Retain FM radio

6 Comments 16th May 2015

As part of the digital Britain report, it was proposed that national FM radio be switched off to free up bandwidth for DAB broadcasts. I believe that FM radio should be retained. I also believe that if we are to switch to a digital format, there are several formats which have considerable advantages over DAB.

I suggested to the last government that FM should be retained and DAB allowed to die. Their response was that DAB had to proceed since there were already a few million DAB sets in the UK. The fact that there are hundreds of millions of FM receivers in the UK seemed lost on them.

Why does this matter?

FM is superior to DAB for the following reasons:

1) From the point of view of the broadcaster and the listener, DAB is more expensive to run than FM. It consumes considerably more electricity.

2) Due to point 1, running DAB from batteries is particularly expensive. This effectively stops many people from using DAB as a truly portable device.

3) Sound quality on DAB can be reasonable compared to a very cheap FM receiver, but comparing like for like prices, FM tends to sound much better. Where reception is marginal, voices carried on FM can still be understood. On DAB, with poor reception, much worse distortion of the signal can occur including drop-outs to complete silence.

4) The DAB standard is based on 30 year old technology. It has been superseded by many other standards. Nearly all other countries which are adopting digital radio are opting for one of the more modern standards. This will mean that people using DAB in car entertainment will be unable to receive radio if driving their cars abroad. It will also drive up the price of DAB.

5) There is a significant time delay in the encoding and decoding of the DAB signal. This delay will vary between different receivers so it is impossible to compensate for. This means that the time signal used on the radio will be useless.

6) Due to the frequency of the DAB signal, it can be blocked by metal used in the construction of modern buildings (Faraday Cage effect).  The FM signal is much less susceptible to this.

7) Most families have several FM radios: kitchen, radio alarm, car radio, hifi etc. Replacing all of these with DAB will result in huge expense to the listener. It will also result in hundreds of millions of FM sets ending up in land fill.

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6 Responses to Retain FM radio

  1. Justin Phillips says:

    Great idea. The sound quality of FM is superior to DAB too. Let FM exist for independent radio stations too, in parallel with DAB.

  2. will says:

    I had no idea they wanted to turn analogue FM off.

    The sound is much better and more natural on FM. DAB sounds like a poor quality low bitrate (96k? Mp3)

    Finding the FM stations by frequency makes sense, it is difficult to find stations on DAB.

    I still use AM as well as FM!
    I drive old cars with factory fitted radios and I don’t want to hack up the dash to fit some modern junk.
    My dad has a DAB, its horrible.

    You can get local pirate stations on FM. Sometimes fun.

    Internet radio will take over sooner or later so as far as I am concerned DAB is already obsolete and redundant.

    FM wasn’t and isn’t broke.. so don’t ‘fix’ it.

  3. Dag Crawford says:

    This will open the door for Radio Moscow and China Radio to replace our BBC for all those listeners in the highlands and islands wholly dependent on AM (longwaves and shortwaves) to get a signal. Remember there are a stream of visitors here in summer.

  4. William Adams says:

    No need to worry about F.M. if the anti BBC lobby gets their way. Substanial National Radio and Local Radio services will cease to exist.

  5. robnorthlondon says:

    Observations and Qs to date;
    a The UK Government can sell off the FM wavebands like Gordon Brown did with the 3G mobile telephony bands, and DAB radio is no big deal frankly in terms of music quality but it is a money maker for them. It hasnt been done for the peoples benefit, IMO.
    b The UK has adopted a sub-standard standard on DAB. Why ?
    c You still need a good aerial for DAB anyway in some places and the music quality is digital and cold and needs a proper DAC to bring back the warmth of analog for hi fi.
    d Even with an aerial the music buffers or pauses sometimes and is affected by bad weather
    So, Please leave FM alone and dont close it down.

  6. Roger Cambridge says:

    I agree with almost all of pbret\’s comments with one very significant exception:

    1) From the point of view of the broadcaster:- DAB is much cheaper for the broadcaster to set up and maintain. The reason for this is that it uses a technology known as multiplexing. In simple terms, this means that a transmitter site requires only ONE transmitter, one aerial mast and one power supply, and can transmit all the stations that wish to share that transmitter on one frequency. This makes DAB a very attractive and cost effective way to broadcast.
    There are two downsides, which do not even come close to affecting those building and operating costs: The first is that transmitters are low power, and therefore more of them are needed (but most are in place already), and the second is that there is a technical limit to the amount of data that a transmitter can broadcast (known as bandwidth).
    This bandwidth has to be shared by all the stations, so to get more stations in, the bit rate of some or all of them is reduced. High bitrate = better quality, low bitrate = well, it\’s what we mostly get, and which explains why people are not happy with it. Commercially, the temptation is to cram in as many sations as you can. The other factor is that compression is used to compensate for the small amount of bandwidth you are allocated at the transmitter – the broadcaster saves money by buying less bandwidth (the commonly used expression \’compression\’ is more correctly described as bitrate reduction, and it is very harmful to the audio quality.

    4) Many other countries are now using DAB+, which amongst other differences uses much more up-to-date compression, capable of delivering better audio quality. But they are not alone – the UK now has 3 national radio stations using it (Jazz FM being one).

    So the argument that FM radios will be obsolete if FM is switched off may well apply to DAB radios when DAB+ becomes mainstream in the UK (it may be a long wait). DAB+ receivers are backwards compatible which means they can work with old DAB, but unfortunately not the other way around.

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