A welcome report on the digital radio switchover

With thanks to Adam Findlay of Wave 102 who sent me information about a new House of Lords report released yesterday, having had the opportunity today to read this, it is good that it emphasises the need for greater clarity in the digital radio upgrade plan, and it also highlights public confusion and industry uncertainty, with calls for every new radio to contain FM and digital (DAB and DAB+).   (See http://tinyurl.com/digitalradiolatest).

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 am unsurprised at the comments by this House of Lords Committee.   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.

Digital Radio – latest

At the end of January, I raised concerns about the future of local radio in the digital age. I wrote to Broadcasting Minister Sion Simon MP on the matter.

I have now received the following response :

“Dear Councillor Macpherson,

Thank you for your email of 31 January to Sion Simon expressing the concerns of your constituents about the proposed switchover to DAB radio. I have been asked to reply.

The Digital Britain White Paper sets out the Government’s vision for a radio industry in a digital world and the mechanisms needed to deliver it. Evidence suggests that the digitisation of radio has already begun. Around 20% of all radio listening is currently via a digital platform and this is expected to exceed 50% within the next five years. Therefore, we believe the decision for Government is not whether digital radio will replace analogue, but how to ensure that any transition to digital is delivered in a coordinated way which best reflects the needs and expectations of listeners.


With this in mind the Digital Britain White Paper set out our intention to deliver a Digital Radio Upgrade programme by the end of 2015, when we would expect all services carried on the national and local DAB multiplexes to cease broadcasting on analogue. The Digital Radio Upgrade will be implemented on a single date, which will be announced at least two years in advance. I can assure you that the Digital Radio Upgrade should provide consumers with a greater choice of stations and functionality than they currently receive via FM.

Coverage of digital radio broadcasting in the UK continues to grow, already reaching about 90% of the UK population. However, the Digital Radio Upgrade programme will require new investment in building out and improving DAB coverage and reception. We will be working with the BBC and commercial operators to ensure coverage of DAB is comparable to FM by the end of 2014.

We have held two radio summits with local radio stations to understand the issues facing local stations, both now and after the proposed digital radio switchover. In these meetings we have been clear that the Digital Economy Bill is not intended to create a two-tier radio industry, with those on FM suffering. Such an outcome is not in the interests of listeners or the sector. We are committed to continuing this dialogue with local radio stations as the planning for digital radio switchover continues.

Further to this, the Government is working with manufacturers to establish a unified station list, similar to an electronic programme guide (EPG) for radio, which will allow listeners to access stations via the station name irrespective of the platform on which the service is carried. Listeners will therefore be able to move seamlessly between bands selecting stations simply by name, which is not currently the case when listening to FM and AM stations on an analogue radio receiver.


The radio industry is facing a market of rising costs and falling revenues which threatens the health of the whole sector. We believe that the Digital Radio Upgrade is critical to the future sustainability of the radio industry because it will provide an opportunity to re-structure the industry so it can operate more effectively. The Digital Radio Upgrade will establish, for the first time, three distinct tiers of radio in the UK, which will provide distinct markets in which radio stations can operate, compete and we believe flourish. The local commercial and community radio services which will populate FM will have a distinct role in providing very local material and reflecting the communities they cover. Due to the very local nature of their content, these services will benefit from less competition for local advertising funding.

Taken together these commitments will ensure that all stations can continue to operate fairly and prosper within their individual markets.

Yours sincerely,

Steve Edwards
Media Desk Officer
Department for Culture, Media and Sport”

Digital radio – latest

I recently reported feedback from Digital Radio UK recently about my concerns regarding proposed the digital radio switchover.

I have been speaking with Adam Findlay, Managing Director of Wave 102 in Dundee (and Original 106 in the Grampian region) and Adam has responded to Digital Radio UK as follows :

Councillor Macpherson has passed me your correspondence for a response.

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.

Monday activities

No surgeries today because of the school holidays but very busy with constituents’ issues.

Tonight’s “Evening Telegraph” featured the feedback I recently received from Digital Radio UK about the proposed digital radio switchover. See http://tiny.cc/digitalintele.

At tonight’s City Council Development Quality Committee, I moved refusal of a retrospective application in Minto Place that had been the subject to residents’ objections. Although recomended for approval, I won the vote 15-12.


Digital radio concerns – an update

Following my recent comments about the planned switchover to digital radio, I have received a letter today from Digital Radio UK that I reproduce below. Digital Radio UK is an organisation which represents the interests of the digital radio industry including the BBC, commercial radio companies and transmission network operator, Arqiva :

“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.”

Monday activities …

Apart from a busy day with the ‘day job’, I held two surgeries late this afternoon at the Mitchell Street Centre and Harris Academy. I was interviewed on Wave 102’s “Dundee Tonight” at 6pm about waiting list concerns at Dundee College and other further education colleges across Scotland.

This evening, I spoke with the Blackness Primary School Parent Council about parking and road safety concerns outside the school and thereafter I attended the River Crescent Residents’ Association, where we discussed a number of local issues.

Both the Evening Telegraph and Wave 102 today featured my concerns about the future of local radio as the Westminster Government pushes forward the radio digital switchover.

Concerns over the future of local radio

With the recent introduction of the Westminster Government’s Digital Economy Bill in parliament, I have 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.

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.

Digital Radio in the West End

News on Friday from the BBC that “Radio ‘could go digital in 2017’” indicated that :

“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.”

(Go to : http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/7792083.stm to view more of the BBC news report on this).
The fundamental issue is the “reach enough of the country” bit, as I get frequent complaints from residents in parts of the West End that digital radio (DAB) broadcasts can’t be picked up in parts of ward. Many of these complaints come from people who get their TV reception from the Tay Bridge relay transmitter, not the Angus main transmitter. As http://www.ukdigitalradio.com/coverage/ makes clear, relay transmitters do not carry DAB signals and the list of future transmitters at the UK Digital Radio site implies that this will not be resolved any time soon.
Digital radio transmissions have different issues from TV transmissions and although the large number of relay transmitters required for universal TV coverage is probably not fully required for digital radio, it is equally clear that there’s gaps in DAB coverage that must be filled before analogue radio is switched off.
I’d be interested to hear from any West End resident who has had difficulty getting DAB radio signals – please e-mail me at digitalradio@frasermacpherson.org.uk.