It’s taken its sweet time, but DAB radio has finally fought its way to the top. Back in May, digital radio listenership finally overtook traditional AM/FM radio for the first time. 50.9% of people now regularly tune into digital over FM. That’s all the more incredible given that this figure was only 24% back in 2010. In less than a decade, the digital radio revolution has well and truly begun.
The long road to digital radio
So, how exactly has this shift in listenership happened? It’s largely because radio really needs to go digital in order to compete nowadays. With so many of us signed up to music streaming services, and endless podcasts available too, we naturally expect a larger choice of content. The limited number of FM stations simply isn’t going to cut it.
As a result, broadcasters- namely the BBC- are keen to speed up the digital switchover. Just last year, the BBC teamed up with comms infrastructure company Arquiva to set up 163 new digital radio transmitters across the country. These provide signal to almost a million listeners, and helped bring BBC digital radio coverage up to 97.6% of the population.
Car manufacturers have also done their bit for digital, too. DAB is now the standard in new vehicles, with nine out of ten fitted with a digital radio. Since so many people tune in during their daily commute, this has helped the general public to get used to the format. When they get out of the car and into their home or office, they then expect that wider choice of stations. DAB radios also tend to pick up a more reliable signal than FM.
Thanks to the digital revolution, radio isn’t going anywhere. While it might seem archaic to the younger generation, an incredible 90% of the UK population still tune in at least once a week. Even more surprising is the average listening time per week: a whopping 20 hours. A lot of that will be made up of time spent in the car, but home use is still remarkably high. At a time when so many people have headphones permanently stuck in their ears, it’s nice to know there’s still a big audience out there playing radio loud and proud!
What does this change mean for FM?
For years, the government have been floating the idea of switching off the FM signal completely. They have always said that they will only consider this once digital becomes the more popular option. Now this has happened, does that mean analogue radio is about to become a thing of the past?
Not necessarily. For one thing, there’s still less than 2% separating the two- not quite enough to warrant such a major move. What’s more, there are still large parts of the UK where digital radio signals simply aren’t available. The digital switchover for TV was simple because both analogue and digital signals were sent by the same transmitters. Radio is different, so a larger digital infrastructure will be needed before FM is shut off.
It’s safe to say, though, that the switchover will happen at some point. The BBC has already stated that they are fully committed to a digital-only service once the time is right. Plus, Norway shut off their FM transmissions last year, so there’s precedent for such a move. If you want to ensure that your next radio is futureproof, then look out for DAB+ functionality. Luckily, all of the DAB radios that we stock come with this feature- so you’re safe with one of these!