Radiocentre argues against FM switchoff
By James Cridland for media.info
Posted 8 July 2015, 6.30am edt
In a policy document released today as part of its Tuning In conference in central London, Radiocentre, the industry body for UK commercial radio, has rejected a government-mandated switchover from FM to DAB for local radio.
The document highlights that the UK leads the world in the development of digital radio, and points out that there are more than forty dedicated commercial DAB stations.
However, it also highlights that analogue radio remains the largest single platform, accounting for 54.3% of listening hours; and that FM "will remain an important platform for radio for some time".
The document points out the millions of pounds that both the BBC and commercial radio has spent in broadcasting on DAB and FM, and highlights the benefit of digital radio to consumers. However, it rejects the idea of a government-mandated switchover, and asks for government to "clarify future plans for the FM platform".
Work should continue to enable national and large local services to switch off their FM frequencies when they are ready to do so. But this process must be consumer-led and there should be no enforced switchover of local commercial radio stations.
Given that FM is likely to continue as a platform for radio for some time, consideration should also be given to how this can be utilised most effectively and repurposed in future.
Predicting the changes likely in the next five years, Radiocentre adds that "Digital radio will account for the majority of listening time but FM will continue for the foreseeable future."
In the digital switchover plans already discussed within the industry, some local radio stations - those with a small broadcast size - were not to be part of a government-mandated switchover. However, most were expected to have to end their FM transmissions at a date to be set by government. The date will be set once a number of criteria for coverage and listening figures are met, which is likely in 2017.
Some smaller commercial radio groups have been vocally campaigning against an FM switchoff. Meanwhile, larger commercial radio operators have been privately voicing their concern over what happens to the FM frequencies. Ofcom have yet to make a clear statement on what happens to 106.2 FM in London, for example, when Heart vacates it. Clearly, commercial broadcasters would be uneasy at that frequency being given to a community broadcaster: or left for a pirate station to claim.
The Radiocentre document does highlight a number of ways to support the growth of digital radio. The organisation, however, appears to be clear that government mandated switchover, for local radio at least, is not what the sector wants.
In other parts of the document, Radiocentre calls for joint research with the BBC on younger radio audiences; makes its displeasure at content aggregators like TuneIn relatively clear; and asks for an independently regulated BBC to have more distinctive services.
Press Release: Radiocentre unveils a new vision for commercial radio
Radiocentre today unveiled a new report outlining its vision for the future of commercial radio.
The industry body for commercial radio’s new policy document Radio. Connecting Past and Future, proposes new ways of working with Government, Ofcom and the BBC so radio can continue to thrive.
Speaking to an audience of advertisers, media and radio executives at Radiocentre’s Tuning In conference in central London, Chief Executive Siobhan Kenny said:
“This report outlines a progressive vision for a thriving and successful commercial radio sector. There are some key commitments to carry on providing listeners with what they want, particularly local news and information. In return, we ask for a legislative review, looking at the sometimes outdated regulation governing the sector.”
The key challenges outlined in the report include increasing competition for people’s time; the continued growth of online advertising; the mighty market share of the BBC (54%); out-dated regulation and the costs and opportunities of growing digital radio.
In order to meet these challenges, Radiocentre calls for:
- Updated legislation from Government enabling greater flexibility, beginning with a wide-ranging review to a defined timetable.
- Sensible, consumer friendly regulation for financial product advertising.
- Stability and security for radio operators – by enacting licence rollovers.
- Future-looking regulation from Ofcom on location and format controls which are focused on the consumer and enable the sector to respond to challenges from less-regulated competitors.
- More distinctive BBC radio services, more rigorously regulated.
via Twitter1 year, 9 months ago
think you're making a bit much of this. Govt policy is already that any switch must be consumer-led and FM continues for now— Matt Payton (@matt_payton) July 8, 2015
It would be nice to think that after BBC have completed their DAB coverage extension that they start to vacate FM - saving them money, and freeing a considerable amount of spectrum to be used by new local radio services.... Pipe dream maybe.
Well, I welcome that news massively. The FM band isn't dead, not by a long shot, and if anything we could probably get another national station in at least with a proper frequency audit. Also, forcing small operators to migrate to DAB will cripple them. Many have come OFF DAB for that reason.
