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Monday, October 12, 1998 Published at 11:44 GMT 12:44 UK


Commercial radio joins digital air waves

The BBC has already started digital radio transmission

The consortium Digital One has been given the green light by the Radio Authority to launch commercial digital radio in one year.

Ten stations - including existing Classic, Virgin and Talk Radio services - will be broadcast on the multiplex, a group of linked stations and the only one planned for national commercial radio.

Digital One was the sole applicant for the licence. GWR holds the 57% majority share, with transmission company NTL owning 33% and Talk Radio UK 10%.

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

Although only one application was received, Digital One could still have lost the bid if the Radio Authority was not satisfied it could meet the requirements of the Broadcasting Act.

Crisp and clear

"We do not award licences if we are not sure we have made the award to the right bidder," a Radio Authority spokeswoman said.

The sound on digital radio is said to be even crisper and clearer than on FM and will be able to provide greater text services than at present - for instance, travel and weather information.

BBC Radio automatically gained all the space on the other national digital multiplex, and has been broadcasting digital signals for some time.

However, few people have been listening because new digital radio sets are needed to receive the signal. They have not been widely available and are very costly.

The 10 stations will include rolling news, sports coverage, classic rock, classical, plays and book readings as well as pop and talk shows.

[ image: Radio has come a long way from the traditional wireless]
Radio has come a long way from the traditional wireless
Digital One will pay just £10,000 each year for the licence, in recognition of the risk it is taking with the new technology.

It plans to start broadcasting next October with about 69% coverage of the country - excluding Northern Ireland, where a separate licence will be awarded.

Radio Authority chairman Sir Peter Gibbings said the licence award confirmed that commercial digital radio broadcasting was about to become a reality.

He said: "This is an exciting and challenging time for the industry.

"The Authority congratulates Digital One on becoming the first commercial radio company to be licensed to operate a technology which is capable over time of transforming radio listening."

'Rich experience'

Digital One chairman Ralph Bernard said: "For the first time in history, commercial radio will be on a level playing field with the BBC nationally.

"Radio is already a highly involving experience and that experience is about to become even richer, with high-quality sound complemented by visual and text back-up.

"The amount of information that can be transferred from broadcaster to listener will increase massively."

The Radio Authority is expected to publish its reasons for awarding the licence to Digital One in about a week.

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Radio Authority press release about granting of commercial digital radio licence to Digital One

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