DAB Radio: why you should switch

16 Dec, 2013 5:12pm Nathan Velayudhan

The digital switchover is on the horizon. We round-up the Government's plans

Initiations for the digital switchover have already begun, as Government Minister, Ed Vaizey, has announced.

At the Go Digital Conference, Ed Vaizey - Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries - was joined by vehicle manufacturers and digital radio makers alike as he announced plans for the digital switchover. We've rounded up all the key points, to help you decide whether you should make the switch.

Ed Vaizey marked his intentions from the start: "“I absolutely believe that the future of radio in this country is digital. We cannot go backwards."

The Government has outlined its intention to see radio broadcasting switch from analogue to digital audio broadcasting (DAB). It's received backing from all areas of the industry,  with the CEO of Halfords declaring: "Halfords is committed to a digital future." Halfords has announced that by 2015 its radio offerings will be 100 per cent digital.

Ed Vaizey has announced a string of initiatives that he says will help the spread of digital radio. An all-new digital "tick" mark is to be used on approved digital radio sets, while the DVLA is set to include information about digital radio in vehicle tax reminders.

Further to this, there will be up to £21m of new investment, which comes from the BBC, the Government and commercial radio. This will be used to build digital radio coverage, so more homes can receive it.

Meanwhile, Ofcom will next year advertise the licence to build and run a second national DAB multiplex - this will allow new national commercial stations to launch.

Initially, the Government had set a target date of 2015, by which, it had hoped to complete the digital switchover. However, Vaizey has not yet announced an official date. Meanwhile, the commercial radio trade body, the Radio Centre, has been pushing for a digital switchover date of 2018 - but there are even questions as to whether this is an achievable date or not.

As things stand, 40 per cent of new cars come with digital radio fitted as standard - it is recognised that the availability of digital radio in cars will be pivotal in terms of the digital switchover.

However, the government has announced the switchover will only commence when 50 per cent of all listening is to digital (currently it is at 35.6 per cent). In other words, the Government is hoping to grow DAB coverage so that it is comparable to FM. Currently, FM has reached the limit of its capabilities and like other media, radio needs to move towards a digital future to meet listeners' expectations.

Advantages of digital radio (DAB) include ease-of-use (easily find stations), more content and better quality of sound. The Government is hoping to extend local DAB reach to 90 per cent of the population and all major roads before the switchover takes place. 

However, there's still a substantial amount of work to do, as Ed Vaizey highlights: "We are not there yet. So now is not the time to switchover.”

Do check back here as we will be updating this page regularly with all the latest DAB news.

Disqus - noscript

Yet more expense or something we never asked for or even wanted!

This article repeats several myths about DAB radio, and adds some new ones.

All DAB stations now have far WORSE sound quality than FM: in London, the majority are now in inferior mono compared with the high quality stereo of all FM stations.

There is nothing about DAB that makes it easier to use than FM: FM radios with RDS have offered automatic tuning with presets and on-screen station names for years, whereas DAB requires regular re-scans as stations come and go; and with DAB it takes longer to switch between stations and longer for the radio to turn on in the first place.

DAB radio and digital radio are not the same thing: digital radio could be through the internet (for potentially the highest quality and most stations), through digital TV (about the same quality as FM) and, for the lowest quality, DAB.

FM has not reached the limit of its capabilities: there is a new system to link FM stations to internet data so that text and images can be provided in conjunction with the FM audio.

And Halfords' claim that 'its radio offerings will be 100% digital' by 2015 is a misleading statement designed to get them free publicity. Of course their radios won't be 100% digital: it would be commercial suicide for Halfords to sell any which couldn't also receive FM.

DAB has been a disaster for the UK radio industry, with existing stations damaged by the transfer of money to fund DAB expansion and the loss of many genuinely local stations altogether. DAB should be abandoned now: it's an expensive, inferior service, and if there is to be a digital future for radio then it will be through internet and mobile phone services.

