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Digital Radio industry body heralds "major moment" for DAB listeners

Industry body Digital Radio UK has welcomed today’s announcements from Sound Digital on the launch of 18 digital stations on the new D2 National DAB Network, in a move it says is a "major moment for digital radio and for listeners".

Digital Radio UK told a516digital that the launch of the new Sound Digital multiplex would "dramatically expand the choice of unique and diverse stations available on DAB, with the expansion of some of radio’s strongest brands – Magic, Kiss and talkSPORT – the return of Virgin Radio, specific music genres with Jazz FM, new speech stations - talkRADIO and Share Radio and stations targeting different audiences including children and different ethnic and faith groups from Fun Kids, Panjab Radio, Sunrise Radio, new station Awesome Radio, UCB 2 and Premier."

The launch of the multiplex, operated by Arqiva, Bauer Media and UTV Radio, will see the launch of the first widely distributed stations using the newer DAB+ standard: Jazz FM, Fun Kids and Magic Chilled.

Digital Radio UK believes the move to DAB+ is "significant" and believes it will provide "a great listening experience for listeners on DAB+ radios in homes and cars", estimated to be over 6 million and growing. The organisation added: "Most new radios now carry the digital radio tick mark which provides guidance for consumers that the digital radio they’re buying includes DAB+."

By the end of March 2016 there will be over 40 digital stations available nationally on DAB with 30 national commercial digital stations . "This is a total transformation from back in 2009 when there were only 4 national commercial digital stations available on the Digital 1 DAB network", according to Digital Radio UK. "Supported by the huge investment in building out the DAB national and local coverage networks, this growth reflects the proven ability for new digital stations to quickly find an audience on national DAB thanks to the massive shift in digital listening with almost 42% of listening being digital and the fact that nearly 55% of homes now have a DAB digital radio", it added.

Ford Ennals, CEO of Digital Radio UK responded to the Sound Digital announcement saying 
"This is a massive moment for digital radio with an explosion of station choice on the DAB platform. With over 40 stations on National DAB there has never been a better time to listen to digital radio, to buy a digital radio or get one in your car.".

DAB is however being criticised by opponents. Some have told a516digital they're still not impressed at the range of stations on offer and they believe the sound quality and bitrates on the platform are inadequate. They want to see fewer stations using higher bitrates - fewer stations taking larger chunks of available bandwidth.

But industry sources say that DAB needs an outlet that allows smaller stations a cheaper way to access audiences. Cost of DAB carriage is influenced by the coverage costs of the multiplex and how many capacity units a station opts to use, the greater the bandwidth and coverage, the more expensive it becomes. Sound Digital, they say, is a low cost option, with fewer transmitters and plenty of slots enabling stations normally priced out of widespread DAB coverage to join or re-join the platform, providing more choice to listeners. They point to stations such as Jazz FM, which dropped off national DAB in 2013 because of the expense, now rejoining the platform on the new multiplex, and Premier Christian Radio who went public at the end of 2014 over their protracted issues regarding carriage fees; that station is now switching to the cheaper Sound Digital operated service. 

While a minority will refuse to listen to DAB because of their issues with sound quality, audience figures show that digital radio listening continues to increase. The industry hopes to build on the success of Radio X's relaunch with the range of new stations starting up on DAB in most parts of the UK from the 29th February.

  • A coverage checker will shortly be available where listeners can check if they're within range of one or more of Sound Digital's 45 transmitters covering the UK.
  • A major campaign to encourage listeners to retune is linked with the official launch of the multiplex, which is currently testing in parts of the UK on VHF Block 11A.