I think there's a considerable argument for taking Radio 3 off FM, but only if those frequencies aren't given to other broadcasters. The long-term plan is to migrate away from FM, and adding more FM services at this point won't help with that.
As an aside, about Matt's tweet. That's an interesting spin. Yes, govt policy is "consumer-led", but the Radiocentre is now arguing for "no enforced switchover of local stations": that's a considerable policy shift from before. It's also arguing that "FM will continue for the forseeable future" - that's not the previous position, where after switchover in roughly 2019, it was agreed that FM will be turned off.
Given that the only stations exempt from switchover were small, sub-250k markets or those that weren't adequately covered by digital multiplexes, this is quite a big deal.
JamesM: 'forcing small operators to migrate to DAB will cripple them' - agreed, if they're forced to migrate to the large, somewhat over-engineered local muxes we have at the moment. For the smallscale DAB multiplexes, though, this isn't the case.
James - agree with Matt Payton . Think you are making a bit much of the Radiocentre policy document . What they basically do is restate existing Government policy - the national and large local stations would switchover from FM when they are ready while there would be no immediate switchover of the smaller local commercial radio stations . Government have always said that FM would continue for the foreseeable future .No change there .Nothing to see . What will make this process a whole lot easier is a) the passage of time b) continued digital growth . We look forward to working with the local station groups to consult and agree on a workable solution for a future switchover
I say we keep BBC Radio 3 on FM until data rates protection has it at 192kbps stereo, 24 hours a day on DAB. (Radio 3's Friendship society hate periodic network drops to 160kbps.)
I also say keep Classic FM on FM because data rates were taken for other services on Digital One. Classic FM on DAB will soon be called Classic AM, if it loses any more of its meagre 128kbps stereo bandwidth rating for classical music reproduction!
Until these audio issues are fixed, DAB is a downgrade, not an upgrade for a stereo unit! Keep the FM flag flying high until DAB can be considered an upgrade!!
I did notice that Classic FM went down from 160 to 128kbps not so long ago but for some technical reason the sound was or is not as bad as I thought it might be, however, any more reductions like down to 112kbps or heaven above to 80 mono would get me back to listening to CFM on FM
Alan, even when Classic FM was streaming at 160kbps stereo, the DAB service could not cope with some virtuosic pieces played like the JS Bach Brandenburg Concerto No.1. The trumpets sounded as if they were being played on an ancient cassette deck. I was in the car away back then at that time while my wife was driving and promptly flicked back from DAB to hear Classic FM properly on FM stereo.
I firmly believe 160kbps stereo on MP2 is a good all rounder for most other musical services on digital radio.
I am not against a migration of national and regional services from FM to digital as a policy in principle, but only when DAB does sound as good as FM!!
Well. I've demoted this article off the front page, because Radiocentre are very clear with me that they still think enforced switchover is a good thing, for all radio stations except the very small ones.
You might think that this isn't what the document says. So far as I can see, it is clear that they don't want enforced switchover for local radio. But apparently that's not their point of view at all.
I'm heartily confused: but in order to avoid giving a mistaken view, of whatever their view is, I've removed this from the front page (and thus from the daily email).
Hope that's good.
Yes it is good James, I always read all your posts, I usually get them on a Monday. I was among the first people to buy a DAB Radio back 10 years ago, then most of the stations were in stereo, usually at least 128kbps, most are now in mono, although Classic FM is still in stereo at 128, used to be 160. If it goes lower I certainly will be back to FM as quality classical music should be heard in high quality sound
'Most' stations are not in mono. There's twice as many stations in stereo than mono.
Of note: UKRD is welcoming this announcement. William Rogers, ("speaking exclusively to Radio Today"), says:
I’m delighted that, at last, we’ve got clarity on the trade body’s considered position as well as its endorsement of the position we have been advocating since 2002 ... This is a major improvement on the previously ill-considered position ... I view this as a welcome and important move towards a common sense position
So, if there's "No change there, nothing to see" (according to Ford Ennals), I'm a little confused as to why William Rogers is so delighted to see "at last, clarity", a "major improvement", and a "move towards a common-sense position"...
I imagine it suits William to believe that the Radiocentre has adopted his position.
'Most' stations are not in mono. There's twice as many stations in stereo than mono.
Well, here's the data.
