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More money is to be invested in digital radio as the industry gears up to switch off FM transmitters within the next few years.
Communications minister Ed Vaizey said up to £21m will come from the BBC, government and commercial radio.
It will be used to increase digital radio coverage so more homes can receive DAB signals.
“I absolutely believe that the future of radio in this country is digital. We cannot go backwards,” said Mr Vaizey.
The measures include plans to build a second national DAB multiplex, run by broadcasting watchdog Ofcom, which would enable the launch of new national commercial stations.
The government said it would only announce a date for a digital two way radio switchover when digital radio accounted for 50% of all radio listening, and when existing FM coverage has been replicated by DAB.
As of September 2013, only 35.6% of all radio listening was digital, according to RAJAR. This included 23% for DAB radio, with the rest from other digital sources such as Freeview and the internet.
“I have always said that the radio listener will lead the transition to digital,” Mr Vaizey said at the Go Digital Conference.
“We set ourselves a series of benchmarks. Listening should be at 50%. Coverage needs to be built out with firm plans in place to match FM coverage for all stations moving from analogue.
Continue reading the main story “Start Quote This package of measures is intended to cement this and herald in a digital age, as and when the consumer is ready”
End Quote Ed Vaizey “We are not there yet. So now is not the time to switchover,” he added.
‘More choice’ Mr Vaizey said while progress had been made in rolling-out digital radio, the service needed to improve to enable the listener to get a “much better service” and “far more choice, with many more stations”.
Other plans announced today include government funding for Ofcom to help smaller radio stations to go digital.
“The UK is at the forefront of developments in digital radio, and we have a huge opportunity not just with the UK market but also throughout Europe,” Mr Vaizey added.
“This package of measures is intended to cement this and herald in a digital age, as and when the consumer is ready.”
An estimated 95% of cars currently still lack DAB equipment and many people are still reliant on analogue radios, with some rebelling against the FM switch-off.
A new partnership is planned between Digital Radio UK and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) to give people information on upgrading their car radios to digital, and a new digital radio “tick” mark is planned so the public know what they are buying.
‘Positive step’ The government and Ofcom will also look more closely at other radio regulations to “ensure they are fit for a digital age”.
The announcements were welcomed by both the BBC and commercial radio bosses, including Bauer Media chief executive officer Paul Keenan – in charge of stations such as Magic, Key 103 and Kiss – who called it “a positive step forward for our industry”.
Ashley Tabor, the founder and president of Global – which runs the Capital and Heart branded stations around the UK- said it was “the biggest boost” to local DAB coverage in years.
“We want all our local stations to enjoy good coverage on DAB, and this will soon be a reality as a result of this agreement. The real winner here is the listener.”
Ford Ennals, chief executive officer of Digital Radio UK, also said the measures would “benefit listeners”, adding: “We look forward to the future confirmation of a switchover date which will give industry the certainty it needs.”