Big ideas but lacking any substance.... as usual! To work, we first need the infrastructure to support it, not another halfhearted effort and a big contract to implement to a big party contributor. It's the same largely with electric plug-in vehicles, smart idea but where the supporting infrastructure away from home? Also, are we to catch up with European standards as I believe the current standard for adoption in the UK is different from the most European countries and lower-tech.

This is an absolutely classic example of one source putting one spin on this matter with another source putting out a different one! AE is rather gung ho whilst the BBC, in a news bulletin a few minutes ago, takes a "some time, never" line, hinting that it is unlikely to happen in the near future if at all. Who does one believe. Perhaps neither.

That well known bicycle and camping gear retailer will not be committing "commercial suicide" because it chooses not to stock FM radios. A bit of commercial self mutilation maybe, but not suicide.

The most important factor for Radio, is what is broadcast, not how. R5L and R5LSX on MW and DAB only. No RDS on the former for example.

Bring back LW and SW.

quite right, specially when i only listen to one radio station 2h a day:S

DAB is poor, outdated technology and both reception and audio quality are inferior to FM. The original switchover date of 2015 (set by Labour in 2010) was always completely unrealistic and there is zero chance that it will happen by 2017/18.

Labour have now said that they will not switch off the FM signal until at least 75% of listening is on digital, so this is going to keep on getting kicked into the long grass. This will be fine with most users who realise that with DAB we are being sold a lemon - in effect, the Betamax of radio. Is it really a coincidence that DAB reversed spells BAD?

DAB is struggling and ten years from now we will still be listening to FM, of that I am certain. No government is going to go for switchover until the vast majority of listeners have converted to digital, and that is not going to happen for another decade at least. By then DAB will have been replaced anyway, so why all the misplaced hype AE?

In this case I think the BBC are correct. This is not going to happen any time soon and AE seem to have got hold of the wrong end of the stick somehow. Today's announcement and the response from Labour effectively kicks swichover into the long grass. Strangely, AE are getting all excited about something that now isn't going to happen.

The more DAB stations there are, the lower the bitrate will be, and the poorer the reception will get. Ed Vaizey has no idea what he is talking about, but I suspect there's a nice little earner in there somewhere for his Dept.

DAB is Pointless it doesn't work correctly breaks up when you get near to the transmitters.

There was nothing wrong with FM.

Is not progress..

Fantastic journalism, AE! This item published 4 hours after the Telegraph reported that the FM switch-off had been deferred for the forseeable future. DAB is not the future and it barely has a past. Come on AE,wake up.

I understand that the standard
for the UK system is not compatible with the continent, so when
one goes to the continent for a holiday the radio will not work. Common standards
across the EU?

My DAB in my Focus sounds great - you can definitely tell the difference between DAB and FM. Never have problems with coverage, either. Maybe all the negative comments here come from people with cheap and nasty DAB units?

An unfortunate reference to Betamax. Technically, it gave far superior picture quality to VHS but failed for marketing reasons. The message coming from other comments is that DAB is giving inferior quality to good old reliable FM.

I am very happy with AM and FM. I have yet to speak to a driver who prefers DAB.

DAB+ in Europe is a far superior technology.

This is simply about one thing:making money! DAB coverage is awful, never mind the quality compared to FM and where we live in Cornwall, even UK-derived FM stations are difficult (French ones come in better!). Radio 4 198kHz Long Wave works best here!

'The Government is hoping to extend local DAB reach to 90 per cent of the population and all major roads before the switchover takes place'
So that means 10% of the population, a mere six million people, get no radio at all. Great!

Read more: http://www.autoexpress.co.uk/c...

I guess its a matter of opinion/location. I find digital to be excellent and opens up a whole new listening world. I can now listen to 6 Music on my whole journey instead of the R1 prats and the R2 oldies.

*waves* over here!

