After repeated calls to bring local digital radio to the Isle of Man, the Communications and Utilities Regulatory Authority today (Apr. 12) granted Manx Radio a three-year trial license.
Speaking on Manx Radio, Managing Director Chris Sully said “We felt, and have felt for a long time along with others, that there should be an opportunity for the local stations … to be on DAB service.”
Sully said the trial service expects to launch May 2, 2023, and will include Manx Radio, 3FM, and Energy FM. Initially it will serve on the Douglas–Onchan area.
Manx Radio is the public-service broadcaster for the island, which sits in the Irish Sea between Britain and Ireland. As a self-governing Crown Dependency, the Isle of Man operates outside of the United Kingdom’s broadcast regulatory structure despite close ties to U.K.
Traditionally, Manx Radio broadcasts on FM and AM, but as those transmission technologies decline in use in the U.K., the call for local DAB has increased. “There is a danger that the Isle of Man community is being left behind as the rest of the British Isle moves to DAB,” Manx Radio Managing Director Chris Sully told Isle of Man Today in September 2022.
Manx Radio has called for the opportunity to launch local DAB for years now, and Sully said the broadcaster has been setting aside funds for this project. The cost to set up the service and get it running is about £20,000 (about $25,000).
CURA provided Manx Radio a three-year DAB multiplex test and trial license three-with the stipulation that it “is a non-commercial trial only and grants no rights of use or guarantee of future licences.” The goal of the trial is to assess the feasibility of a local commercial DAB service on Mann and to gather technological and demographic data.
The “non-commercial” terms for the license do not prohibit the station from airing commercials on DAB; CURA recognized that the digital service will simulcast traditional programming, but Manx Radio is barred from charging other stations for participating in the trial; from charging listeners; and selling advertising based upon the digital signals.
DAB is not entirely unknown in Mann. The BBC has had a multiplex carrying its national services operating in Douglas since 2007 with additional transmitters added in the north and south of the island in 2013.
“If it [the DAB trial] works, obviously what we’d like to do is make it an island-wide service,” said Sully, noting that he would like to see DAB replace Manx Radio’s AM service, which is very costly and power-intensive to operate and maintain.
Sully said that Manx Radio is working with CURA and others to build awareness of DAB on the Isle of Man, as well as establishing plans for gauging listener use and acceptance.
Success for the project will be determined by listener uptake, but Sully said, in the broadest sense, he’d consider it a success if a technical problem disrupted the digital signal and “we’d get phone calls from people saying ‘Your DAB’s gone off!’.”