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Last Updated: Monday, 11 February 2008, 14:03 GMT
Q&A: DAB Digital radio
Digital radio
DAB Digital radio is being portrayed in some quarters as the 21st century's version of Betamax, the video format that lost out to VHS in the 1970s.

News that media giant GCap is to close two digital stations and has sold its digital platform has added to the arguments that the format is unlikely to find widespread favour in the UK.

The firm had been a trailblazer in commercial digital radio.

But does it mean digital audio broadcasting (DAB) is no longer sweet music to its listeners' ears?

What is the latest news from the world of DAB?

GCap Media, the UK's biggest commercial radio broadcaster and owner of Classic FM, is to close two digital radio stations The Jazz and Planet Rock.

Is that all?

No, it also plans to sell its stake in Digital One, a national broadcasting platform for digital stations.

Why would this mean the last rites for DAB?

It is not just the closing of the stations that is a blow for the format, but the comments made by GCap's chief executive Fru Hazlitt.

She said GCap sees better prospects in FM and broadband radio, that digital radio was too expensive and that it has not been embraced by consumers in the way GCap anticipated.

However, some analysts have said the move is designed to cut costs in order to fend off a takeover bid from Global.

Is that the only blow to DAB's reputation?

No. Richard Wheatley, chief executive of The Local Radio Company, has recently conjured up the spectre of Betamax, in unfavourable relation to digital radio.

A family listening to the radio in 1947
There have been dramatic changes in radio technology

What was his criticism?

He said that DAB did not have any killer application, and that listeners were moving more to the internet for their radio experience.

His comments were made in a report by media and telecoms specialist Enders Analysis which called into question the whole future of DAB.

Are there other potential stumbling blocks to the future progress of DAB?

Only a minuscule number of cars in the UK have a DAB radio installed.

This alone may have convinced the government that the country is not yet ready for a switchover to digital radio, of a type seen in the planned switchover to digital television.

Any good news for DAB?

Well, more than one million DAB radios were sold in the UK in the last three months of 2007, taking the total figure in households to 6.5 million.

Anything else?

DAB output accounted for 10% of all listening in the fourth quarter and broke the 100 million listening hours level for the first time.

How do broadcasters other than GCap see the future of DAB?

They are far more upbeat. BBC Radio and 4 Digital Group confirmed their commitment to developing digital radio in the UK.

They have pledged to look at ways of "encouraging more rapid consumer take-up of digital radio" and developing the available technology to secure a successful future for DAB.

What exactly is the difference between DAB and traditional radio?

DAB is a digital technology for broadcasting radio stations.

Historically, radio programmes were broadcast on different frequencies, with the radio or receiving device tuned into each frequency.

This used up a comparatively large amount of spectrum for a relatively small number of stations, limiting listening choice.

DAB is a way of transmitting sound as computerised bits of information. This takes up much less space in the airwaves, than the traditional analogue system, so there is room for more radio stations and other features.

Its supporters say DAB has increased resistance to noise, fading out, and interference from other channels.

Critics of DAB say the audio quality of what is broadcast is not as good as that broadcast and received on a good quality FM signal, because of broadcasters using relatively low bit-rates to get more stations into smaller amounts of radio spectrum.

What other differences are there between DAB and analogue?

There are more radio stations, some digital only.

Tuning can be achieved by pressing a button rather than twiddling a dial to tune in, and a display screen can provide more information, such as the name of the musical track that is playing.

Is DAB the only digital audio platform?

No, there is digital TV, which can broadcast radio stations.

All digital TV platforms include at least 20 stations and there is radio on the internet, which can be accessed using a computer.

Two GCap digital stations closed
11 Feb 08 |  Business
How will radio change in future?
28 Sep 07 |  Entertainment

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