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Talking DAB and the future of radio

Tony Moretta on the switchover 'scare'

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The Curse of the Bubbling Mud

What about reception quality - the bubbling mud? How can that be improved?

We need to increase the power, we need to make sure the reception is stronger, I think that will get rid of some of the preconceptions of audio quality. If you switch the radio on and it's garbled, you're not going to think 'I'm on the edge of a multiplex's coverage' - you're going to think 'it doesn't work'.

Do I think there's a fundamental issue with audio quality? No. There's an in-building reception issue, but generally in terms of population coverage, it's about there. The BBC will need to expand. We need to turn the power up and fill in the gaps.

One of my big bugbears is when people talk about audio quality with DAB, it's differentiating between what it is in a good signal area… and error correction comes in - that's a reception quality issue not an audio quality issue.

We've done a questionnaire of about 7,000 people - it's probably skewed to techies and audiophiles. What that clearly showed is that people had a bigger issue with reception quality.

OK, but how much better could it be with more efficient codecs? We were promised 'CD quality audio' back in the 90s

Mistakes were made in the early days when they talked about CD quality sound. It's like Freeview, anything where you have a fixed capacity you have to strike a balance. You fit less on, so broadcasters pay more.

Why not mandate DAB+?

With DAB+ you can get better audio quality, or you can use a third of the capacity to get the same audio quality. Or a station might just decide to buy a third of the capacity. If I genuinely thought audio quality was a real issue for consumers, I'd be banging on the doors of my shareholders, but I really don't think it is.

But the efficiency benefits are very real

Yes, it could create more capacity. But capacity isn't an issue at the moment. Going back to the transmission costs, it's not automatically cheaper. Arquiva has the same costs. Today, there's spare capacity on Digital One and on the regional multiplexes.

It's a bit better, but it doesn't really move the game along - we will still need power increases. And the disadvantages are that the radios won't work. It'll destroy confidence.

Now I'd like every radio to be sold to be Profile 1. Maybe by the middle of next year, or by next Xmas, every DAB set will be Profile 1 compliant, or you can upgrade it over the air. There may come a point where you want to launch a new station and the market has enough DAB+ stations and you can mix and match, but… there's no strong reason for doing it now. The people it matters to are not a big enough market. If you want better quality you listen to your TV or get internet radio.

DAB in your car

Last summer I got a car with a factory fit DAB - I'd just got this job. I've been doing a lot more driving. I drove from the Isle of Wight to Herfordshire, we were listening to Fun kids on DigitalOne and the BBC - and I had one two second glitch somewhere on the A3. It sounded fine. The day of the Today program I drove from Hertfordshire to Oxford Circus and back again - in that whole journey there was one glitch, where it always is: a set of traffic lights on the Finchley Road.

In my wife's car around the M25 I got a lot of interference with FM, and it annoyed me having to retune.

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