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Last Updated: Friday, 2 December 2005, 17:17 GMT
UK embraces digital radio
David Reid
By David Reid
Reporter, BBC Click Online

One of the first entertainment technologies to conquer the home was radio. Even then, way back in the early 1920s, it was helping fuel the media boom of the 21st Century. The same is happening now, but this time it is digital radio that is helping change the way we are entertained. David Reid has been taking a listen.

Digital radio
Digital radio offers more station choice
Radios held the number one spot in home entertainment until after World War II, when they started to sprout screens.

While radios have always played discretely in the background, it is the TV that has become the sitting-room star of the digital revolution.

Now, radio's time has come again.

It is going digital and coming packed with features.

The latest digital radios can pause, rewind and record.

What is more, stations can send out info on the show or song you are listening to and it can all be carried on the radio's display.

Fantastic. So, why hasn't everybody got one?


Well, digital radio has not enjoyed the same sort of enthusiastic take up as its counterpart in television.

Content is what is turning British radio audiences onto digital
For those pushing digital, radio listeners are not conservative technophobes, for them the issue is incentives.

"The main problem," according to Axel Rudolph, of Initiative Marketing Digital Radio, is "the introduction of Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) is driven by customer advantage, by customer benefit, by added value for the customer.

"And added value for the customer in the radio sector is content, content and content again."

Content is what is turning British radio audiences onto digital, from stations like Passion For The Planet, which gives listeners a high roughage diet of health, environmental issues and alternative culture.

One leading high street retailer in Britain reports they are moving digital radios faster than analogue, but the rest of Europe is a little further behind.


According to Chantal Cooke of Passion for the Planet:

Digital radio uses the airwaves more efficiently, thus providing more channels, more choice, more focused advertising
"Most of the countries in Europe have said we are converting to digital radio. There is not a question about that.

"The reason that the UK is so far ahead is because we made a decision right at the beginning that we would drive digital radio take-up through content, so it is about having a really great choice of radio stations.

"Some other European countries said 'no what we will do is we will simulcast our existing analogue stations'. The problem with that is why would you buy a new radio?"

As for broadcasting standards, Europe's opted for DAB, while the US went for IBOC, in which digital signals piggyback on FM signals. The advantage of both is that the sound is better than FM, though it falls short of CD quality.

"It is technically true that DAB is not as good a quality as CD, but I defy you to hear the difference, unless perhaps you are a dog," claims Chantal Cooke.

Target audience

According to Annika Nyberg, president of WorldDAB: "The hissing and buzzing that you have on your FM network, which is really irritating in a car, you get rid of completely.

If video did kill the radio star, then it seems radio has since regrouped and is poised for revenge
"To my mind, as a consumer, that was one of the real great advantages of digital radio."

Radio masts get around, but for digital to really travel the emerging global standard is Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM).

Make a wind up receiver DRM capable and it could bring digital radio to swathes of the developing world.

While there is satellite radio and, of course, the internet, terrestrial broadcast looks likely to be the future of digital, especially for advertisers.

Digital radio uses the airwaves more efficiently, thus providing more channels, more choice, more focused advertising.

"Digital Radio offers the possibility of targeting your audiences much more precisely than analogue radio," claims Annika Nyberg.

"In analogue radio you throw out an ad and you have no idea who it is going to reach, whereas with digital radio you can go pretty specifically on a particular audience."

For Chantal Cooke what is fantastic about digital radio, and what is wonderful for the listeners, advertisers and, of course, the radio owners themselves is that there are lots more opportunities.

"So, for example, you have got scrolling text on every digital radio that can tell you the name of the song and those sorts of things," she explains, but it can also tell you the website of the advertiser or give you more information and so on."

The same technology means that the digital radio network could also be used for broadcasting other media such as music videos, even films.

If video did kill the radio star, then it seems radio has since regrouped and is poised for revenge.

Click Online is broadcast on BBC News 24: Saturday at 2030, Sunday at 0430 and 1630, and on Monday at 0030. A short version is also shown on BBC Two and BBC News 24 as part of BBC Breakfast: Saturday at 0645. Also BBC World.

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