Finally nearly all the old fashioned analogue TV has gone. There’s only a couple of areas left, Northern Ireland and Newcastle. They’ll be gone by the end of the year.
So, it must be time to turn our attention to radio. We need to start a serious switch-off of analogue radio.
Currently, analogue radio wastes whole bands worth of frequencies that could be put to better use.
But what is ‘analogue radio’?
Firstly, there’s the older low quality, muffled and subject to hums, bangs, whistles and static interference place called ‘AM’ or ‘Medium Wave’. What’s the point of AM? Why would anybody voluntarily want to listen to such an awful sound? And yet, some stations like BBC Radio 5 Live are forced to use it. Why?
Apart from Medium Wave there’s also Long Wave, but since nothing really broadcasts on Long Wave, nobody listens via it any more. Most people wouldn’t know how to switch to Long Wave these days even if you paid them!
Next, there’s ‘FM’ (at one time called ‘VHF’). Receivers for FM are a bit stronger than they used to be. For many years FM receivers needed a huge roof-mounted outdoor aerial to try to stop the hiss. These days, and for the last 25 years or so, car radios have become very good at receiving FM stations without all the hiss and distortion, but FM receiver sections inside phones or iPods, less so. FM brings with it the need to have long bit of wire trailing from the receiver in order to ensure stereo reception without all that fluttering and hiss.
Currently, FM is the medium most listened via, but it has seriously passed its sell-by date.
Running parallel with analogue radio is ‘DAB’, or Digital Audio Broadcasting, sometimes just called ‘Digital Radio’.
A bit like how analogue telly only had five channels whilst digital telly (‘Freeview’) had about 30, DAB already extends listener choice with far many more radio stations than can be received via analogue.
Sadly however, the expansion of DAB has been hindered by a lack of frequency availability, limits to powers that transmitters could use and a general lack of direction and impetus compared to the digital switchover for telly. There remain arguments about frequency availability and other limitations, as well as the general public’s lack of interest in ‘radio’ these days. All this contributes to DAB being an extremely slow burner.
Even so, the number of people listening to digital only radio stations is constantly increasing. New cars are coming off the assembly line with DAB radios fitted as standard. DAB radio recently topped a poll as the ‘must have’ gadget car owners loved.
Old fashioned analogue radio wastes the precious and limited frequencies that are available. One transmitter, using one frequency can only provide one analogue station. Digital radio (like digital TV) can have four or five high quality stations along with several lower quality ones, all broadcasting together using one transmitter on one frequency.
Maybe it’s time to look at DAB also spreading and using the FM frequencies currently used inefficiently to carry analogue stations. That would increase or supplement the existing seven frequencies already allocated to DAB, and could treble the number of radio stations available to everybody.
As with analogue TV switch-off, a date needs to be set, say 2017, and the migration of analogue only radio stations to digital needs to be completed (there are still a few around the UK that aren’t available via DAB yet), and then the old fashioned analogue transmitters need to be directly replaced with the superior digital ones using the old analogue frequencies, just as has happened with television.
It’s time in the UK that analogue radio was consigned to history alongside analogue TV!