The various parties involved in DAB digital radio in the UK, which include the BBC, Arqiva and commercial radio groups, have finally signed a memorandum of understanding, which will pave the way for increases in coverage of local radio on DAB, plus the setting up of at least five local multiplexes within the next 18 months.
This follows several years of stagnation, where apart from a strategic expansion of Devon's DAB multiplex to North Devon, there have been no improvements or increases in coverage of local radio via DAB.
The memorandum sets out the framework on how to proceed with the expansion of local DAB - increasing the coverage initially to 90% of FM equivalence to fulfil the Government criteria for radio switchover, and then to match "FM equivalence" across the UK.
According to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the "Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) establishes an agreement in principle to fund the build-out of local DAB to FM equivalences over the next 5 years, with a clear commitment to consider further funding if necessary. The MoU also paves the way for the launch of at least five new local multiplexes, including in Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, which will provide new local digital radio services to approximately 1.25million listeners. In addition, the MoU confirms the Government’s commitment to a decision on radio switchover in 2013."
The Government has now asked Ofcom to form a joint planning group, which will be responsible for producing technical and implementation plans for a possible radio switchover. Work will also continue on the current Digital Radio Action Plan, providing the Government with information to help them decide on any future radio digital switchover next year.
Ahead of any decision about digital radio switchover, the memorandum requires five additional local DAB multiplexes to be launched within 18 months of today. The new multiplexes will be in: Gloucestershire; Hereford and Worcester; Northamptonshire; North East Wales and West Cheshire; and Oxfordshire. As previously reported here, the new North East Wales and West Cheshire local multiplex has already got a launch target of November this year, and will transmit from Moel Y Parc, Liverpool (St Johns Beacon) and Wrexham Rhos transmitters.
Following next year's digital radio switchover decision, work will begin on increasing local DAB coverage to match FM.
According to the DCMS, any digital radio switchover would be "the point at which all national and large local radio would cease to broadcast on analogue and be available only via digital platforms. However, small local commercial and community services would continue to be available on FM. At this time, no decision has been made on how a switchover would be implemented." It is not related to TV's digital switchover, which completes this October in Northern Ireland.