Small-scale digital trials prove successful

Hundreds of new digital radio stations could be broadcasting across the UK soon as Ofcom completes a study into ‘small-scale DAB’.

Trials have been taking place in Brighton, Norwich, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and other areas. Each trial has involved several digital radio stations, some of which were already broadcasting on FM and some which had never been available terrestrially before.

The idea behind the small-scale DAB is to allow smaller stations to launch on digital radio and cover a smaller area than would be possible with existing transmitters. Many small commercial radio stations are currently not available on digital radio and very few community radio stations are available on DAB.

Listeners in the trial areas have been able to enjoy local commercial services, hyper-local community radio stations and specialist music services from jazz to Celtic music.

While there isn’t currently a proposed switch-over date for radio as there was for analogue television, some expect the UK to follow Norway in switching entirely to DAB. Hundreds of analogue stations in the UK do not currently have a viable path to beginning DAB broadcasts and the Government’s response will be watched with interest.

Seventy stations have taken part in the trial which started last year. Now a report has been prepared by Ofcom for the Department of Culture, Media & Sport, which made funding available for the project, which confirms that the trials have been a success.

Neil Stock, Ofcom’s Director of Broadcast Licensing, said: “This technology could open up a new, local dimension in digital radio. We’re confident that a UK wide roll-out of these stations would be technically possible and commercially viable.

“Our trials have enabled groups of community and local commercial radio stations to work together, enabling new stations to serve local communities right across the UK.”

The Government will consider the findings of the report. Ofcom says it is ready to work with Government so that small-scale DAB services can be licensed permanently.

The full report can be read on Ofcom’s website.