Government to help commercial and community radio to go digital

More local commercial and community radio stations will be able to broadcast on digital platforms across the UK under new plans announced by Digital Minister Matt Hancock.

There are currently around 400 commercial and community radio stations that are limited to broadcasting to small geographic areas on analogue (FM/MW) frequencies under outdated regulations. The new approach means these stations will be able to reach a wider audience to the areas they serve on digital radio.

Over 60% of households now own a digital radio and the changes are designed to encourage a widespread rollout of small radio networks, within county areas, on a Digital Audio Broadcast (DAB) platform.

Digital Minister Matt Hancock said: “Local radio is much loved and vitally important as a source of objective and in touch local news. As more power is devolved locally, and as local newspapers struggle, local radio’s role in the community is becoming more and more critical. So we are working hard with stations and listeners to make sure the rules are up to date, and give local radio the chance to use new digital technology to reach audiences, new and longstanding, old and young. Today’s publication marks another step forward in that work. I’m very grateful to everyone who has worked so hard to make this progress.”

Digital Radio UK chief executive Ford Ennals added: “We welcome publication of the DCMS consultation on small-scale DAB which is an important enabling technology that can help hundreds of local commercial and community stations broadcast on DAB for the first time. This consultation is particularly important as there is much work still to be done to fully consider the best use of the limited spectrum available and how small-scale can work most efficiently alongside existing local and national DAB multiplexes to help maximise the benefits to listeners.”

The Government will now consult on the best approach for a licensing process that is appropriate for small scale DAB radio multiplexes, with the aim of having a new licensing arrangements in place by the end of the year. The consultation will run for eight weeks, and closes on February 28 2018.

Among those to comment on the consultation was Angel Radio digital development manager Ash Elford, who runs the small-scale multiplex in Portsmouth. Ash said: “After over two years of successfully broadcasting local DAB services to Portsmouth, it is good to see a process for the full-time licencing of many more local multiplexes for cities and towns starting to take shape. We hope that the successes we have achieved so far with technical innovations and broadcasting smaller commercial, niche and community services can be replicated across the UK as soon as possible.”

Dean Kavanagh of Switch Radio and multiplex manager at BrumDAB SSDAB in Birmingham, added: “We welcome the news of the upcoming DCMS Small Scale DAB consultation. As we have seen already, this additional layer of DAB has brought with it significant benefits for listeners – unlocking a world of new and exciting programming that otherwise would not have had a home. This consultation represents the first steps towards providing this exciting platform for all.”

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