Local UK radio stations rally against DAB


More than 50 local radio stations across the pond have teamed up to voice their frustration over the Ofcom’s (the UK’s FCC) DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) consultation process—which was supposed to be about measuring coverage and assigning multiplex frequencies in the Eureka-147 system, reports The UK Register.

The consultation was published back in June, including questions about how FM and DAB coverage should be measured and whether signal coverage areas could be merged to fit the new broadcast map, as the UK moves to switch off FM analog. But many respondents have taken the opportunity to disagree with that final assumption, despite it not being part of the consultation.

DAB is “a car crash waiting to happen” according to UKRD, ringleader of the consortium of local radio broadcasters who used the recent consultation to make their point: “Things are tough enough as it is without the government heaping more costs, uncertainty and damage on the local commercial radio sector. DAB for local commercial radio is inappropriate. It should be dumped.”

Sound familiar?

Many respondents used the opportunity to voice their objections to the whole DAB project, arguing that they’ve been denied a proper platform to do so and are forced to fit in their objections where they can: “Our opinion is that this Ofcom consultation is an academic exercise that offers no practical strategy for the development of the DAB radio platform,” explains the consortium’s submission, before pointing out the enormous number of new transmitters that will be needed to bring FM-quality coverage to DAB receivers.

Remember, with the Eureka-147 system, one station requires an OFDM multiplexing, similar to how a bunch of cell towers can cover a town.

“The build-out of local DAB transmitters proposed in the consultation would multiply their number three-fold, in order to deliver only a 28% improvement in the number of households that would receive robust DAB,” the consortium added.

The Communications Consumer Panel tells the Register that “72% of those who listen to radio state that they either do not have a DAB radio set or never listen to it”…so Ofcom is proposing to build hundreds of transmitters to ensure thousands of homes can ignore the DAB signal they didn’t want.

Ofcom would like to see DAB offer the same coverage as existing FM services, primarily so that FM can be switched off just as analog television is being discontinued. But comparing coverage is tough as FM fails gracefully — dropping to mono, then fading out slowly — while DAB rapidly descends into bits and spits of sound mud before disappearing entirely. That disparity is what the consultation was supposed to be about.

Local radio also has other issues with DAB, as a station currently broadcasting from one transmitter might have to transmit from several once it switches to DAB (at greater expense). That directly impacts companies that, for example, operate neighboring local stations that share content for some of the time but are otherwise separate: such companies won’t buy two transmitter slots on the bigger footprint of DAB, so the localization of content diminishes.

Another item mentioned was that DAB radios consume much more power than their FM analog equivalents.

RBR-TVBR observation: These points made are very similar to pushback from some broadcasters here in the US regarding HD Radio—reception issues are one of them, and it doesn’t appear that the 10db power increase option solved too much. As well, there are no portable HD Radio boomboxes because they’d take a car battery to power them. One would think of just taking a Zune or Insignia HD, tape it to an amplified set of speakers that iPods use on the go and plug in the 1/8” stereo wire. One Coby model was out for a while (not a boombox, but a portable radio), but they aren’t sold anymore.