BBC National DAB: 5.5 stereo, 4.5 mono (when 5lsx or r4lw on-air, R4 is mono)
Digital One National: 2 stereo, 12 mono
Sound Digital National: 1 stereo (DAB+, presumed stereo), 14 mono [on air in 2016]
For listeners in Manchester (local mux: 7 stereo, 4 mono):
Total in 2015: 14.5 stereo; 20.5 mono
Total in 2016: 15.5 stereo; 34.5 mono
For listeners in Glasgow (local mux: 6 stereo, 5 mono):
Total in 2015: 13.5 stereo; 21.5 mono
Total in 2016: 14.5 stereo; 35.5 mono
For listeners in London (local muxes: 7+3+0 stereo; 4+12+11 mono
Total in 2015: 17.5 stereo; 43.5 mono
Total in 2016: 18.5 stereo; 57.5 mono
It would appear that listeners get considerably more mono stations than they do stereo. I don't actually have an issue with that: I'd rather hear LBC, or the World Service, in mono than not at all. But, the majority of radio stations - 'most' - are in mono on DAB, the data would suggest.
Taking the stations on Wohnort and de-duping them quickly, based on SID, suggests there's 307 individual stations on DAB. 101 of them are Mono and 206 of them are Stereo.
I think it's therefore true to say two things:
- 'most' DAB radio stations broadcasting in the UK are in stereo
- 'most' DAB radio stations that a typical listener can receive are in mono
Once more: I don't have an issue with that.
Interesting comments about UKRD. The big problem is there's a lot of people with different agendas. I don't think I'm being unfair by saying someone like Matt Deegan, for example, would benefit from a full-on FM switch off. William Rogers, however, would be massively inconvenienced if that happened.
Personally... I don't want to upgrade all my radios and the poor sound quality of the extra stations available means I don't want it. But the next person might not be bothered about that.
Actually, you know, I don't think William Rogers would be: assuming that there is a clear path to digital for all his stations. There isn't, currently, and that's the issue.
I suspect that as broadcasters continue to invest in new programming, they'll get you upgrading anyway: and/or it'll be quite hard to find a radio without a DAB tuner inside. (I know when I bought a mini hifi a few years ago, I couldn't get one without DAB - though I did buy one with DAB+).
A few years ago, a music teacher at a local academy asked me about DAB & what type of tuner separate he should purchase for a hifi system. The teacher previously bought the hardware at Richer Sounds in Glasgow.
I did not recommend DAB due to its mid-fidelity output. However, I did advise the teacher to seek a 2nd opinion at a good electrical retailer like Richer Sounds.
DAB is now an unloved technology which may turn to hate for listeners after the FM services migration! A bit like TV viewers switching back to 405 lines monochrome when ITV used to be on VHF band III...
I live in Cumbernauld, Central Scotland, so I can receive stations from the west and east of the country, ie. Radio's Forth and Clyde are good examples. I just counted how many DAB stations I can listen to and how many are in mono or stereo. 42 altogether 24 in mono and 18 in stereo.
I'd rather hear LBC, or the World Service, in mono than not at all
Yes maybe, but I'd rather not hear a mono simulcast of several FM stations using mux capacity that could deliver me new services in stereo.
My local DAB is only half full and with the exception of one mono 64k service is just (admittedly mainly stereo) simulcasts of services that I can receive perfectly in FM stereo, often on more than one frequency. Thus close to zero incentive to invest in DAB hardware.
I agree more choice is good - the time is nigh when transition simulcasts should end. The first stations should clear off the FM band and permit that choice. My vote would be for the BBC locals to clear off first - I'd imagine on average they have less listeners (I'm too lazy to check!), and for certain they currently take an inordinate amount of FM spectrum with their over-powered, over high transmitters. It would also save the BBC a lot of money which would help their licence fee go further.
Blue touch paper lit...
I live in East Yorkshire where the only station I listen to on FM is the local commercial station Yorkshire Coast Radio and all the others I listen to via DAB.
If it wasn't for DAB I would not be able to listen to Premier Christian Radio or UCB UK and within a year I'll be able, once again, to listen to Jazz FM when it appears on Sound Digital's Digital 2 transmitters.
