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Tuesday, June 23, 1998 Published at 16:39 GMT 17:39 UK


Auntie faces challenge from digital rivals

Manufacturers say digital radios may look very different

A fresh bout of radio wars are about to break out on the airwaves as the "wireless" goes digital.

The BBC began broadcasting in digital format - alongside its conventional analogue frequencies - in 1995 and has been the sole broadcaster in the nascent world of digital radio.

But a consortium of the biggest names in independent radio has filed an application for the only licence to run national digital commercial radio.

By the deadline for applications, Tuesday afternoon, Digital One were the only applicants for the licence. But they must wait up to three months to find out whether the Radio Authority has approved their plans for 10 radio stations and text services.

Promising to invest £10m

The consortium is made up of Classic FM's parent company GWR, Talk Radio, and the transmission company NTL. It is promising to invest £10m over 12 years in digital commercial radio.

Chris Evans' Ginger Media Group, which owns Virgin Radio, dropped out of the consortium last week but will be broadcast as a "tenant" of Digital One.

[ image: Chris Evans...pulled out of the consortium last week]
Chris Evans...pulled out of the consortium last week
Under the proposals Talk Radio, Virgin Radio and Classic FM would transmit their services digitally in CD quality and there would be room for other stations. Digital One aims to start broadcasting in October next year.

'Digital revolution is very exciting'

Classic FM presenter Henry Kelly said the digital radio revolution was very exciting.

He said: "What it will do is increase your choice of available radio stations, but more importantly it will make your favourite radio station sound perfect.

"It has a certain curiosity value now, but in a few years it will be as accepted as transistor radio has become."

[ image: Sound will be clearer than the old
Sound will be clearer than the old "wireless"
Proponents of digital radio say it will mean an end to poor quality sound - interference, fading and distortion - and will enable broadcasters to add extra value services. Radio stations will, for example, be able to add text to explain what piece of music is playing or what is coming up next on the schedule.

The digital signal even allows still pictures to be broadcast alongside the sound, which would be a boon for radio presenters desperately trying to describe what the listener cannot see.

Scarcity of digital radio sets

The BBC is already transmitting its five national radio stations, as well as two others, but both it and independent radio are hampered by the scarcity of digital audio broadcasting (DAB) receivers - the radio sets themselves.

They are difficult to find and prohibitively expensive but this week five radio manufacturers have announced plans to put DAB receivers on the market later this year.

Bosch/Blaupunkt, Clarion, Grundig, Kenwood and Pioneer will have in-car digital radios on sale in the autumn, possibly for as little as £200.

BBC spokeswoman Samantha Dawe said: "Some of the design models which have been produced so far show that the manufacturers are thinking of making digital radios different and more exciting than existing radios."

Glyn Jones, Project Director and Managing Editor, BBC Digital Radio, said: "Although we have had to wait for some time, with sets now becoming available digital radio will become a reality for the consumer."

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