Lords should back FM Radio
I am writing to you with regard to the above subject and apologise in advance for the fact that my views are being sent to you by email rather than letter as I have only today (27th January 2010) been made aware of your "Call For Evidence".
I have no opinion to impart with regard to the switchover of television except to advise your Lordships that each of the television receivers in my house receive their signals digitally and I have no problem with the quality of signal...the same cannot necessarily be said regarding the quality of the content of some of the additional stations.
I am much more concerned about the possible switchover of radio to Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) and my concerns relate mainly to the listening publics' requirement for the switchover and the audio quality of the proposed media.
As far as the first matter is concerned the latest figures I have from the Radio Joint Audience Research Ltd. (RAJAR) website for "All Radio Listening - Share by Platform" for Quarter 3 2009 (up until 29th October 2009) shows 13.3% of respondents listening via DAB and another 7.8% listening either via Digital Television, the Internet or an unspecified digital source (RAJAR Data Release attached). This 7.8% would not be affected whether FM was left switched on as they are already listening to digital transmissions by an alternative medium (to DAB). This take up for DAB is despite the fact that there has been a media campaign on BBC Television highlighting the supposed advantages of DAB since at least 2007.
Unfortunately the Government's Digital Britain report recommends the 'digital migration' of the majority of radio services in the UK, by a proposed target of 2015. It specified an interim 2013 milestone of 50% of all radio listening to be through a digital platform. Theoretically this could mean that 50% of all radio listening was through the Internet but FM would still be switched off.
OFCOM's latest figures (Quarter 1 of 2009) indicates that cumulative sales of DAB digital radio sets passed 9 million. When compared to the 100+ million FM receivers currently estimated to be in use it seems inconceivable that the thrust toward DAB radio carries the general public with it.
It should also be noted that there are some vested interests in this proposal (to switch off FM): the Government could raise billions of pounds selling the FM frequencies; commercial radio could make savings in transmission costs and by the possible income generated by charging for traffic and weather information, etc; radio manufacturers would be delighted that many DAB receivers would have to be purchased although, unfortunately, most of the income and employment generated would not benefit the UK as we barely have a radio manufacturer of note.
What is equally incomprehensible is the total lack of evidence that the general public is pressing for DAB to supersede FM.
Now if I may I shall ask your Lordships to turn your attention to the sound quality of DAB as proposed.
In BBC R&D White Paper WHP 061 published by C Gandy in June 2003 entitled "DAB: an introduction to the EUREKA DAB system and a guide to how it works" the following statement appears on Page 26 under the heading "5. SOURCE CODING":
"A value of 256 kbit/s has been judged to provide a high quality stereo broadcast signal. However, a small reduction, to 224 kbit/s is often adequate, and in some cases it may be possible to accept a further reduction to 192 kbit/s, especially if redundancy in the stereo signal is exploited by a process of 'joint stereo' encoding (i.e. some sounds appearing at the centre of the stereo image need not be sent twice). At 192 kbit/s, it is relatively easy to hear imperfections in critical audio material."
(The link for this document is http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/rd/pubs/whp/whp-pdf-files/WHP061.pdf but I have attempted to attach the file to this email)
The current proposals do not, as far as I can ascertain, set a minimum bit rate of 256kbit/s or even 224kbit/s - even Radio 3 is only being broadcast at a bit rate of 192 kbit/s after complaints from the public - so it can only be assumed that the sound quality of broadcasts received on anything other than a portable radio or car stereo will be worse that current FM transmissions - hardly a selling point for the majority of listeners in the UK.
If the bit rates suggested to give FM quality (224kbit/s) or CD quality (256kbit/s) (which was the original premise for introducing DAB) are adopted the number of DAB stations available would be seriously restricted because of the bandwidth which would be taken up.
There is, of course, an alternative to DAB known as DAB+ which has the capability of providing sound of much higher quality. If the government would be prepared to offer this as an affordable alternative to FM then I am sure that take-up would be greater and the government would not alienate a large number of the listening public.