FAQ: DAB digital radio changes

There are big changes to DAB digital radio in many parts of the UK, thanks to a new service from Sound Digital.

A major retune campaign will soon start encouraging listeners to rescan their DAB radios in order to receive all available stations in their area. But what exactly is happening, which stations are coming and how will it impact digital radio listeners?

Here are some frequently asked questions, including some submitted to a516digital in recent weeks:

WHAT IS SOUND DIGITAL?
Sound Digital is a consortium of companies involved with radio content and distribution that have the licence to run a new digital radio multiplex, dubbed Digital 2, officially known as SDL National. The companies involved are Arqiva, Bauer Media and Wireless Group (the former UTV Media).

WHICH STATIONS ARE AVAILABLE ON THE SOUND DIGITAL MULTIPLEX?
These are the full set of stations broadcast on the multiplex. Some aren't launching until later in March 2016:
  • Absolute 80s new (80kbps)
  • Awesome Radio (64kbps)
  • Fun Kids UK (32kbps DAB+ stereo*)
  • heat radio (80kbps)
  • Jazz FM Stereo (32kbps DAB+ stereo*)
  • KISSTORY  (80kbps)
  • Magic Chilled (32kbps DAB+ stereo*)
  • Mellow Magic (80kbps)
  • Panjab Radio 1 (56kbps)
  • Planet Rock (80kbps)
  • Premier Christian (64kbps)
  • Premier Praise  (64kbps)
  • Share Radio UK (64kbps)
  • TalkRADIO (64kbps)
  • TalkSPORT2  (64kbps)
  • Virgin Radio (80kbps)
  • Sunrise National (64kbps)
  • UCB2 (64kbps) 
*Requires a DAB+ radio with HE-AACv2 compatibility

I CAN ALREADY RECEIVE SOME OF THESE STATIONS ON DAB, WHY CAN'T I RECEIVE ALL OF THEM?
Some stations have been already carried on other DAB multiplexes.

Starting week commencing 29th February, these services will be available on the new Sound Digital multiplex.

Note that in parts of Herefordshire and Worcestershire, you can hear Fun Kids via a different DAB frequency. In the Aberdeen area, Virgin Radio, TalkRADIO and TalkSPORT2 will be carried on the local DAB service, so in both of these areas it's possible to receive some of the stations listed above without actually being in Sound Digital's coverage area.

WHEN WILL THE STATIONS LABELLED "OLD" ON MY STATION LIST BE REMOVED?
(updated) There is currently a transition period where affected stations are moving to the new Sound Digital multiplex from their previous DAB frequencies.

The transition started in March and is due to complete during April.

  • Share Radio and Premier Christian Radio completed their migration at the beginning of April.


I'M LOSING ABSOLUTE 80s / PLANET ROCK ON DAB. WHY?
updated 19/04/2016
The new multiplex enables some radio stations to opt for lower, cheaper national coverage. As such, some stations such as Planet RockAbsolute 80s and Premier Christian Radio won't be available to as many DAB listeners. For example, if you listen to any of the stations listed here, but are not in the coverage area of the new Sound Digital multiplex, you won't be able to listen on DAB when the transition is complete. See the next questions and answers for more on this subject.

WILL EVERYONE BE ABLE TO RECEIVE THE NEW MULTIPLEX?
No. UK coverage is expected to be around 75%, broadcasting from just 45 transmitters across the country. Some listeners will not be able to hear the service.

WHY WON'T THE MULTIPLEX BE AVAILABLE TO EVERYONE?
The multiplex is a commercial service, and the operator has opted to create a service that just reaches the main urban areas and some surrounding towns and villages, in order to keep transmission costs down, thus providing niche radio stations a chance to join DAB with less cost compared to the existing national multiplex.

HOW DO I FIND OUT IF I'M IN THE COVERAGE AREA?
Go to http://www.getdigitalradio.com/whats-on-dab/at-your-address/ and check station availability - if you see stations such as Virgin Radio listed, you're in the official coverage area.
But remember! If you use a rooftop aerial to receive DAB, you may be able to receive it out of the normal coverage area. Also local factors, such as trees and tall buildings may create blackspots that the coverage checker can't see.

I AM IN ABERDEEN AND AM BEING TOLD I'LL GET SOME SOUND DIGITAL STATIONS AND NOT OTHERS. WHY?
Virgin Radio, TalkSPORT2 and Talk RADIO will be broadcast on the Aberdeen local DAB multiplex as Sound Digital's signal doesn't reach all the way up to Aberdeen. Incidentally, the operator of the local DAB multiplex for Aberdeen is owned by the company running these three stations.

I'M IN THE COVERAGE AREA, BUT CAN'T RECEIVE THE NEW MULTIPLEX. WHY?
The coverage checker can't factor in local obstructions that affect the signal, such as trees and thick walls.