It was during one of the House of Lords debates on the Digital Economy Act in 2010 that the then Bishop of Manchester, Bishop Nigel McCulloch, spoke for the retention of FM for local radio when he said, “The limitations of DAB for local and community stations are well acknowledged by Ofcom. Indeed, it is already planning for small-scale commercial and community stations to stay on FM in the medium term as the most appropriate technology for those stations in terms of both coverage and cost. The vacation of FM band space by the removal of national and large local stations would free up more capacity for smaller stations. Ofcom sees this as a natural staging post in radio's digital evolution.” He then went onto say, “The future of local radio - which is so crucial to forging community cohesion and identity, and promoting local social action and democracy - should not be left to chance. That must mean embracing a multi-platform ecology which creates a pathway towards digital broadcasting for local radio, retaining space for them on FM until such time as a digital platform offers them the right environment to continue what they do best.”
So for me and many others the position of allowing market forces to decide when stations wish to broadcast only on DAB is the best option.
allowing market forces to decide when stations wish to broadcast only on DAB is the best option
So that effectively means never then! Why would an incumbent want to free capacity for competition while FM is a viable channel to use? If I were managing such a station of course I'd stay on FM to prevent any chance of competition! They need a nudge, maybe a big one - or a carrot if you prefer.
Here in East Yorkshire I could not listen to my local commercial station Yorkshire Coast Radio, which covers the coast on FM from Whitby to Bridlington, as they are only on the North Yorkshire multiplex that basically only duplicates part of their Scarborough FM transmitter (as well as allowing people in Ripon and York to hear them on DAB). Therefore until minimuxes are provided for both Whitby and Bridlington it would be commercial suicide to force them onto only DAB.
To once again to quote Bishop Nigel McCulloch the best way forward for such FM stations is by, "retaining space for them on FM until such time as a digital platform offers them the right environment to continue what they do best.”
The BBC Charter renewal should have included enforced DAB switchover for all BBC national stations in 2017, and enforced switchover for local stations that have equivalent DAB coverage. 74% of us listen to the BBC every week, and this would give great incentive for listeners to switch. This would save the BBC significant money. And the BBC has the clout to achieve switchover by marketing on TV and online. All radio would benefit.
I'd also put Scot/Wales/Cymru/Ulster on national DAB in DAB+, transitionl World Service to DAB+, and move Asian Network to relevant local muxes, or close it: "Asians" don't exist, and there are plenty of individual commercial services for individual Asian communities.
Commercial radio stations should be driven by the market - that is, to come off analogue when a) it makes commercial sense for them to do so, or b) when their analogue licence expires; on the proviso that the FM frequencies they vacate would not be offered to other broadcasters and that a DAB mux covers their broadcast area.
All commercial broadcasters should immediately be free to use DAB+ if they want. Small scale muxes added for all community stations if they want.
Job done: more choice, BBC-led switchover with the might of their promotional opportunity, better quality.
Gets my vote James. I forgot about Wales, Cymru etc as FM spectrum hogs (fact, not criticism of value of their service).
DAB for all community stations - would not make sense in areas where they are in close proximity where a shared Mux may be better - but in the remote areas free capacity on such community muxes might be used to extend BBC and/or commercial services at marginal extra cost for them, and worthwhile revenue stream for the community broadcaster (and additional incentive for locals to invest in DAB sets). Everyone's a winner!
My proposal for community DAB has always been that Ofcom should licence two frequency blocks for use of community radio, legislate that 50% of bandwidth is kept for community radio services, and give the planning of how that works individually to the CMA.
However, given the CMA and community radio in general seems disorganised and mainly amateur-hour, sadly that probably won't fly.
FM stereo sounds better than DAB, so all services currently on FM should remain there until further notice.
You cannot frog-march the UK nation into buying a downgrade platform like DAB! Listeners deserve greater respect, surely!!!
Hi, Willie - you've made your point, repeatedly, to the point of boredom.
LBC sounds worse on FM in London because of pirate activity; and sounds worse on FM in Leeds because... well, it isn't on FM. Same goes for Kisstory, 6music and the World Service. And many others.
I'm currently in a café, where there is a horrid cheap FM mini hifi with its two speakers 7 inches apart. Stereo is wasted here; and I suspect that a 80kbps mono service would sound just as good if not better (since the hiss wouldn't be there).
