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Local radio stations band together against DAB

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Ofcom's DAB consultation is supposed to be about measuring coverage and assigning multiplexes, but more than 50 local radio stations have teamed up to voice their frustration over the whole process.

The consultation was published back in June, including questions about how FM and DAB coverage should be measured and whether editorial areas could be merged to fit the new broadcast map, as the UK moves to switch off FM broadcasting. But many respondents have taken the opportunity to disagree with that final assumption, despite it not being part of the consultation.

DAB is "a car crash waiting to happen" according to UKRD, ringleader amongst a consortium of local radio operators who used the recent consultation to make their point: "Things are tough enough as it is without the Government heaping more costs, uncertainty and damage on the local commercial radio sector. DAB for local commercial radio is inappropriate. It should be dumped."

Despite the limited focus of the consultation, many respondents used the opportunity to voice their objections to the whole DAB project, arguing that they've been denied a proper platform to do so and are forced to fit in their objections where they may.

"While we still have some concerns regarding the build out plan itself and how this will be structured and funded, we understand that these matters are not within the scope of this consultation," states RadioCentre before discussing the proper subjects in more detail.

But it's the consortium of local stations who are most vocal in their abuse of the process.

"Our opinion is that this Ofcom consultation is an academic exercise that offers no practical strategy for the development of the DAB radio platform," explains the submission, before pointing out the enormous number of new transmitters that will be needed to bring FM-quality coverage to DAB receivers.

"The build-out of local DAB transmitters proposed in the consultation would multiply their number three-fold, in order to deliver only a 28 per cent improvement in the number of households that would receive robust DAB."

The Communications Consumer Panel tells us, in its response, that "72 per cent of those who listen to radio state that they either do not have a DAB radio set or never listen to it", so Ofcom is proposing to build hundreds of transmitters to ensure thousands of homes can ignore the DAB signal they didn't want.

Ofcom would like to see Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) offer the same coverage as existing FM services, primarily so that FM can be switched off just as analogue television is being discontinued. But comparing coverage is tough as FM fails gracefully - dropping to mono, then fading out slowly - while DAB is either there or rapidly descends into bubbling mud before disappearing entirely, and that disparity is what the consultation was supposed to be about.

Local radio also has other issues with DAB, as a station currently broadcasting from one transmitter might have to transmit from several once it switches to DAB (at greater expense). That directly impacts companies that, for example, operate neighbouring local stations that share content for some of the time but are otherwise separate: such companies won't buy two transmitter slots on the bigger footprint of DAB, so the localisation of content diminishes.

It's those things that the consultation was supposed to be about, not the fact that DAB has been supplanted by DAB+ in most of the world, or that the Greenwich pips will never be on time again (DAB has an inescapable latency), or that DAB radios consume much more power than their FM equivalents (not very green, that). These are all issues that respondents chose to highlight over questions that Ofcom asked. ®

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