Digital Britain: 5 Reasons why analogue radio should be left on air

by Richard on June 17, 2009

The Digital Britain report was published yesterday, coming up with a series of proposals to help Britons into the digital era.

The one which surprised me, though I haven’t yet heard any fuss about it, is the proposal to turn off both AM and FM radio signals by 2015, freeing up the bandwidth for other purposes. Here’s why I think this is a Bad Thing.

  1. There are millions of domestic radio receivers that will suddenly become obsolete, creating huge amount of waste.
  2. ‘Trannies’ (no sniggering at the back!) are cheap, reliable, and use little energy to run. These are all virtues in an age when we’re supposed to be reducing our carbon footprints.
  3. What will happen to the time signal? The delay that’s inherrent to the DAB format makes it useless for accurately setting a watch.
  4. Then there’s the format. Only a few years in, DAB is already obsolete and is likely to be replaced by DAB+. That’s a bit if you’re an ‘early adopter’ and have an expensive DAB-only receiver. That’ll be as useless as your FM wireless. (Do I sound bitter?)
  5. No RDS - so no automatic traffic updates on your car radio

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1

Tony Buglass 06.17.09 at 6:04 pm

There are places in the valleys around here where DAB signal simply vanishes. My car radio links to FM, so it jumps across until it finds a strong signal further on. If FM goes, there will be radio black holes all over the place.

“To free bandwidth for other purposes” tells the whole story - it’s about selling bandwidth, raising money, never mind what you throw away to do so.

2

anon 06.17.09 at 8:21 pm

What is the AM broadcast band in the UK?

Ours in the US is 540 khz to 1710 khz, which is about one-fifth the width of a television channel. I can’t think of much other use for this than low-quality voice broadcasting, i.e. exactly what we’re using it for right now.

3

mary 06.17.09 at 8:38 pm

Thoroughly agree with you. Also how are you going to get Test Match cricket on LW?

4

Richard 06.17.09 at 10:45 pm

Anon - The tuner on my AM radio reckons the range is 144-1629 khz here.

Tony - I’m assuming that steps will be taken to fill the gaps in the DAB signal before the analogue is finally switched off, but it still seems like a colossal waste.

Mary - the hiss on Long Wave gives someone who tunes in to the cricket something interesting to listen to ;)

5

Tony Buglass 06.18.09 at 8:41 am

“I’m assuming that steps will be taken to fill the gaps in the DAB signal”

I imagine that’s what they’ll say, because that’s the argument about digital TV signal: up here in t’Pennines we can’t get Freeview ntil they turn up the strength of the digital signal, which they can’t do until they turn off the analogue signal. However, the problem with DAB isn’t just geography - if I drive up the valley there is a point beyond which it simply doesn’t ahppen, so that I assume would be where a stronger signal would reach. However, there are streets in town which are very narrow and block out DAB signal, but do not block out FM signal. I imagine that the narrower wavelength of the digital signal is less able to penetrate steep and narrow gaps, while FM being broader in wavelength is able to wash through them. If I’m right, even a strong DAB signal will still leave black spots in certain streets.

6

Richard 06.18.09 at 6:41 pm

I suspect you’re right about that.

7

John Kruger 06.22.09 at 3:37 pm

What will happen to those people with relatively new cars with expensive audio systems usually incorporating sat/nav and telephone functions which cannot be separated from the radio section and replaced.

Their cars will become obsolete and unsaleable overnight.

8

gwen 07.02.09 at 9:15 am

Am I right to understand, that with the analogue trannie you can listen, wherever and whenever you want and your signal is not tracked by the digital providers ready to use their on/off switch should the listener dissent?

9

Richard 07.02.09 at 9:51 am

The first part of your sentence is true. But that would also be true of broadcast digital radio. Let’s not get paranoid!

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