In any case: if we need to reduce every discussion about DAB to audio quality and/or mono, it's tedious to the point of irritation. Your point is made. It has some validity. Let's move on.
You cannot frog-march the UK nation into buying a downgrade platform like DAB!
We did it for TV - Analogue PAL had better resolution than standard definition Digital TV....
James, one final point before closure. If most stereo services were on 160kbps MP2, akin to 128kbps MP3, there would be no issue with DAB.
It may in turn accelerate the slow pace to date of DAB take up!
Glyn, I agree with your comment, PAL' s 625 scan lines colour system was superior to Freeview sd, but the public perceived Freeview as being better than analogue, so DVB became very popular as a result, well before the PAL switch off.
Freeview's forerunner ONDIGITAL system was awful with low bit rate channels reproducing "wobbly-jellied" pictures that turned off the public and condemned ONDIGITAl as a never-been technology.
Willie - why, when I give a concrete example of how most people don't care about sound quality, do you respond with an argument that better audio quality would accellerate DAB takeup? We already know the answer: it doesn't. The only thing that accellerates DAB takeup is proveably additional radio stations. That's the case here, in Norway, in Australia and other countries.
I always find it amusing that the quality zealots are selectively deaf about the reasons why people buy new products.
OnDigital used 2k CODFM; Freeview (post switchover) uses 8k CODFM. There is actually no difference around the picture quality for SD broadcasts between the two systems other than error correction: and most commentators will tell you that picture quality for many channels has decreased since the system changed to Freeview, enabling broadcasters to fit more channels on. Because (with the exception of widescreen and HD), content is more interesting to people than technical quality.
James, the channels I was referring to included Carlton Cinema, Carlton World and Granada plus carried on the old ONDIGITAL system. The picture quality on these channels was poor. The primary channels from BBC, ITV, Channel Four & 5 would have been considered owning good quality pictures. There was no ITV 2 channel available in Scotland, this slot belonged to the now defunct S2 channel from STV.
ONDIGITAL's secondary channels had no WOW factor in pictures.
The old 2k transmission mode was flimsy and pestered with glitches and electrical interference sparks from automobiles, even when an aerial was installed in a correct location, furthest away from the road.
I heave hoed the ONDIGITAL system and went over to Sky Digital and still with Sky.
My limited understanding of the 8k mode transition in turn made the DTT system more robust & allowed multiplex transfer of MFN's to SFN's except when regional variations are included. I think that was gain on node change. Please advise.
The quantity over quality issue on DAB that people are suppose to prefer. What is the top level channel quantity for DAB to endure? Will data rates drop to allow 96kbps stereo to squeeze additional services on a given multiplex?
I had onDigital as well. There are plenty of channels, particularly on Sky, running at worse picture quality. But you appear to be confusing encoding rates with error correction and robustness. Listen to BBC Radio 2 on DAB in a car, and you really notice how substandard the experience is on FM.
True story: I once added a 32kbps slideshow element to The Virgin Radio Groove. That made receivers say "160kbps" instead of "128kbps". People filled message boards with complimentary notes about how much better Groove sounded now we'd upped the bitrate. We hadn't; the bitrate for the audio hadn't changed. The thing on the receiver told them it sounded better. It didn't. (Freeview or Sky have no such indicator).
Another true story: Virgin Radio's 160kbps sounded significantly worse than Virgin Radio Classic Rock's 128kbps. Digital One's contract at the time forbade us from encoding the audio ourselves: much to my irritation. It used very old encoders. Classic Rock was being encoded on-site; and sounded significantly better once we added a filter to remove some inaudible audio frequencies before it hit the encoder.
In short: the bitrate is only one small part of the puzzle. And to deny avid radio listeners three times the choice of station because the audio quality isn't as perfect as you think it should be is short-sighted and misses much of the point of what radio's there for.
I do recognise data rates are only part of the overall performance, RTE Radio in Ireland and ABC Australia use 96kbps stereo MP3 which is lower than BBC and most of the major UK commercial broadcasters. I cannot fault the audio reproduction and can only assume the aforementioned broadcasters have good production technique.
Yes, I also realise quality of sound and vision is variable on a wide selection of channels on Sky, but rarely view them.
Thanks for the feedback....
