Talking DAB and the future of radio
Tony Moretta on the switchover 'scare'
Interview DAB radio usually gets a flailing from Reg readers, and that was before this summer's "switch-off" controversy. Former FreeView chief Tony Moretta has the job of steering the DAB ship through such controversies as head of the Digital Radio Development Bureau, and here's an extended Q&A with him conducted recently.
The Switchoff Scare that wasn't
Recently there's all this scaremongering about switch-off. But no one has said that - Digital Britain doesn't set a switch-off date. It says if you get digital listening to 50 per cent - and you've got to solve a lot of problems to get to that 50 per cent - you've got to think about switch-off. By the time you get to a switch off most people won't be listening on analog.
But a switch-off when digital listening reaches 50 per cent means broadcasters lose half their audience overnight.
No, it isn't set at that point. It says when we get to 50 per cent, we'll set a date. It's like TV, when they set a timetable for TV digital switchover, penetration was 50 to 60 per cent. By the time switchover happens, you've got to 90 per cent. And the message is a small proportion still haven't switched over to digital TV yet - the elderly for example. So no one's set a switch off date.
So how do you envision it happening?
The earliest you can start is six and a half years away. The challenge for the industry is get to 50 per cent. We should have seen it coming as an industry, but it's easier for the press to focus on what you're taking away.
I agree Carter didn't set a switch-off date. The difficult thing for digital is that people were reminded that analog is really a great technology. It's cheap, it's ubiquitous...
The cost is negligible. We've just agreed a specification for DAB radios going forward, in that we will set a date that all new radios will come as Profile 1. One of the optional things is FM - but we're saying to manufacturers that all the radios should come with FM. The incremental cost is nothing. If you talk to the big radio companies, analog is not very good for commercial radio. There are five national FM radio frequencies and commercial is only allowed one of them. AM is fine for Talksport, as it's speech, but not for commercial radio. There's enough room on DAB for them.
OK, so why aren't they there - is it carriage cost?
Most of them are there already but yes, it's cost. In this economy you can't have a go at radio stations for not launching new stations - you wait until things improve. In London you have 53 stations - all the mainstream stuff, plus things like Planet Rock which has 800,000 listeners. There's a Polish radio station. There's enough content out there.
DAB has three levels of multiplex coverage: local, regional and national. Commercial radio is quite rooted in local and regional for revenue reasons, and it's hard to jump to national. Also, some stations sit on local multiplexes but are national brands, like Q and Heat. You want to make sure they have the right stations in the right areas.
The costs for the national multiplex are about million a year?
That's a reasonable ballpark figure. Digital costs are the same or less than analog. But you're paying both while you're running both. Going forward, DAB is out on a national basis, Digital One is not far off.
There seems to be no simple way to reduce this.
The way transmission contracts work generally is that most of the cost is incurred when it's built. It's getting the site, putting antennas up on the mast - transmitters are the boxes in the building at the bottom, I learned in my last job - it's the manpower. So the transmission company invests the capital and then the broadcaster gets a 10 or 12 or 20 year contract. It's like getting a mortgage - so the network's built, it's there. And it stays built. When ITV Digital went bust, the network was still there. So Arquiva want to cover their costs, they're able to make more reasonable deals to get people on the network and they're doing that.
Digital costs are the same or less than analog. But you're paying both while you're running both.
Next page: The Curse of the Bubbling Mud
DAB is wank
DAB sets are more expensive
Use more power (aren't we all meant to be green?)
And offer worse reception (analogue gracefully degrades, digital just cops out)
Quality is often shit
And what will happen with all the old radios? Landfill? At least an old telly can be plugged into a digital PVR or similar.
The entire DAB radio system in the UK is a raging cock-up from start to finish. Typical of Labourite, money-grabbing practice.
so he says with better reception the audio quality will be better?
OK, now I'm no radio engineer . . . . so let me ask a question of the clever people on here
a station broadcasting with a pathetic bit rate (say 96kbps) but with excellent signal strength magically sounds like or better than one with a decent bit rate? (say 256kbps) . . how's that work then?
seems to me DAB = over promised, under delivered however you spin it, just too niche and will die out . .
Let's just stop doing radio - better than death by a thousand cuts
I used to listen to Radio 3 on AM. Then the blimps sitting in their anechoic chambers with precisely positioned stereo speakers and external FM aerials decided no need for R3 AM any more, anyone who doesn't listen with a setup like theirs isn't worthy of consideration.
So I, carrying the radio around the house doing my chores, find that I need to extend the FM aerial and rotate the radio to get a worse signal than AM gave. I think on AM they flattened out the dynamic range a bit so the quiet bits got a boost so if I was doing something noisy I could still hear.
Then I moved to the North, of course northerners are all thick and don't listen to R3 so signal strength is weaker - and we have hills, the FM wavelengths don't "bend" as well as AM. Goodbye R3. Hello R4 - until the Cricket, used to be on R3 AM, moved to R4 AM so as a non cricketer one of the R3 "problems" follows my listening to R4, switch to R4 FM? No, for the same reasons as above.
Good news they invented R5 for live sport - yes but Test Match Cricket would mess up their schedule too much so lets bugger up the R4 listeners instead.
Good news: DAB arrives! Whoever invented DAB must have shares in a Battery maker, it's not portable guys. To save my bank balance switch to rechargeable batteries - but they hold less charge than a disposable battery. When the batteries are going flat on FM/AM the volume decreases you might have a few hours warning, time to get replacements, with DAB no warning it just dies within a matter of seconds (made worse by the "sudden death" characteristics of rechargeables). Instead of having to position the radio/FM aerial to reduce hiss and changes in signal as I move around the room relative to the radio with DAB the audio breaks up a bit or dies completely, poor FM reception could be listenable, poor DAB is crap.
Good news the Government make a few quid selling off the radio spectrum and those in not hilly, well populated areas, who don't use portable radios and don't mind the fact that the cheapest DAB radio costs 10 times the cost of a basic analogue radio will continue to get reasonable service - bad news the rest of us need a new receiver in order to get worse reception (and we would be foolish to expect to see any benefit from the cash from selling off spectrum).
We hear the usual "reassuring" garbage like "90% of the population will get good reception" - but not of all channels and not 90% of the land area so all suffer when driving.
Someone on here suggested using Internet radio via net connected mobile phone... with even poorer geographic coverage than any broadcast radio! I think not.