Six new digital radio stations for Manchester

By James Cridland for
Posted 15 June 2015, 5.00am edt

Stacey Cavanagh

Announced last week, Ofcom has selected Manchester as one of ten locations in the UK to trial the next generation of digital radio. Cheshire-based Niocast Digital has been awarded a licence to operate a 9-month experiment in the city. The pilot will allow six new digital radio stations to be heard across Manchester and will explore how groups of radio stations can work together to increase listening to digital radio.

The full line-up includes:

  • Oldham based Revolution 96.2, available on FM in parts of Manchester
  • LBGT station Gaydio, which is already on 88.4 FM in the Manchester area
  • New to Manchester is the Asian broadcaster Panjab Radio, which is on DAB and AM in other parts of the country.
  • New radio stations to broadcast include the country music station Chris Country, which has until now only been available online. It was part of the failed bid from Listen2Digital for a national spot on DAB. Also new to broadcast is Steve Penk's Wind-Up Radio.
  • Finally, a brand new radio station, Manchester Business Radio, is to launch - serving the city's business community.

MBR’s Managing Director, David Duffy, said ‘Manchester is the logical choice for Britain’s first dedicated business radio station. It’s was the birthplace of industry and innovation, and has become a world-class city attracting start-ups and established business. We are delighted that Ofcom has recognised this and look forward to working with the business community and launching Manchester Business Radio in the next few weeks’.

Manchester Business Radio’s Director of Programming and Content, John Evington, explained the station’s ethos: ‘We aim to reach and connect with anyone in Manchester involved in running a business or looking to start out in business. We'll celebrate the achievements and success stories and offer a unique media platform to the city’s key opinion-formers and business leaders. Our ambition is to become the essential source of news, views, opinions, ideas and inspiration for Manchester’s business community 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.’

The station will be based at the heart of Manchester’s business district on Deansgate and will be working closely with Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce to ensure that the needs of the business sector are fully met.

Manchester Business Radio, and the other stations, are expected to launch on DAB Digital Radio in early September.

More information

James Cridland — James runs, and is a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business. He also publishes a free daily newsletter about podcasting, Podnews, and a weekly radio trends newsletter.


5 years, 10 months ago

Great stuff. I wouldn't be surprised if this additional choice kick-starts interest in DAB in general and accelerates adoption. There has not been a compelling enough case until now, but I've started looking round for an in-car solution.

5 years, 10 months ago

My only concern with that is about coverage. You'd know better than me, but I am worried that these stations will be almost unlistenable-to in a car, given the tiny amount of coverage they'll get. But that is, I suspect, the point of a trial.

5 years, 10 months ago

I would have thought using DAB+ would give these stations extra coverage if using low powered transmitters? The tests for Fun Kids on the Cheshire/NE Wales mux proved that to an extent.

5 years, 10 months ago

The key will be good high transmission sites that are close or in middle of the desired coverage area. ( ie: Manchester use the Sunley building or that new one on Deansgate). An example Small Scale DAB coverage map of such a site (Brunel Building in Swindon) here:

Unless DAB car radios are much worse than FM, I reckon mobile coverage will be good, maybe surprisingly good (I've been told by people with experience that the Ofcom coverage threshold for mobile coverage is pessimistic by a fair margin). More likely the indoor coverage that will be the main challenge. The SFN should help (if planned correctly).

Nevertheless, as long as the stations on the mux aren't expecting the kind of county-wide coverage you get with current muxes, then it should be adequate.

Martin - I don't understand your point about DAB+, can you explain further?

5 years, 10 months ago

In a nutshell with DAB+ you have to use equal error protection instead of unequal error protection as with MP2. However the coverage gain is 1-2db and fairly negligible. You're better off with MP2 at UEP2 or 1 if you want to improve coverage at the margins.

5 years, 10 months ago

Glyn: this is fascinating. Thanks so much for posting that map

That would give a surprising amount of coverage. I suspect I've been thinking of it in terms of, for example, Asian Star's FM transmission area in Slough, which looks smaller than a pin.

5 years, 10 months ago

In a nutshell with DAB+ you have to use equal error protection instead of unequal error protection as with MP2.

Ash - mind opening that nutshell and humouring me a little? What do you mean by equal and unequal here?

5 years, 10 months ago

James - you are right to be cautious. We did question the arbitrary 100w limit in the consultation (because we have an uncanny feeling that Ofcom will bake the rules for the trial into the final rules for this approach) - but the point was not addressed other than answering a different question.

Undoubtedly in some situations (eg Bristol if they use Dundry Hill) then 100w will struggle.

5 years, 10 months ago

James... there are two types of error protection available for DAB services. With DAB, the protection level can vary between individual service. It's flagged in the ETI stream and applied at the transmitter.

Unequal Error Protection is used by nearly all MP2 DAB services. There are five levels. 1 = most robust, all the way to 5 = least robust. The vast majority of UK DAB services go out at UEP3. Unequal error protection means that only the start of each audio frame receives error protection. (Incidentally, you can also broadcast MP2 services using EEP, but it's a bit wasteful).

For everything else, data services, DAB+, Equal Error Protection is used. Each frame, data packet etc, has the same amount of error protection applied to it, regardless of whether it needs it or not. There are 8 levels of EEP. EEP1A to EEP4A and EEP1B to EEP4B. 1 = best, 4 = worst. There are different bitrate multiples available between the A level and B levels.

But there's more.

AAC also uses Reed-Solomon coding, which means the audio itself has an additional layer of protection.

So it can be argued that DAB+ services have better coverage/reception than old school DAB. But although there is a difference, it isn't that great. If you want to improve coverage find your best TX site and get the most power you can get first.

With six MP2 services operating at 128kbps on a multiplex you could operate them all at UEP1. But the downside is that the multiplex would be full. Of course with DAB+, the negative is that there are fewer receivers out there in the first place!

5 years, 10 months ago

Wow, that's really helpful. Many thanks.

5 years, 10 months ago

You're welcome :-)

One thing you may know, but I'll explain for the benefit of others, is that with a DAB multiplex you have 864 CUs (capacity units) to play with. So, for example, a service at 128kbps UEP3 requires 96 CUs, yet a 128kbps UEP1 service requires 140CUs.

Before anyone tries to be ambitious with protection levels, it's worth noting that some DAB receivers appear to struggle with services above 140CUs, so tread carefully if you operate a high bitrate AND high UEP service (s).

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