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Commentary: The U.K.’s Drive to Digital

Communications plays an important role in the country’s digital radio expansion

Digital Radio UK Communications Director Jane Ostler

LONDON — In the United Kingdom’s drive toward digital, communications is proving to be an indispensable tool in educating the population and promoting the standard.

Good progress has thus far been made on coverage, cars, content and communications — and the new Digital Radio tick mark is being introduced, to reassure consumers that the products they buy are future-ready.

Coverage in the U.K. has now reached 95 percent of the population with further BBC national transmitters to be built by the end of 2016 to reach 97 percent. North Yorkshire and North Wales launched local DAB in December bringing local radio stations on DAB to listeners in these areas for the first time.

Local coverage also continues to improve and we are expecting an announcement confirming plans for further local DAB coverage build-out soon. As new transmitters are launched they are publicized locally and nationally and we update the industry postcode checker on our website at

Government states that two criteria need to be satisfied before they can set a date for a radio switchover: digital platforms need to account for 50 percent of all listening hours, and coverage needs to approach FM equivalence. Currently digital listening is at 37.8 percent of all listening hours. We expect this to be 50 percent during 2017, and coverage build-out will be completed by the end of 2016.

New stations continue to launch. Smooth Christmas began as a national station in December, replaced by Smooth Extra after January. In January, Magic became a national DAB station and two spin-offs of Kiss, Kisstory and Kiss Fresh, launched on local DAB.

The U.K. regulator Ofcom has advertised a licence for a new national commercial radio network of stations, D2, which will allow for another 10 to 15 commercial radio stations to launch. Ofcom will make a decision on the winning bid and station lineup during the early part of 2015.

As part of our continued cross-industry communications campaign, a heavyweight U.K. commercial radio and BBC Radio Christmas gifting campaign ran in December, communicating the benefits of digital radio including choice, ease of tuning, extra content and crackle-free sound. Formula One presenter and former “Gadget Show” presenter Suzi Perry voiced the commercial radio ads, which ran alongside promotions. In March we are planning a launch of the car tick mark, which will include a car radio trade-in promotion.

U.K.Government Vehicle Tax Reminder 

With Digital Radio Message 

Click on the Image to Enlarge

This year will be a big year for the new digital radio tick mark. The mark tells consumers that the radio they are buying is “future-ready” and provides them with reassurance and certainty about the product they are buying. These radios have FM along with DAB/DAB+ and are tested for receiver sensitivity, which means the radio is designed to work according to Ofcom’s transmitter planning standards.

Digital Radio UK has already started communicating the tick mark for the automotive industry and will continue throughout next year. Communications for the tick mark for domestic radios will also begin next year, and approved products with the mark are already appearing on the shelves. Manufacturers who are backing this initiative include Pure, Philips, Revo, Tivoli, Kenwood JVC, Pioneer, Ruark, Sony and Sharp.


Digital Radio UK has been working closely with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and the vehicle manufacturers about including digital radio as standard in new vehicles, as well as putting them in touch with aftermarket solutions, which they can offer their customers.

In the U.K. 58 percent of new car registrations now come with digital radio as standard (Sept. 14 CAP/SMMT), up from just 25.9 percent two years ago, in September 2012. A further 14 percent offer it as an option.

New car sales are at a record high in the country with 2.5 million new vehicle sales predicted for 2014, and in the last year (to September) over 1.25 million new cars were sold with digital radio as standard. Peak months for new car sales in the U.K. are March and September because of new registration plates. In September alone, nearly 250,000 cars were sold with digital radio as standard.

Through an unprecedented agreement with the U.K.’s Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA), Digital Radio UK now has the ability to talk directly to every nationwide vehicle owner about digital radio in cars by including messages on every vehicle tax reminder. These reminders are sent annually to about 40 million vehicle owners across the U.K. with a message about digital radio in-car. About 3.5 million envelopes are sent out each month — Digital Radio UK has the ability to change the message on the envelopes over time and will increase the emphasis on the digital radio tick mark and digital radio installers.

On 6 February 2015 we are holding our third major conference, Drive to Digital: NOW, for the automotive sector at the BBC Radio Theatre with senior representativesfrom automotive manufacturers, retailers, car radio manufacturers and broadcasters.

Confirmed speakers include Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy Ed Vaizey, and leading broadcasters. The summit will support momentum in converting the car park to digital.

Jane Ostler is communications director of Digital Radio UK and previously worked at Digital UK on the successful switchover to digital TV.