ABC Australia doesn't use 96kbps. It uses up to 80kbps, using DAB+ - an entirely different audio codec to our DAB, and way more efficient. Most commercial services, as well as ABC 612 Brisbane (the market leader, from memory) use 64kbps. Here's Brisbane - you want Brisbane 3 for the pubcaster services. 64kbps DAB+ is probably roughly equivalent to 128kbps DAB.
RTÉ doesn't use 96kbps. It uses mostly 160 or 128 DAB; and also 48kbps stereo DAB+.
James, I was referring to internet digital radio output on my previous correspondence (MP3 stream) for ABC and RTE. RTE Lyric FM from Limerick as an exception certainly does stream to internet radio at 160kbps MP3..
Choice wins over quality - at least that is the view with members of the public rather than radio forumites.
My wife quite enjoyed TeamRock when it was on. I didn't bother to tell her that it was only broadcasting with 80K mono quality at MP2, therefore was supposedly completely rubbish. She would have to told me to shut up or wonder what I was talking about and she was just going to listen to it anyway.
Art, I accept the argument about 'choice over quality' for a reason yet to be mentioned.
FM/VHF radio came to Central Scotland with the service opening at the Kirk'O'Shotts transmitter away back in 1956. Even though FM was a breath taking breakthrough on clarity of sound, the platform remained a cinderella service through to the mid 1980s. The advent of FM stereo in Scotland with the Radio Clyde opening in hogmanay 1973, refused to ''gee up'' the slow horses of FM progress. You may remember the 261 metres promotion jingles on Radio Clyde. A familiar jingle on Westound in the 80s, was 'Westsound on your radio, Westsound on 290', indicating the supremacy of medium wave, 30 years after FM service launch at Kirk'O'Shotts.
I bought my first FM radio back in 1968 with the intention of listening to police messages (the frequency block currently occupied by BBC Radio 1).
Then I started listening to BBC Radio 2/3/4 on FM on a regular basis. The Radio 1/2 share with the top 30 on Sundays was a ''must'' for FM tuning.
They say beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, but so is quality of content and sound reproduction in the end. I agree, a lot of people don't care about that!
If quality had been built into our UK products, we would still have a thriving manufacturing industry.
Britain invented the railways, but we could not build a diesel locomotives with 95% per cent reliability. UK orders lost out to General Motors in Canada. The same with Scotrail electric trains, Scotrail procured from Siemens in Germany and now Hitachi, all because previously ordered British built Alstom trains launguished in sidings at the taxpayers expense. Alstom engineers had to ride on their Juniper trains for a time because of the frequent breakdowns.
Shipbuilding is another example, P&O Ferries went to Mitsibushi Heavy Industries and you know what, their ferries are comfortable and rarely breakdown.
Sorry to others if people think I am a bore, audiophile, sound quality zealot or an old fart. Be rest assured though, in private or in a public, I will always challenge snake oil salesmen who try to sell me DAB!
Thank goodness there are now alternatives for a better listening experience on digital radio. Happy Listening!
Hi Willie, you are NOT a old fart, ha, I live in Central Scotland (Cumbernauld) and can remember the opening of Radio 1 on Medium Wave, 247m and also Radio Clyde on 262 m, I listened to both for the first hour of their new broadcasts. One thing I did notice when VHF as FM was called back then was the clarity of the sound, wow I though that is so clear and crisp to the older medium wave. It was the same with the electric trains, when Class 303 started they were always breaking down and came out of service and we all went back to the steam trains, I think for about 6 months or so. With everything new comes problems, I have had a DAB Radio for about 10 years, it goes well, I just make sure that I listen to stereo broadcasts as that sounds OK both on DAB and FM, it depends on the set you have.
Off topic: I also remember the old class 303 electrics. They started off with a bang, literally. One train went on fire. I think the train's pantograph (electric wire pick up rod) exploded. Saying that, these old work horses prooved their worth over time!
Back to radios, I have a DAB+ tuner integrated within a Roberts Stream 205. Great stereo separation on most internet channels including Absolute 60s..
I hope the UK bring on DAB+..
Yes Willie, the set I have is a Pure One Flow Internet Radio, is says on the instructions that it has a DAB+ tuner, it has only got one speaker but I use a lead from it into another two speaker DAB only radio, that way I can listen to any stereo broadcasts there are.
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