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Force listeners onto DAB by killing FM

It's the only way they'll see sense, thunders Taskforce

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The Digital Radio Working Group, set up in November to work out why no-one wanted DAB, has issued an interim report that suggests FM should be switched off by 2020 if only the punters can be convinced.

The DRWG is comprised of representatives from the BBC, Ofcom and commercial radio stations as well as a few other hangers on, and is expected to make a full report by the end of 2008. But the group has just published an interim report explaining its conclusions so far and what it'll look at next.

The basic problem is that DAB costs more to transmit and not enough people are listening to it. According to the report 20 per cent of radio listening is done in the car, but even the most optimistic figures put the chances of finding DAB in a random car at less than one in 200.

So despite the BBC pouring money into promoting DAB only 17.8 per cent of radio listening is digital. That figure is rising slowly though.

First step, according to the report, is a government announcement that DAB will be the future: a concrete commitment to stop all talk of other technologies and redundant kit. Then the industry must make all DAB radios multi-platform so they can receive other technologies when they are deployed, as well as providing economies of scale by supporting the other flavours of DAB around Europe.

Next will come massive promotion of how great digital radio is. The BBC is obviously tired of preaching the message alone and wants the commercial stations to contribute too.

The ultimate step will be switching off analogue services, which the report suggests could start as early as 2012 - though even it admits this is an "aspirational" date. To counter the lack of coverage the report suggests mucking about with FM allocations so DAB-only stations could get FM licences covering areas without DAB coverage. It also recommends AM stations shift to FM post haste, though we'll have to wait until the end of the year to find out where all this new FM spectrum is going to come from.

The more contentious issues, such as subsidised radios, are still being debated within the group, and so will have to wait until the publication of the final report. But it's hard to see anything so far that's going to make DAB into the success it needs to become for Ofcom to start selling off the frequencies. ®

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