There are various ways to receive British radio services, through traditional analogue radio on FM, MW, LW, SW, on DAB in most areas of the UK, on Freeview which has a limited number of radio stations, Online and via digital satellite through Sky, Freesat or by using any digital satellite receiver.
In contrast to many television channels, the vast majority of radio station broadcast free-to-air (FTA).
The BBC today runs ten national domestic radio stations, five of which are only available in a digital format: via DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting – i.e. Digital Radio), the Internet or the different forms of Digital Television in the UK.
The BBC also runs regional radio stations throughout the UK, for example BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio Devon. These stations focus on regional issues to a greater extent than their national counterparts.
The BBC radio services began in 1922 with the British Broadcasting Company, Ltd., which was licensed under pressure to provide a radio service for the British public.
It was licensed by the British Government through its General Post Office which had original control of the airwaves because they had been interpreted under law as an extension of the Post Office services.
Today radio broadcasting still makes up a large part of the corporation’s output and this is still reflected in the title of the BBC’s listings magazine called Radio Times.
To read more, see BBC Radio.
Most local commercial stations in the United Kingdom broadcast to a city or group of towns within a radius of 20–50 miles, with a second tier of regional stations covering larger areas such as London or the North West. The predominant format is pop music, though many other genres are also catered for, particularly in London and the larger cities, and on digital radio.
Rather than operating as independent entities, many local radio stations are owned by large radio groups which broadcast a similar format to many areas.
The largest operator of radio is Global Radio which bought the former media group, Gcap Media. It owns Classic FM and London’s most popular commercial station, Capital FM.
Other owners are Bauer Radio and UTV Radio, which mainly own stations that broadcast in highly populated city areas.
Some commercial radio stations are like the BBC Radio, broadcast on Freeview, DAB and nationwide on satellite.
There are two national commercial DAB multiplexes in the UK, Digital One and Sound Digital, broadcasting a wide selection of stations across the UK,
To read more, see U.K. Commercial Radio.
DAB Radio in the U.K.
DAB stands for Digital Audio Broadcasting and is a method for the digital transmission of radio signals. DAB is the transmission technology of the future and will replace FM radio in the medium to long term.
The DAB method was developed in Europe within the framework of EUREKA project 147 and is currently being introduced in a large number of countries. The country with the widest availability of DAB is the UK.
National DAB digital radio networks already cover most major towns and hundreds of miles of motorways and major roads.
Digital One’s national network of transmitters already covers more than 90% of the population, and the BBC are expanding coverage of their national network to achieve a similar figure.
On DAB digital radio you can listen to national commercial stations, BBC national stations and to many local stations.
The UK currently has the world’s biggest digital radio network, with 103 transmitters, with two national DAB ensembles and forty eight local and regional DAB ensembles broadcasting over 250 commercial and 34 BBC radio stations across the UK.
For more information on DAB including bitrates see: UK National DAB Muxes
Radio on Freeview
There are currently 29 stations available nationally on Freeview, these include both BBC and commercial radio stations.
Channel numbers are liable to change without notice and bitrates can also change from time to time.
Freeview radio quality on most BBC national radio stations is 192 kbps, though this is an acceptable quality, it is still not as good as FM.
Voice quality is almost identical between Freeview and FM, speech does not make great demands on bandwidth.
However, when music becomes more demanding, with more background instruments playing at the same time, FM still provides a much more enjoyable listening experience.
It is not that FM is better than Freeview, it is more to do with bandwidth limitations and the bitrates broadcasters use on the platform.
Currently all radio stations are on DVB-T multiplexes using older less efficient MPEG 2 encoding.
As is the case with DAB, Freeview is a space constricted platform with a limited number of multiplexes. Freeview will never be able to offer the same range of stations available on other UK platforms.
When the UK switches DVB-T multiplexes to DVB-T2 in the future, this could allow more stations to join the platform, or allow those already on Freeview to raise quality by utilising newer more efficient technology.
BBC national stations on Freeview are transmitted at various bitrates on the terrestrial platform, for more information and bitrates see: Freeview Radio
Radio on Satellite
You can receive a vast number of digital radio stations via the Sky and Freesat Digital satellite platforms.
Digital Satellite radio (DSat) is completely different from standard DAB digital radio, however it offers a wider choice in stations.
It includes regional channels that broadcast on digital satellite as well as standard AM/FM radio.
These include BBC Scotland, BBC Wales, BBC Asian Network, BBC Radio Cymru, YouthFM, Cross Rhythm, Heart FM and many more.
Most commercial radio services are broadcast on Astra 2 group of satellites, making reception in most areas of Europe quite easy.
BBC radio services are broadcast on Astra 2E, which has a limited coverage area (UK spotbeam).
For more information on radio bitrates on satellite see: UK Digital Radio Bitrates