Culture secretary says government not set on 2015 date for FM broadcast switch-off
The planned digital radio switchover put forward under the last government is to go ahead, but rather than committing to a definite date, the new administration says it's 'setting up a structure to get digital radio up and off the ground'.
While it's 'working towards' the 2015 date previously announced, Culture Minister Ed Vaizey says 'we're not set on it'.
Interviewed ahead of a speech he was giving today to the Intellect Consumer Electronics Conference, the minister confirmed that the move wouldn't happen until at least half of all radio listening in the UK was digital, whether via DAB or other sources such as Freeview, satellite or internet.
And in his speech he acknowledges there are a number of hurdles to the switchover, among which is the need to convert some 30m car radios. But he sees the switchover as 'a huge opportunity.
'At a time when we are looking for manufacturing success stories, British companies like Pure, Roberts and Bush are world leaders. And the technology offers radio lovers the same explosion of choice that TV viewers have embraced so wholeheartedly.
'But we can't impose this on an unwilling public, no matter how persuasive the business case, or how clearly we know that analogue is already providing a barrier to growth and creativity.
'So listeners need to be persuaded that the content on offer is compelling, that the quality is high and that digital radios, at home or in the car, are affordable and have listening quality that is at least as good as FM.'
His comments gained support from some of those manufacturers, with Roberts Radio chief executive Leslie Burrage saying that 'The action plan is an essential part of the process and will address many of the barriers to digital radio's future growth.
'We specifically welcome the government's commitment to put the needs of listeners at the heart of any future decision on digital radio switchover.'
However, Age UK's Michelle Mitchell called for 'a Help Scheme, similar to the digital TV switchover Help Scheme, which will provide specific help, information and advice on the switchover to those who need it most.
'Radio is an important source of entertainment for many people in later life,' she added, 'and no switchover should take place until the UK has DAB coverage and signal reception matching or surpassing that of FM.'
Addressing the problems of in-car digital radio, the BBC has announced a plan to increase its transmitter coverage for DAB, with 61 new sites raising coverage to 92% of the country.
Meanwhile car accessory retailer Halfords has been quick to capitalise on the renewed publicity surrounding digital radio. From this Sunday it will be offering Pure's Highway unit, which can be used to convert DAB into an analogue signal compatible with existing car radios, at £100 fitted, complete with an external aerial.
It's estimated that just one car in a hundred currently on the road has DAB built-in, although car manufacturers say 'most' new cars will have digital radio by 2013.