Why do we need DAB+ and how can radios be upgraded?

My home radio, like I am sure millions of others, was purchased about six years ago, before the advent of DAB+. I can’t get DAB+ on my radio on my car radio – there must again be millions of cars on the road which were built before then. How do we convert present DAB radios, both home and in car, to DAB+? Since DAB is so good, why DAB+? Sounds like another racket to make people (unnecessarily) upgrade radios!
– James

In 2016 the first national DAB+ stations, including Jazz FM and Magic Chilled, launched across the UK. Since then many more commercial stations have launched as DAB+ digital radio stations. Some stations, like talkRADIO and Radio X, have switched to the newer format.

In October 2020 around half of the UK’s national commercial radio stations are using the newer DAB+. The BBC still uses the original DAB format for its national digital stations.

When stations switch to DAB+ listeners may find that their radios no longer receive a favourite station. We received many questions from talkRADIO listeners when that station and talkSPORT 2 switched to DAB+ earlier this year. Listeners who want to hear newer stations like Capital Dance or LBC News may find it’s not possible with their radio.

Although the majority of new radios do support DAB, DAB+ and FM – as indicated with the digital radio tick mark – some new supermarket and own brand radios do not support DAB+.

When you buy a DAB digital radio always check that it has the digital radio tick mark and can receive DAB+ stations.

If you are happy with the selection of stations you have now there is no need to upgrade.

Upgrading DAB radios

Unfortunately not many DAB digital radio models can be upgraded to receive DAB+ stations.

Several radios manufactured by Pure can be upgraded. The process is slightly complicated but the software is offered for free on their website.

It’s good to see a brand offer a service like this when listeners could have been forced to buy a new radio. This shows the value of buying from established radio brands with good customer support rather than supermarket and retailer own brands.

Newer cars with an infotainment system can sometimes be updated with a software upgrade. We’re not aware of any car radios being upgrade-able to receive DAB+ stations but it may be worth checking with the service department of your local dealer.

If this isn’t available an add-on device could be installed for digital radio, such as an adapter from Pure or AutoDAB interface. Some older cars with DAB may have a factory-fitted double-DIN radio which might also have satellite navigation. In this case the maps could be out-of-date and the device may not support Bluetooth. An aftermarket double-DIN stereo with Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, in addition to DAB/DAB+, could be a worthy upgrade for a few hundred pounds.

A similar issue has occurred with Freeview televisions and recorders. High definition channels have been available on Freeview for several years but many televisions are not compatible with the HD services. Even though the televisions can display HD content from a satellite receiver or Blu-ray player they cannot be upgraded to receive Freeview HD channels.

Why do we need DAB+?

When broadcasters use DAB+ they are able to make more radio stations available and increase choice for listeners. The newer DAB+ is more efficient and stations effectively require less ‘space’ on a digital radio multiplex. Therefore more radio stations can fit inside the same capacity compared to the original DAB format.

This was illustrated earlier in 2020 when Times Radio launched and talkRADIO and talkRADIO 2 switched to DAB+. By using the available space more efficiently it’s possible to broadcast three radio stations offering news, talk and sport rather than one or two.

DAB+ has allowed radio stations like Heart to have digital spin-offs which only play 70s, 80s, 90s and dance music. If DAB was used instead of DAB+ there may not be enough capacity to achieve this.

There is a benefit to broadcasters too in that a dedicated service can be launched for fans of 1970s or soul music and listeners tuning into Heart 70s or Magic Soul are still tuning in to the Heart or Magic brands.