Government removes barriers to radio stations going digital

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Hundreds of small radio stations across the UK are to receive a helping hand to broadcast in digital for the first time.

In new measures announced today, the Government will make it easier for smaller community and commercial radio stations to broadcast on small scale digital radio multiplexes.

With more than 50% of all radio listening in the UK now on digital, the new lighter touch licensing regime means these small stations won’t be left behind by the growing shift from FM and AM to digital radio and will give more choice to millions of radio listeners across the UK.

Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries Margot James said: “We are breaking down one of the main barriers in the transition of radio from analogue to digital, to secure long-term benefits for the UK’s smaller commercial and community stations and ensure a range of local content for listeners.

“No one should be left behind by technological advances, so as part of our modern Industrial Strategy we will give small and local radio businesses affordable, practical access to digital radio networks to reach new and longstanding audiences.”

The roll out of small scale multiplexes across the UK could help more than 450 existing small community or commercial radio stations go digital.

Since 2014, Ofcom have been supporting successful trials of small scale radio multiplexes in ten areas of the UK. These trial multiplexes now carry around 160 small radio services offering listeners in these areas a broader range of content and formats.

To put these small scale services on a proper long-term footing, the Government is revising the current legal framework for licensing radio multiplexes – originally drawn up in the mid-1990s.

The new framework will allow Ofcom to reserve capacity on new small scale multiplexes for community stations, helping them to go live on the Digital Audio Broadcast (DAB) platform.

Digital Radio UK chief executive Ford Ennals commented: “We welcome today’s announcement from DCMS supporting the future development and expansion of small-scale DAB. This is good news for radio and good news for listeners as the expansion of small-scale DAB gives listeners a wider range of smaller stations available on DAB and gives small local stations a path to a digital future.

“Following the success of the fantastic range of unique and fresh local commercial and community services in the 10 trial areas we can expect to see many hundreds of local stations joining radio’s digital revolution across the UK.”

Switch Radio is a community radio station that operates and broadcasts one of the trial multiplexes in Birmingham.

Switch Radio head of content and technology Dean Kavanagh said: “Switch Radio welcomes the publication of the DCMS consultation response document. Small Scale DAB is a game-changing innovation that will drive real benefits for listeners and we are delighted that the government is actively supporting the progression of this technology from concept to delivery.

“Small scale DAB has been able to provide not just an increase in the quantity of stations that listeners can receive, but also the variety of what is available. We look forward to the further developments that will undoubtedly stem from the publication of this consultation response.”

This new streamlined structure for licensing small scale radio multiplexes comes at a time when DAB has greatly increased in popularity. Almost two-thirds of households have a DAB radio and only 43% of listening at home is on analogue. DAB coverage now reaches 90% of the UK.

The proposals will support the rollout of new digital-only radio networks within county areas, helping to expand the community radio sector. The Government will bring forward secondary legislation to make the necessary changes to the licensing regime in 2019.

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