The supposed superiority of Betamax is an urban myth as the technical lead of the format was in fact negligible. Taken as a whole product, VHS was better. There was no significant difference in picture quality and VHS recorders were simpler and cheaper to make. The tapes had longer recording times (1 hour Betamax tapes were pointless) and were also cheaper.

Betamax failed because the disadvantages outweighed the advantages and the package as a whole fell short of VHS. So actually quite similar to the DAB v. FM debate in many ways. DAB may have some advantages over FM, e.g. greater choice of stations, but these are outweighed by the numerous disadvantages.

No DAB radio I have ever listened to has been as deep or clear as FM. My next car will have both systems, because I want the choice, but the reception and sound quality of DAB simply is not as good, it sounds weak and tinny to me. Halfords of course wants a switchover, because they will be the first point of call for all those millions having to replace their car radios. But this doesn't make DAB better.

The L750 3hr 15min standard Beta format tape was longer than the standard E180 3hr VHS tape in PAL countries such as the UK. VHS LP and SLP gave markedly worse picture usually. Beta had picture search, Hi-Fi sound and camcorders before VHS and a DVD-equalling 500 line resolution picture in Extended Definition Betamax (1988) 8 years before DVD came out. Urban myth? No, pure fact actually.

I shall just listen to my I pod there is too much chit chat and little music on radio 1 certainly would not spend money on replacing in car system and also many are fixed features part of dashboard

Even expensive DAB units can't mask the cheap and nasty sound of 80k mono DAB stations and the higher rate stations aren't that stunning either.

Whilst VHS sold more units overall, Betamax never "failed", Sony sold many millions of Beta VCRs, camcorders and blank tapes and Beta was the dominant format in many countries around the world. The format lasted from 1975 - 2002 (tapes are still made for Japan) and spawned the all-conquering Betacam professional format. Many other companies also sold Beta format hardware and software, By the way, you mention VHS being cheaper, longer L750 tapes were the same price as shorter E180 for almost a decade and the best selling VCRs in the UK from the late 1970s to the mid 1980s were usually Sanyo Beta models that started at £80 - £100 less than the cheapest and lesser quality VHS models. If you weren't around to know this, just buy an old video magazine from ebay and you might stop perpetuating your own urban myths.

Digtial radio does NOT have better sound quality than FM. It could have done, but we adopted too early and are lumbered with an outmoded audio codec. Whilst other countries have DAB+ which can be as good as FM (it depends on the bitrate of broadcast), our DAB is woefully inadequate. Combined with the heavy compression used by many commerical stations, the result can be gruesome, even before signal drop outs are considered.

Thanks to "engineer" and others I now know why I find DAB radio in a recent hire car and a friends portable radio, sounds distorted and odd. Helpful to know it will not work on my frequent continental trips, so no more traffic reports. Spin spin spin and lies, lets hope the changeover never happens

Really? By the mid-1980s Betamax was effectively finished in the UK. The slight advantage that Betamax had in terms of picture quality counted for nothing because it made no discernible difference on the vast majority of 1980s TVs. By this time Sanyo was a second tier manufacturer and their VCRs were definitely not the market leaders. JVC/Thorn and Panasonic were.

No one in the industry that knew what they were talking about would recommend Betamax and major retailers were no longer stocking them. All the institutions (e.g. schools) that had mistakenly bought Betamax soon replaced them with VHS because support for the format was evaporating. Stop deluding yourself.

The pure fact is that Betamax was inferior as a package and that is why it lost out to VHS. You are preoccupied with regurgitating superfluous technical jargon in the belief that this will support your argument and miss the point. The product that has the technical advantage may not necessarily be the best as a whole product.

All the nonsense about the failure of Betamax being down to marketing is garbage. Sony et al were the masters of slick marketing and could sell almost anything to almost anyone. The product was wrong, not the marketing.

Who needs to step backwards?

Currently DAB relies on MP2 for the sound technology, not MP3. Both are heavily compressed to minimise bandwidth which makes for poor quality sound on home hi-fi systems.

