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Ennals: DAB Will Never Replace FM In Australia

Head of Australia’s Commercial Radio & Audio says digital radio will play a "complementary and supporting role"

DAB is a great digital radio platform. But it will never replace analog FM broadcasting in Australia. So said Ford Ennals, CEO of Australia’s Commercial Radio & Audio, during his “DAB Down Under” talk at the WorldDAB Summit 2023. It was held in Munich, Germany on Nov. 8 with more than 400 people attending in-person and online.

“In Australia, we were a relative early adopter of DAB,” said Ennals. “We’ve had it for about 14 years or so; 2009 I think we started. And it’s important, but it will never take the place of FM. I think there will be markets where DAB has an important role to play, but it’s a complementary and supporting role.”

The reason is “the sheer scale of this country,” he explained. “Australia is a huge landmass. It’s about the same physical side as Europe if you take out Russia, yet our population is about the size of Benelux. So it’s a big country and there aren’t that many people in the country, and that does give us real issues with coverage and reception.”

Ford Ennals at the 2023 WorldDAB Summit

Strong Growth

Despite these issues, DAB listenership has expanded since the service was launched in Australia, said Ennals.

“Listening is growing,” he told the summit audience. “It’s 5.5 million listeners every week. It’s about 20 percent of all listening to radio in Australia, with 200 stations on air and it’s in 80 percent of new cars. So we’re not up to European levels where you’re 90-plus percent, but, at 80 percent, it’s very, very strong. The exciting thing is we see a real strong growth in news stations and exciting new content as well. It’s in the five major markets, and 67 percent of the population are covered.”

The number of Australian DAB stations is also growing. “Yes, the biggest, most successful stations are the FM and AM stations, but some of the unique DAB-only stations are hugely successful and very innovative,” Ennals said. He said a prime example is the DAB-only youth-focused station “TikTok Trending on iHeartRadio,” along with other DAB-only stations aimed at younger listeners. 

“Given the challenges that all radio around the world has with young audiences, DAB is proving to be a real boom for that audience. That’s probably not surprising that DAB actually skews in Australia to younger listeners. I think they enjoy these genre-specific stations as well. So it’s an important part of our program for building listening with younger listeners.”

Australian DAB is also making gains among motorists. Given the country’s size, “We probably drive more than most countries,” Ennals said. “So the car is very, very important in Australia. And DAB in the car is absolutely critical.”

More Consumer Radios Needed

Like many other DAB countries, Australia’s biggest challenge is convincing consumers to buy digital radios. “We do marketing, of course; we tend to have a retail focus,” said Ennals. “DAB sales have grown over time but are challenged as we see across Europe.” 

He added that Panasonic and Philips are the only two manufacturers bringing large quantities of DAB receivers into Australia. “I’m used to operating in the U.K. market, where we had Roberts and Ruark,” Ennals said. “They aren’t present at the moment in Australia. And we would very much welcome anyone who wants to come and bring innovative DAB products to Australia. We’ll support you, so if you’re in the room and want to do that, let me know.”

Finishing up-his DAB Down Under presentation, Ford Ennals expanded on his central message, reiterating that DAB won’t take over from FM. “What DAB will do is overtake AM listening probably in the next six months, which is also about 20 percent [of listening],” he said. “Nevertheless, I think AM will be sustained. And once again, the big issue is our geography. The big issue is trying to get coverage outside of those five metropolitan areas, which leaves us issues because road networks between the major metropolitan markets aren’t covered [by DAB]. And we do need to look at potential to expand.”

[Related: “Radio for Android Automotive Discussed at DAB Event“]