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Global Radio and BBC united on DAB/FM/IP hybrid future

The founder of the UK's largest commercial radio group has joined the BBC's Director of Radio in calling for a hybrid approach to the future of radio.

Ashley Tabor, from Global Radio, responded to a speech given by Bob Shennan, BBC Director of Radio on Monday, in which the BBC confirmed a hybrid approach to radio distribution, which would see FM and internet distribution remain in the mix alongside DAB digital radio.

Just months before digital listening is expected to exceed 50% of all radio listening, triggering a Government review on digital radio switchover, Mr Shennan told delegates at Radiodays Europe that DAB was "only a part of the story, along with FM and IP."

Confirming that FM would remain part of the BBC's future mix of distribution for radio, he added:
"We remain fully committed to DAB as an important part of our radio distribution strategy but we need to do more before we consider a switchover in the UK, and for that to be genuinely audience-led. For now, we believe audiences are best served by a mixed economy. Radio is also better served by a mixed economy."

Ashley Tabor, representing commercial stations including Heart, Capital and LBC, responded saying:
 "We agree with the BBC that the time for a switch-off of FM is not now. We are delighted to fully support both DAB, and IP delivery of content. We have started many DAB stations on the D1 (Digital One) platform recently, invested in local DAB transmission and invested significant resources in new apps like the Global Player, home to all of Global's stations on mobile and connected devices. 
"That saying, around half of radio listening still comes from FM. With an installed user base like that, it would be premature to advocate an FM switch-off at this time. Now is the time for the BBC and commercial radio to work together to continue the growth and progress of radio in a multi-platform broadcast world."

The apparent change in view comes after strong growth in internet-delivered services. At home, connected devices have started to usurp traditional radio sets in the last few years, thanks to apps including iPlayer Radio, Tune In and RadioPlayer on mobiles and tablets as well as new voice-controlled functions to control access to radio on smart home devices. Meanwhile, out on the road, 3G/4G coverage holes and data allowance costs mean FM and DAB remain dominant. Notably absent in the future hybrid mix of radio is AM radio, which indicates the industry will continue to drive AM switch-off in favour of DAB digital radio and internet delivery.

Some websites, including MailOnline have said that the BBC has "cancelled" digital radio switchover, after extracts of Mr Shennan's speech were leaked over the weekend. MailOnline also told users who had "splashed out" on DAB receiver have had "bad luck". However, a digital radio switchover hadn't yet been confirmed - the Government, not the BBC has the responsibility to decide if a switchover will take place and when. It is due to report back after digital listening has exceed 50% of all radio listening. And both the BBC and Global Radio remain committed to broadcasting via DAB. Most users of DAB radios can continue to enjoy a wider range of BBC and commercial stations compared to FM, although only the BBC's UK-wide services enjoy near full coverage. The Digital One commercial multiplex reaches around 90% of the UK, while Sound Digital (Digital 2) covers around 3/4 of the UK. Local DAB is being expanded to cover more areas, with small-scale DAB multiplexes expected to enable areas such as Cumbria and parts of Scotland to receive a wider range of DAB stations for the first time.

Data from radio audience research body RAJAR indicates the majority of under 65s now listen digitally, while older audiences predominately stick with analogue.

Last week, we reported how the BBC is participating in 5G broadcast radio trials, with 5G technology enabling something different to streaming radio via your mobile network connection, as is currently the case with 3G and 4G.


  1. When DAB used to be the perceived "monolith" of digital radio, DAB was panned by many audiophile critics for DAB's past bit rate massacres on channels! These critics, including myself, have moved on to a better listening experience and more diverse listening choice to online radio!
    DAB radio in the UK has had a mid-fidelity sound experience for most of its life and has remained as a Cinderella service ever since. Advocates of DAB never tire of their slogan, "programme content is king" over the actual sound quality of the product. If that claim was true, why on earth did music loving radio listeners desert the AM waveband and moved in droves to FM Stereo?
    Anyway, the consumers have quite rightly triumphed over what was a producers led market of more expensive DAB radios with customers knowing best, hence the further postponement of digital radio switchover!