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'Trade off is just about right' - Ford Ennals defends mono Absolute Radio

By James Cridland for media.info
Posted 8 January 2015, 3.34pm est

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Ford Ennals, the CEO of Digital Radio UK, has weighed in to the debate within media.info's discussion area about mono stations on DAB.

Absolute Radio is now a mono station nationally on DAB Digital Radio, so that its owners Bauer could reuse some of this bandwidth space to add Magic as a national service. Some listeners and discussion commentators are outraged: but, writing in the discussion area, Ford is clear that this isn't an issue with DAB itself:

In truth this has little to [do with] DAB as a transmission technology. DAB can deliver excellent sound quality when you dedicate sufficient capacity.

Ford says it is a pragmatic decision from Bauer:

I believe that Bauer faced with limited DAB capacity made the decision to offer the widest possible choice of their stations nationally by sharing the available DAB bandwidth between them . The upside for listeners is they can now listen to Magic nationally on DAB - good news - but one of the consequences is a reduction in kbps for Absolute Radio. For the vast majority of listeners the addition of services outweighs the benefit of sustaining a potential higher sound quality on an existing station.

He points out that Digital One, the national digital radio transmission network, is full, and notes Bauer's interest in the forthcoming second digital multiplex, commonly referred to as D2.

sound quality [is] really important and DAB can support extremely high quality - it's just at this point broadcasters are having to make a choice / quality trade off . The continued growth in DAB listening and ownership would suggest that for the vast majority of listeners at the moment they are getting that trade off just about right.

You can read his full comments as well as a longer, separate, discussion about the larger amount of mono stations on DAB.

Separately, the BBC's Rupert Brun has given an interview to the Radio Today Programme about DAB's bitrates: this weeks edition is available on Audioboom.

More information

James Cridland — James is the Managing Director of media.info, and 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. His website is at james.cridland.net, where you can subscribe to his weekly newsletter.
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Comments

2 years, 10 months ago

When capacity is limited this is indeed a valid, pragmatic and sensible choice. It's akin to the use of half-rate by mobile operators when they have congestion (a poor quality call is better than busy tone).

However I think many of the comments on media.info are more driven by what people see on the local mux's - ie: many half-empty but still have mono stations with low bitrates.
http://www.wohnort.org/dab/ukloc.html

There is also a lot of anecdotal evidence of demand by new entrants to go on local DAB multiplexes, but the cost is prohibitive for them.

The driver on local Mux's is price, not capacity. Normally when there is untapped demand something comes along eventually - maybe low-cost DAB is the answer...

PRO2 years, 10 months ago

If people were using low bit rates in mono to provide something distinctive it might make sense - content is king, after all. If it's something I really want to hear, I'll listen anyway. But many of the stations available on DAB sound the same to me. I can get my favourite tunes in high quality stereo from a streaming service, or if there is no connection I can have a few thousand cached in my tablet or phone. So why would I listen to similar tunes in low quality mono, interrupted by adverts? People far more clever than me clearly think I will...

2 years, 10 months ago

Exactly!

I feel so insulted by "Love Radio? Go Digital." Those of us who truly love radio don't want to!

I'm a big sceptic of Internet radio. In many ways, it's made itself a niche for has-been ILR dinosaurs who are unable to move past the year 1993 and the saddos on DS who long for a past life yet ironically rely on a new medium to satisfy their pleasures. However, whilst it's provid ng a superior audio quality to DAB, DAB will lose out. Bury your head in the sand with made-up techicnal terms like "virtual mono" till the cows come home but trust me, this will end in tears. Remember GCap were starting to wash their hands and it was only the Global takeover that stopped that.

PRO2 years, 10 months ago

Rupert, I entirely agree. If the content is distinctive, I'll listen. If it's "ten great songs in a row" and nothing else, I don't see why it deserves any audience, irrespective of whether it is on DAB, AM, online or FM.

I grew up listening to short wave, and will tolerate all kinds of quality to listen to interesting output. The AM audience levels for talkSPORT and 5live also ably demonstrate that people will listen to a crackly and distant signal, on devices that aren't as easy to come by as those with FM.

Audio quality isn't the be-all and end-all. Content is. And the marvellous news about radio in the UK is that it is all available from the Radioplayer app in high quality, as well as via broadcast. I genuinely don't care how people listen: as long as they do.

2 years, 10 months ago

James Martin said "In many ways, it's made itself a niche for has-been ILR dinosaurs who are unable to move past the year 1993 and the saddos on DS who long for a past life yet ironically rely on a new medium to satisfy their pleasures."

Like many, he's confusing the medium with the message. Internet radio = radio. In all its many forms. Thousands of worldwide stations - including all the BBC services - are on the Internet, and I wouldn't accuse them of being 'dinosaurs' or 'saddos'. So which stations does James M consider to warrant the description?

PRO2 years, 10 months ago

The internet only radio stations I tend to listen to online are automated. No need for inane chatter. It's even better for audio wallpaper than certain linear stations.

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