UK Culture minister: Digital radio sounds bad


Ed Vaizey, the UK government minister overseeing that country’s switchover to digital radio (DAB) has “admitted what listeners have been saying for years: the new service is often marred by poor sound quality,” reported The UK Daily Mail. Vaizey also admitted that there were ‘elements of truth’ in claims that digital radio coverage is not as good as analog.

Speaking at the Drive to Digital conference, hosted at the BBC, Vaizey said: “You will no doubt have heard the negatives of digital radio, there has certainly been no shortage of column inches devoted to the subject…They often suggest that DAB is an out-of-date technology, that coverage and sound quality are inferior to analog and listeners are already happy with what they’ve got, so why change? There are, of course, elements of truth in all these statements.”

Despite this admission, Vaizey did concede: “However, it is all too often presented as a one-sided argument,’ before saying: ‘There are also many positives.” 

His comments come after a leaked government document revealed earlier this year that radio switchover will be delayed by another two years to 2017. That memo showed the “aspirational” 2015 target date had been abandoned as the radio industry would be unlikely to be able to meet the infrastructure costs.

The whole issue potentially deals another blow to the switchover project, which has faced opposition from some broadcasters who cannot see the point of moving the major stations off the analog service without an improvement.

Critics quickly used the minister’s comments to renew calls for the Government to abandon any target dates for switchover. William Rogers, UKRD radio group CEO, told the paper it was “frustrating’ to hear Mr. Vaizey acknowledge the problem but then ‘not take any notice of it.”

He added: “Most people can’t tell the difference [between analogue and digital] in any event.”

In the UK, consumers own 14 million digital sets. About a quarter of all radio listening is through digital and one in five cars have DAB as standard. According to Ofcom, the UK’s FCC, research showed that three analog radios are still being sold for every one which has the new technology.

RBR-TVBR observation: As a UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesman said, the government is committed to securing a digital future for radio, but has always been clear that switchover cannot be imposed on an unwilling public. This is why the FCC is not forcing a digital switchover here for radio—too many citizens would be left without a means for emergency info during a crisis. Both DAB Radios and HD Radios still do not operate efficiently on batteries.