Important: Please note that some older radios need to be retuned using the "Rest of World" or "Full scan" mode, as the frequency used for Sound Digital is out of the standard tuning range, otherwise your radio won't receive the services, despite being in the coverage area. The Get Digital Radio website has further instructions.

I NOTICE ON THE COVERAGE CHECKER A LITTLE DAB+ LOGO NEXT TO SOME OF THE STATION NAMES. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
It means you will need to have a DAB+ compatible radio to listen to the station (Jazz FM, Fun Kids, Magic Chilled). DAB+ compatible radios should display the official DAB+ logo, pictured. New DAB+ compatible radios such also carry the official Digital Radio tick mark, also pictured.

WILL I BE LOSING JAZZ FM AND FUN KIDS IN LONDON IF I DON'T HAVE A DAB+ RADIO?
No. Jazz FM and Fun Kids will be available to listeners in London via their existing DAB frequency in addition to the new DAB+ broadcasts.

WILL FUN KIDS BE AVAILABLE IN AREAS OUTSIDE OF SOUND DIGITAL'S COVERAGE AREA?
No, with the exception of Herefordshire and Worcestershire, where Fun Kids is being carried as a regular DAB service on the local DAB multiplex, which covers a number of areas that Sound Digital doesn't.

WHY ARE STATIONS LIKE FUN KIDS SILENT?
If your radio is not DAB+ compatible, Fun Kids UK, Magic Chilled and Jazz FM Stereo will be silent (unless you live in an area where Fun Kids or Jazz FM is already available as a standard DAB station.)

WHAT WILL THE SOUND QUALITY BE LIKE?
There will be a mix of stereo and mono stations. The cost of broadcasting on DAB is linked not just to coverage areas but also on the amount of bandwidth taken by each service, and a stereo service needs more bandwidth. To enable niche stations with smaller budgets to broadcast on the multiplex, some stations will be broadcast in mono. Bluntly, if this option wasn't available, many smaller stations just wouldn't broadcast on DAB at all.

WILL I GET BUBBLING MUD SOUNDS LIKE ON THE OTHER DAB MULTIPLEXES?
If you are in a weak signal area, this is likely. However, DAB+ services should just fade out rather than make a bubbling noise in weak signal areas.

WHAT'S THE ACTUAL BENEFIT OF HAVING THIS EXTRA DAB MULTIPLEX?
The existing national Digital 1 multiplex was for many years full to capacity, with very expensive carriage costs for stations. With the introduction of the Sound Digital multiplex, stations now have a choice:
- Digital 1: wider (more expensive) coverage.
- Digital 2 (Sound Digital):  cheaper, lower coverage option, but still reaches all main urban areas.
- Local DAB: for stations targeting local areas or pseudo-national stations with local advertising.

Importantly, with the launch of Sound Digital, capacity is freed up on Digital 1, enabling a new station, Heart Extra, to launch on DAB, bringing the sound of Heart to those parts of the UK that don't have the station on FM or DAB already. There will also be more capacity on local DAB services, opening up opportunities for other radio stations. Whether or not this will allow existing mono services to switch to stereo is up to the individual stations. Although mono broadcasting irritates some listeners, there hasn't been enough protest to encourage larger stations to consider upping their bitrate, while smaller stations simply can't afford more bandwidth.

SOUND DIGITAL IS NOT AVAILABLE IN MY AREA, THEREFORE WHY DO YOU REFER TO IT AS A NATIONAL MULTIPLEX?
Sound Digital's multiplex is labelled SDL National and it will reach 75% of the UK, which means the majority of the UK population is in the coverage area. However, as is already the case with other services that aren't available to everyone, a516digital does generally go out of the way to qualify coverage in its articles, e.g.: Sound Digital being available in "many parts of the UK", rather than "across the UK" as it might say in a press release. The site often features links to coverage checkers on its pages or advises readers that a station/channel is "only available if you can already receive 'XYZ' on channel/frequency 'ABC'". Other sites don't offer that level of detail.

WHAT ABOUT RECEPTION OF OTHER DAB STATIONS?
Other DAB stations, such as those operated by the BBC aren't affected by the launch of Sound Digital's new multiplex. There is currently a programme in place that aims to boost coverage of existing services, though again what you will receive depends where you live. The BBC aims to cover 98% of the population with its national DAB services, commercial and local BBC services will reach fewer areas.

WHAT ABOUT FM RADIO, WILL THIS BE AFFECTED?
No decision has been made about digital radio switchover. Just like it took a while for services to move from AM to FM during the 80s and 90s, so too the dual running of DAB and FM. You can continue listening to stations on FM unaffected by the changes detailed above.

ARE THERE ANY OTHER CHANGES?
A number of changes to stations on national and local DAB are taking place during the week commencing 29th February, and you should retune your DAB radio to update your station list to reflect the stations available in your area.
Heart Extra is available to everyone currently able to receive Classic FM and BFBS on DAB.


