digitalradioOfcom today announced the UK’s new national digital radio multiplex will be run by Sound Digital, a consortium of Arqiva, Bauer and UTV Media GB.
Digital radio listeners will benefit from a choice of new national Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) radio stations, expected to launch in March next year.

No DAB+ Just More Mono
In the Ofcom statement, there is no mention of how much of the new DAB multiplex will be used for DAB+ transmissions. This will probably be up to the multiplex operator and individual broadcasters.
Sound Digital’s multiplex will broadcast from 45 transmitter sites serving around 75% of the UK population.
All DAB stations will be in mono, however the consortium advises that the uptake of DAB+ may facilitate a switch to stereo in the future.
Another sad day for DAB in the UK and another missed opportunity to increase sound quality, more poor quality mono choice for radio listeners.

 

Sound Digital’s line-up will include:

  • Virgin Radio – rock and pop music
  • talkRADIO – news and current affairs
  • talkSPORT 2 – live sport and sports talk
  • talkBUSINESS – business and finance programmes
  • Sunrise Radio – Asian music and speech programmes
  • UCB Inspirational – Christian music
  • Premier Christian Radio – Christian music and speech
  • Jazz FM – jazz music
  • British Muslim Radio – Asian music and speech, with elements of Islamic content
  • Absolute 80s – 80s music
  • Magic Mellow – relaxing and melodic music
  • Planet Rock – classic rock music
  • Heat Radio – pop music, celebrity gossip and entertainment
  • Kisstory – ‘old skool’ dance tunes and anthems

Some of these 14 stations are currently broadcasting on the UK’s existing national, commercial DAB multiplex, operated by Digital One. This is now at full capacity as the number of national, commercial digital stations has risen from four to 14 since 2009. As existing services move on to the new, national digital radio multiplex, capacity will become available on Digital One.

Ofcom invited applications to run the new multiplex, a discrete chunk of the airwaves, in July 2014. Ofcom also received an application from Listen2Digital, a joint application from Babcock’s Media Services business and Orion Media, a commercial radio group.

 

Ofcom’s assessment
Ofcom assessed each application against specified criteria. These were the extent of the proposed coverage area; the timetable for coverage roll-out and launch of services; how the service would be established and maintained; and appeal to a variety of tastes and interests.

The criteria also included proposals to promote or assist the take-up of digital radio equipment, and whether the applicants ensured fair and effective competition when putting together their proposed line-up.
Ofcom concluded Sound Digital would best promote the development of digital sound broadcasting.

Ofcom published non-confidential versions of both applicants’ proposals and invited comments from listeners and the industry in January 2015. The comments received were also considered as part of the licence award.

Sound Digital will now begin upgrading existing transmitter sites to reach around 75% of households with the new DAB multiplex. Sound Digital will be required to begin broadcasting the new national DAB radio stations by the middle of next year.

 

Digital radio in the UK
Almost half of UK adults (48.5%) say they now own a DAB digital radio set and 36.3% of all radio listening is on a digital radio.
As the Digital One DAB multiplex is now full, this led to the need for more capacity. Therefore, Ofcom advertised the second national, commercial multiplex in July 2014.
The BBC’s digital radio stations, including 1Xtra, 6 Music, Radio 4 Extra and Asian Network, are broadcast on a DAB multiplex owned and operated by the BBC.

 

Supporting local digital radio
As well as increasing the capacity for national digital radio, Ofcom is supporting the Local DAB Expansion plan, which will bring local DAB radio services from commercial broadcasters and the BBC to even more UK homes.

Ofcom has published predicted coverage maps showing what local DAB listeners in each area could expect to receive, both indoors and in-car, when the Local DAB Expansion Plan is completed in the second half of 2016.
The coverage maps are the result of detailed technical planning work, led by Ofcom over the past two years to inform the planned expansion.

Ofcom is also planning to trial a new technology that could provide small radio stations across the UK with an affordable way to broadcast on DAB digital radio. The new approach, known as ‘small scale DAB’, is cheaper than current systems because it uses software freely available from opendigitalradio.org and is best suited for broadcasting to a small geographic area, ideal for community and local radio stations.

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By Expat