An Ode to my Saviour

I pondered and wondered As I hold my mighty quill, Indeed it takes a brave heart To cleave and let the past spill But in this process I realized How much I owe to you, my savior Sailing my boat…


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Our lack of framework for a digital switchover shows a lack of ambition

No one is saying we need to scrap FM tomorrow, but the fact there’s barely a framework for a credible switchover is an abdication of responsibility from government.

For a time it really did seem like the UK radio industry was on an unstoppable collision course with digital switchover, and if you’d asked anyone in the industry whether it’d have happened by 2021, they’d almost certainly say yes. Well, it’s 2021, FM takes a progressively shrinking share of ear, and yet, we have no framework to get rid of it in the foreseeable future.

Digital switchover is a blunt tool; basically a nudge to move totally off one platform, and one which various parts of the industry would have resisted anyway. But surely, surely, it has to remain on the agenda. It’s essentially been put off for another decade, with no clarity as to if we’ll actually take the plunge when we get to that point anyway; this betrays a shocking lack of ambitious and shortage of confidence in the ability of the UK radio industry to manage this transition in an interesting and innovative way.

The UK radio market in 5 years or so should have FM frequencies as the preview of community and small scale local radio, with DAB and other digital platforms for the big hitters; we thought this would be happening by now, but it’s nowhere near close.

There is something to be said for the risk of doing it far too soon and it having a regressive impact; people (generally older people) who rely on radio for company or information, and who only have access to FM, this is getting rarer, but it’s an important thing to bare in mind. And it’s less an argument against switchover and more a nudge that if we were to do it we’d need government to subsidise DAB radios for all that need to transfer, so as to not pass the excess cost onto unwitting FM listeners.

I think waiting into potentially the 2030s would put us at odds with both the original ambitions in the industry, and the rest of Europe as various nations get closer to a digital onto landscape. Using ageing FM technology indefinitely won’t make sense for much longer considering the growing majority who consume radio through a number of digital platforms, first and foremost DAB of course.

Analogue radio has served its purpose in the UK for a long time, and it’s brought entertainment and information to audiences for years, but it’s time for the curtain call, and it’s time to move on. The biggest hurdle (as well as getting older listeners access to DAB at home) is cars; so many folks listen to the radio in their car (often the only time they listen) and it’s an analogue only radio. Killing FM without addressing this would be suicidal: we have to ensure cars are fitted with DAB for free or at minimal cost once we implement the switchover, with government subsiding the cost for the consumer, so as to ensure we aren’t essentially saddling people in the country with excess costs that some simply can’t afford.

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