Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Digital radio and catch-22

If you want to know a simple reason (there are many reasons, actually) why digital radio hasn't succeded yet, watch this video.

It's an old video but after 1:20 you can listen to Glyn Jones (i think he was BBC managing editor of digital radio from 1995 to 1999 and today is operations director at DigitalOne):

the manufacturers hesitated because no broadcasters are committed, no one
has said "right, we are gonna start transimitting this" and the broadcasters
hesitated because the manufacturers won't say "right, we'll have sets
available in the shops by this day"

It's a catch-22.

From Wikipedia: Catch-22 is a term coined by Joseph Heller in his novel Catch-22, describing a false dilemma in a rule, regulation, procedure or situation, where no real choice exists. In probability theory, it refers to a situation in which multiple probabilistic events exist, and the desirable outcome results from the confluence of these events, but there is zero probability of this happening, as they are mutually exclusive.

We can say that, in a transition from analogue to digital radio, deregulation can't work or, at least in this case, hasn't worked at all. We need the government (after talking to everybody: authority, broadcasters, manufacturers, listeners, etc..) to set a timeline (assuming that staying forever in analogue radio isn't really an option). We'd better read the Final Report (26 pag. 121 KB) by Digital Radio Working Group published on 19 December 2008. The report doesn't really talk about DAB+ but talks about switching off analogue radio: FM started in UK on 1955 and it could almost end between 2017 and 2022 (according to the report only small scale commercial and community radio will allowed to be in FM after digital migration). What will happen to 87.50 - 108.00 MHz frequencies after the switch off?? Low power FM radio (keep dreaming!) ??
The DRM standard is mentioned only once and not about UK ("DRM has been trialled in Switzerland, Russia and China")

Some reactions:

Guardian (John Plunkett)
Digital Radio Working Group reports on DAB, but ducks DAB+
(technology blog, Guardian)
BBC welcomes DRWG's report
Grant Goddard radio blog
UK free tv blog
Frontier Silicon
Daily Telegraph

Radio is an important part of the national discourse and perhaps an even more important voice in local democracy
(Final report of DRWG, page 11)
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