However in a car or other vehicle the background noise set up by wind,tyre,road and external sources effectively mask the limited dynamics of digital sound sources.

What is needed is a move to digital lossless sound broadcasting and that would mean a whole new standard which is unlikely to get any international backing unless all motor manufacturers and aftermarket suppliers force the issue, unlikely.

I do not listen to the radio in the car, I listen to MP3 sourced music. Traffic info comes via my sat-nav, I do not see myself as in the minority with this enjoymentof pre-recorded source material.

On a national journey the average DAB radio needs a retune with monotonous regularlity and this means many minutes of radio silence on every journey. Even digital TV's drop any presentation when an update is needed, when you are luck enough to have a decent signal to trigger the changes. FM and RDS seems comparatively seamless as radios step from local transmitter to local transmitter.

Until someone builds a better mousetrap DAB will remain an old and ineffective broadcast medium. Best suited to stationary reproductive media at home or work.

What mobile users should be looking for in their car to supply is MP3/4 or smart-phone connectivity with perhaps a sat-nav.

It won't be long before a micro-computer controls the audio environment for the driver and AV for his passengers as well as controlling all aspects of the car itself.

Linux/opensource and Micro$oft are investing some serious money to bring unified computer sytems into the automotive industry.

For the moment buying into DAB will be sleep walking into Government sponsored technological oblivion.

Happy Listening

Sanyo were not a second tier manufacturer when their Beta decks were the best selling decks in the UK for many years. Sony also had top selling decks. Note I didn't say that Beta was outselling VHS in total like you allude to but the best selling single models for a good number of years like the VTC9300, VTC5000, VTC5150, VTC5300, SL-C5UB, SL-C7UB and SL-C6UB were Beta models. That is simply a fact. The Those facts can be found in back issues of What Video? (and the general press) who gave machine of the year to many Sony decks, they were the top selling video magazine. The sheer number of VHS brands and the fact that most people rented than bought until the late 80s (and those outlets mostly stocked JVC derived Thorn VHS product like Ferguson and Baird or Hitachi derived Granada product) swung the market here. Beta was better than VHS, Super Beta and Super Hi Band Beta was better than VHS HQ and ED Beta was better than Super VHS. The world market was not a mirror image of the UK. Beta had much more success and had far superior equipment than what was released in the UK, this is what you are clearly unaware of. VHS was far more successful in sales but Beta had many strongholds around the world. Sony made a lot of money from the format. Don't kid yourself otherwise. My eyes (and the experts) tell me Beta is better just like my ears tell me FM is better than DAB.

I see you couldn't counter my facts by the way - as expected by someone who mentions 1 hour Betamax tapes - oh, well, it is the internet.

Betamax vs VHS picture quality: both were terrible and VHS was only slightly worse. The reason was that JVC/Matsushita VHS was winning the marketing because of longer recording time. Sony had to compromise their picture quality in order to have longer recording time and this wiped out the picture advantage. Once VHS had the US market, the contest was over. Sony beta did continue in Japan, but not as the original. It became a reworked generation 3 "Extended Definition Beta".

More generalisations and no actual factual content from you - oh, well, that's a pity but I expected nothing less after your first comical post. (I'm sure Sony's technical people and industry writers from the mags years ago would have a chuckle at least).

I'll leave you with your inability to provide facts when faced with facts and hope you are happy with searching the urban myths websites for tales of 1 hour tape limits, marketing, no adult releases (at least you didn't go down that route) and whatever else you and this other ill-informed poster have "learnt" from them. Clearly Auto Express isn't the website to discuss video history sensibly.with anyone who actually knows about the subject from genuine experience and not just gleaning rubbish from sub-poor forums that infest the internet.

Your answers just aren't good enough for a decent chat and anyone reading them who knows about video can see that.

At least I tried.

Best regards.

I bought a DAB radio 4 years back -- it kept repeating programes even when I tried changing stations why was this ?