Last reviewed, except where stated: 04/04/2016












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6 comments:

  1. A very clear well written informative report, thanks

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  2. Well the coverage checker claims I get good reception of the Digital One existing mux, which I certainly don't even with a proper DAB loft aerial. Reception breaks up in all sorts of weather conditions. So it seems to be over estimating, and the fair reception it claims I'll get for the new mux will probably barely work.

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    Replies
    1. Interesting to hear the feedback, which balances quite a few comments across the internet saying it's underestimating. It certainly underestimates around here, and that's using the basic telescopic aerial on the actual radio.

      Loft aerials are great for some DAB reception of multiplexes covering areas further away where there are no other transmitters using that frequency. But in some cases a loft aerial will make your reception worse for two completely different reasons:
      a) if they are too good at pulling in signals (this is because signals from transmitters more than 74km away can distroy your reception) or b) obstructions in the loft (not neccessary yours, but if e.g. you're in a terraced house and the only DAB signal available needs to 'pass through' someone else's loft in order to get to your aerial, or there's another building or trees very close by that attenuates your signal, and there aren't any alternative signals from another direction.)

      In the case of Digital 1, assuming your aerial is aimed at Sandy Heath, the following transmitters are all in a line from your location, which you previously disclosed on the site: Madingley, Sandy Heath, Bow Brickhill and Oxford. The slightest whiff of an Oxford signal would however cancel your reception.

      If your aerial is an omnidirectional aerial, there are numerous further transmitters covering the area.

      I'm aware you can't receive Madingley correctly, as you are unable to receive the local TV multiplex from the site, as previously disclosed, although you would be using a UHF aerial for this. In both cases the DAB and Freeview coverage checkers deem your area in range of the Madingley transmitter. Freeview assumes you have an aerial on the top of your roof, not near the gutter/fascia boards or inside the loft). The DAB checker warns that it "doesn't allow for other factors that may affect reception, such as whether you live in a very built-up area, or in a basement flat, if the building has a steel frame or is made of reinforced concrete." These restrictions are basically there, because they can't go round and visit every street to do a signal measurement and b) the models are based on 100x100m squares that can't see the individual effect of buildings or trees.

      So there are two options:
      Your DAB loft aerial doesn't perform very well for whatever reason and is not able to pull in Madingley, like your UHF set-up, and probably isn't able to pull in any further transmitters and you have signal break-up.
      Your DAB loft aerial does perform, and performs very well. It pulls in signals from a number of transmitters including masts more than 74km away and your signal is destroyed. You have signal break-up.
      Incidentally, this is a known problem, and one of the challenges the BBC had when boosting its DAB coverage in East Anglia. Commercial operators aren't as bothered, as long as enough people can tune in to make money.

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    2. My DAB aerial is a vertical folded dipole ie. omni directional. Reception of the BBC national DAB mux is excellent, it's just Digital One that is problematic when it rains or it's very windy etc. I'd always assumed this was because I get the BBC from Madingley or Sandy Heath whereas Digital One comes from Peterborough. But I suspect a lot more transmitters have come online since I last looked into this.

      My house is the middle of a row of 4, I have no gable ends nor chiment. So outside aerials are a real problem from a mounting point of view, they'd need a very tall pole to get above tbe roofline if mounted on the rear wall of the house.

      The TV aerial is hung in the very peak of the roof inside the loft, so not down at gutter level. My Sandy Heath TV reception is excellent, rock solid on all HD and SD muxes with low pre Viterbi error rates (my Sony TV shows these) so I have no idea what's up with Madingley. I used to get moderate Channel 5 analogue from there which was broadcast at very low power, so I ought to have no trouble with the local mux. Aerial is a Televes DAT 75, not the best I know but it is short so allows it to be mounted high in the loft. All cabling is double screened CT100.

      I also get FM from Peterborough on an Antiference FM105 five element also mounted in the loft, diagonally to get it to fit and gets the best signal. There is just enough signal for full stereo quieting.

      Both TV and FM directional aerials look out through the roof tiles, not anyone else's loft. And they're not looking through each other, they're carefully arranged at 90 degrees (roughly) several feet away looking past the end of each other.

      I used to receive DAB on my FM aerial, tuner is an Arcam DT91 FM/DAB with a single coax input (it's a Radioscape software define radio inside). Then I added the DAB aerial and a combiner in the loft, but to be honest it's made no improvement at all to DAB reception.

      The problem is a lot of the time DAB is fine. I can only tell if I'm making improvements during bad weather, which makes it hard to schedule trying things out. If only there were affordable reception diagnostic tools.

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  3. I'm a little confused here. Will Sound Digital be expanding coverage? Or is it just gonna sit at 75%?

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  4. Lots of Vauxhal Vectra's DAB Radios went to DAB box error on Monday the 15th Feb. Coincidence?

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