digital as opposed DAB – DAB is one of the many digital platforms available to radio. If Digital Radio UK is more than DAB it is imperative it makes it’s true remit clear beyond DAB and shows balance in the true digital debate as opposed just the DAB debate.
Secondly, your correspondence fails to mention or address any of the key barriers to DAB ( NOT DIGITAL) for the hundreds of local radio stations (like Wave 102) in this ….’upgrade’ process. Councillor Macpherson’s concerns have not been addressed in your response – and I would pose the question again more plainly – at what cost specifically does Digital Radio UK put forward as a solution to Wave 102 to gain access to the DAB multiplex in the Tayside area.
Both stations I represent cannot afford the fees being commanded by the mux owners! As you know there are hundreds of radio stations in the same position across the UK.
And what would this answer be to SIBC, Central FM, Kingdom FM and so the list goes on…all unanswered yet forced down this route and into uncertainty .
Thirdly, you mention a switchover date only taking place when the majority of listening is on digital (I think you mean DAB) which by definition means a minority ‘could’ be left without access to radio services if some stations left FM altogether – so Councillor Macpherson is correct! For example in Dundee Tay FM could migrate to DAB entirely leaving FM and unless you have a DAB radio you will not be able to receive Tay FM any more. Tay AM would be upgraded to FM – but that is a different radio station, not Tay FM.
BAUER RADIO, GLOBAL RADIO AND GUARDIAN RADIO do not represent the vast majority of the views of the sector, owning lots of radio stations does not mean you have more rights to a bigger view or indeed the correct one.
Tonight’s “Evening Telegraph” featured the feedback I recently received from Digital Radio UK about the proposed digital radio switchover. Seehttp://tiny.cc/digitalintele.
“Dear Councillor Macpherson
I read your blog post on 31 January and yesterday’s Evening Telegraph regarding the proposals in the Digital Economy Bill for digital radio upgrade with interest, and wanted to provide some information that I hope will alleviate your concerns. I am writing on behalf of Digital Radio UK, the organisation set up with the support of a cross-section of the radio industry, including commercial radio, the BBC and Arqiva, to ensure that the UK is fully prepared for digital upgrade.
Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, no-one will be left without access to their favourite radio station. You may be aware that two important conditions, or criteria, are attached to the setting of a switchover date. These are that a date cannot even be set until the majority of radio listening is to digital and the second is that digital coverage must match FM coverage. This means that, by the time switchover occurs everyone will be able to access their favourite station whether it remains on FM or has moved to digital. No-one will lose out as a result of switchover, indeed everyone will benefit from the additional choice, quality and interactivity that digital radio brings.
As you will appreciate, achieving the improved coverage and investment in the new services to make digital radio a success, will require investment from the industry. This is why the industry has worked with Government to draw up a realistic plan for the transition to digital. It is only with the strategic direction set out in Digital Britain and the Digital Economy Bill that the radio industry, set manufacturers and the motor industry are able to invest with confidence in a digital future. That investment is already beginning with, for example, the BBC having just turned on its first transmitter on the west coast of Scotland, serving Oban, with coverage for Fort William following soon. Improving the robustness of coverage, along with extending coverage into currently unserved areas, will be a major focus for the industry in the coming years.
Of course, some services will choose to remain on FM, which is, in many ways, better suited to smaller and rural services. But here again, far from threatening the future of local radio, the Digital Economy Bill will enable it to flourish. Digital upgrade will create more space on FM as larger stations move to digital. Community stations will be able to move from AM to FM, and there will be more space for smaller commercial stations that remain on FM, meaning access to better signal strength and improved listener experience. The Community Media Association understands the benefits of upgrade for small stations, and has endorsed the proposals.
You rightly point out that local radio is facing a number of pressures at the moment that threaten their futures. The sector is facing a highly competitive environment with more sources of news, information and entertainment than ever, and increased competition for local advertising. Upgrade will deliver critical benefits at a local level by enabling the industry to work with Ofcom to re-plan local DAB, giving more local stations the possibility of a digital future. The Bill will also give Ofcom more flexibility in how it regulates radio and will be able to offer full 12 year licenses to local stations offering long-term security, rather than ending all licenses in 2015 as at present. These changes are critical to the future viability of local radio and will most benefit smaller stations.
I hope that this letter provides some comfort that digital radio upgrade will actually be a very positive event for local stations and radio listeners in your constituency, and is an important move to ensure the future growth of a whole radio sector.”
Several constituents have contacted me to ask why it is that some local people still cannot receive digital radio services. This appears to be because the digital radio signal only broadcasts locally from the Angus transmitter and quite a few West End homes have a poor line of sight to that transmitter, with the BBC accepting that reception is only “fairly” likely, even with an external radio aerial.
Residents have been surprised to find that, having bought a DAB radio, they simply can’t get consistent reception on digital radio. To be frank, government really shouldn’t be considering switching off FM radio until it has ensured that there is good reception of digital in all areas.
My other concern is that many local radio stations fear they are being frozen out of the digital radio switchover debate, with the future of more than 100 of them still uncertain.
Many local radio stations – for example Wave 102 in Dundee – are not available on Digital Audio Broadcasting. I have recently spoken with Adam Findlay, Managing Director of Wave 102, about this and I know residents will not want to see the switching off of FM radio before the future of all their local, popular radio stations is secured in a digital age.
It is beyond me that the Westminster Government is moving forward with proposals to switch off FM radio by around 2015 when over 100 local stations still do not have a clear digital migration path and are likely to be consigned to an uncertain future on the analogue spectrum once digital switchover has occurred.
I have written to Broadcasting Minister Sion Simon MP expressing my concerns about the government’s handling of the digital radio issue. It is most important that all citizens continue to get access to good radio reception and the full choice of radio stations.
“Radio listeners could have just nine years to switch to digital sets, a government-backed report has said. The Digital Radio Working Group (DRWG) says that by 2015, less than half of all radio listening could be via traditional FM or AM sets. It says that if DAB broadcasts reach enough of the country by then, a switch to digital would be possible by 2017.”