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Is a digital radio switchover coming? Your questions answered

a516digital cuts through the noise surrounding a possible digital radio switchover, with some of your burning questions about the shift to digital radio.

For the first time ever, more of us now listen to the radio on digital platforms, which has put the possibility of a digital radio switchover back on the map.

What happens next?
The point at which digital radio listening overtook analogue radio listening was a long-standing trigger point, designed to prompt the Government into to conducting a review on the possibility of a digital radio switchover. It's now over to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to progress the matter.

Will my analogue FM signal be switched off?
Not in the immediate future. In fact, ahead of the 50% trigger being reached, both the BBC and Global Radio (operator of stations including Classic FM, LBC and Heart) indicated that they intend to focus on a hybrid future of FM, DAB and online / mobile in the immediate future.

Will my analogue AM signal be switched off?
Already a number of broadcasters have trimmed their AM distribution, and it's likely this will continue as more listeners move to digital platforms. Clearly, in those areas where FM and DAB signals are poor or non-existent, AM services will need to be retained for the time being.

What is being done to prepare for a possible digital radio switchover?
As reported earlier this month, representatives from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport have been discussing options with the radio industry.

I can't receive a decent DAB signal, what will be done about this?
If the Government does decide to move towards a digital radio switchover, then additional DAB transmitters would be commissioned to fill the gaps in DAB multiplex coverage

Additionally, new local 'small-scale DAB' multiplexes, which operate on a simplified, mostly low-coverage basis, may well provide local radio coverage in those areas not covered by a commercial local DAB multiplex. That will benefit listeners in places like Cumbria, Mid-Wales and the Scottish Borders to name a few areas. You can read our report about the proposals for small-scale DAB here.

I don't receive many stations on DAB. Will this change?
It depends where you are in the UK. The BBC's national stations have the greatest coverage, followed by stations on the national Digital 1 multiplex (including Absolute, Classic and LBC). While the BBC has been committed to covering as much of the UK as it can, commercial operators have been reluctant to increase coverage above 90% of the UK, as it is not seen as viable. A small number of transmitters can reach more than half of the population. The last 10% is scattered in small numbers across the UK, meaning you need hundreds of relays to fill each hole, which adds considerable cost to commercial operators.

On a positive note, this week, Sound Digital, which operates the Digital 2 multiplex, has announced it will be adding a further a further 4 million listeners to its coverage area by the end of the year thanks to 19 new transmitters.

And many parts of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland would have additional DAB transmitters activated if it was decided to move towards a digital radio switchover.

Why are we replacing stereo FM with mono DAB?
Bandwidth costs money. The higher the bitrate, the more a station has to pay to broadcast on DAB. So many opt for cheaper, mono carriage, in the knowledge that many listeners can still in stereo online or via mobile apps.

DAB+, the newer standard for digital terrestrial radio, is paving the way for more broadcasters to be available in stereo. If the BBC wanted to make a switch to DAB+, it would have ample space to broadcast all national services in stereo. However, there would have to be a transition to allow older DAB radios that don't support DAB+ to be phased out.

However, if you have sensitive ears, high quality online streams, such as that used for BBC Radio 3 in the UK, will offer the best bitrates and sound quality for the content being broadcast.

Are there any other countries that want to do the same?

  • Norway has already completed a digital radio switchover. However this only affected national stations. Local services still transmit in analogue.
  • Switzerland and Denmark are also actively moving toward a digital radio switchover.
  • The northern Italian region of South Tyrol has moved to switch to DAB, but the rest of Italy is still developing its digital radio network.

Do we need DAB? Can't mobile networks provide better coverage?
As with DAB, mobile network coverage varies, unlike DAB, what you can download from your mobile network is based on your budget and data allowance, which means it's not a truly free-to-air experience.

Nevertheless, we note with interest the BBC's participation in a 5G broadcast radio trial, announced earlier this year.

I listen to a local FM community radio station. What will happen after the digital radio switchover?(Added 18/05/2018)  In the event that a digital radio switchover is pursued, early indications are that community stations will be out of scope. Traditionally, it has been unviable for most community stations to entertain broadcasting on DAB. However, Ofcom is working at licensing a network of 'small-scale DAB' multiplexes that would provide low-cost, low-coverage options for community stations wishing to go on DAB.
However, in the meantime, community stations will continue to be assigned FM frequencies.

  • Tweet the editor, Mike Manning with any more questions you'd like to see answered on the subject of digital radio switchover @a516digital. Alternatively visit