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.