Digitial radio DAB

Local radio stations to be given a DAB boost thanks to new Bill

Local radio stations in the UK are losing access to potential listeners because they are not able to broadcast on the DAB digital radio platform, either due to a lack of capacity or cost.

To combat the issue, the Broadcasting (Radio Multiplex Services) Bill is being introduced to create a licensing structure to allow “effective, community-run, small-scale” digital radio broadcasting. The Bill has received support from the Government, increasing its chances of becoming law.

Speaking during its second reading, Conservative MP for Torbay Kevin Foster told the Commons: “This Bill does not make any move towards turning the whole sector from analogue to digital.

“To be very clear, this does not seek to end the process of seeking community FM licenses, that will still be there.

“What this is about is creating an option – and it’s purely that – to be able to put community radio on to digital broadcasting systems.

“There is perhaps a debate at some point in the future, Parliament might look at options to have a fully digital radio broadcasting system.

“However, as it stands today that isn’t what’s being discussed. It’s a debate for future years.”

Foster said the days of large-scale broadcasting equipment being needed to broadcast a reliable radio transmission are “long gone”.

He said: “We can see how self-broadcasting has become huge on the internet.

“YouTube, Facebook Live are all showing a range of changes and a range of diverse programming opportunities that people wouldn’t ever see on a broadcast channel. Therefore to provide that opportunity in digital radio makes eminent sense.

“We can see the impact of digital TV in terms of opening up a range of choice and opportunities to deliver new community services and digital radio could be the same if we give an option to have smaller scale multiplexes.”

A number of regional papers have set up digital television channels in recent years, such as Mustard TV, established in Norwich by publisher Archant.

MPs said the Bill will make it easier for struggling locals to also break into digital radio.

Conservative MP Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) said: “For instance, locally The Derby Telegraph is losing its readership, sadly because it is a very good local paper.

“And I think the web is not exactly conducive to local papers because they have to include so much local advertising which intrudes on the reading of the reports.

“And I do believe that if they could broadcast as well that would produce more competition and help other local media to get into the act.”

With the Government having already declared its support for the Bill, Labour MP Melanie Onn voiced concerns that the Tory MPs were seeking to prevent her proposals from being discussed in the Commons.

Onn’s Workers’ Rights (Maintenance of EU Standards) Bill is scheduled third on the list for Commons business on Friday and is designed to enshrine workers’ rights in law after Brexit.

She wrote on Twitter: “Looks like Tories are talking about their favourite radio programmes in a ‘hand out’ bill to take up all the time available today.”

Last week, Norway announced it would start switching off analogue radio this year making it the first country in the world to do so. 

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