BRUSSELS — Digital radio broadcasters are applauding the European Parliament’s vote in favor of mandatory digital radio receivers in new cars, which is still in the proposal stage. But they still want analog radio broadcasting (AM/FM/SW) to be turned off in the future, to give digital radio (DAB/DAB+/DRM) its best shot at success.
“In my opinion, any regulation paving the way for digitization of radio broadcasting would be welcome not only by broadcasters but also by listeners,” said Mirek Ostrowski, technical director of Poland’s Radio Wrocław, which transmits on DAB+ and FM. “It could create a positive impulse for developing process of digital radio in Poland, especially for that part of the market which uses cars for radio listening,” he said.
“We're fortunate in the United Kingdom that over 90 percent of new cars have DAB as standard, so requiring all cars to have digital radio is good news, but not transformative for us,” said Matt Deegan, station manager for the U.K. DAB+/webcaster Fun Kids. “Where it will clearly make a huge difference is in digital radio markets that are emerging. We've had 20 years of waiting for this point; for new DAB countries it'll be one less thing to worry about.”
Half of Fun Kids’ total audience currently listens to the station’s programming in vehicles, while in-car reception accounts for a quarter of Fun Kids’ total hours tuned. “We also know that many new listeners discover us this way,” said Deegan. “For a station that doesn't have a huge marketing budget, seeing our name ‘Fun Kids’ on the dashboard means that people will be instantly aware of what we do. It's a name that if you're in the market for children's radio, clearly tells you we're someone you should sample!”
This said, both Deegan and Ostrowski want the EU to make digital radio receivers mandatory in new European cars. They also see turning off analog broadcasting as essential for giving digital radio its very best chance to win listeners.
“We know that listeners who tune in through DAB digital radio have a better experience: They listen to more stations, and to the radio, for longer,” Deegan said. “I think we should do everything we can to get them to make the switch -- both carrot and stick. A switch-off date focuses the mind. It did in television, it has in Norway, and it would in the UK too. So we back a date, but a good few years away; alongside an information campaign, support scheme, great cheap radios and an easy way to upgrade your car.”
“It's a question of economics,” said Ostrowski. “I'm sure that it's not possible to run two radio broadcasting systems, analog and digital simultaneously.” He added that the expense associated with simulcasting in analog and digital only serves to prejudice some listeners against the new medium, “although the much lower costs of DAB+ transmission are proven and widely known.”
“Switching off analog at the right time does allow the industry to save some money on dual transmission,” agreed Deegan. “But more than that, it reboots what radio is for many people, and — in a world where choice is so important — keeps our platform in the best health.”