back to article Save DAB! Send FM radios to Africa

Dumping tech is in the news again. Last week MIT's Nicholas Negroponte appealed for broken OLPC laptops to be sent to Haiti, but this will be dwarfed if the UK radio industry gets its way. Trade body Digital Radio UK wants Britons to send perfectly good working FM radios to Africa, in the hope it will accelerate our migration to …


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  1. LPF
    Thumb Down

    The problem is...

    That the DAB radio signal has not been increased to the point that it can be reliably listened while on the move.

    There are still massive black spots around the country, also the power requirements are still to high for portable radios.

    Plus there are still articfial restrictions such as only allowing people to slect 10 dab presets on portables, I assume becuase there is only a couple of suppliers of dab chipsets, becuase I'm at a lost to understand while there are raiods with fm that can store 20-30 channels why dab is restisted to 10 max on portables!

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Blackspots. I'll say!

      I have a 50 mile drive to work. I can get Radio 4 (which surely must be one of the stronger stations) on DAB for the first 5 miles, and the last 2. At one other point during the drive, I may just about be able to get a signal good enough to recognise the broadcaster, but not what they are talking about.

      This is on a properly fitted, car specific DAB radio. And about 13 miles of the journey which is DAB dead is on the M5.

      I'm sticking to FM, even though I want to listen to Planet Rock and BBC7, and I invite Peter Mandledroid down here anytime to see whether he would find DAB acceptable as an FM replacement (I would even refrain from haranguing him about much of the dross he says in public during the process)!

    2. David Gosnell


      The presets thing is a bit of a red herring. I used to think the same, until I bought a DAB stereo. The lack of presets isn't a big deal, because initial scanning on the DAB system inherently stores the tunable stations in a way that FM generally never did. So it's quick and easy to scroll through 30-odd proven stations rather than trust fate with FM searching that frequently misses. There are also presets, but they merely provide an even quicker shortcut to one's favourites, and to be honest we've never bothered setting them up. This experience is with Pure, but pretty sure they use the same off-the-shelf chips as everyone else.

    3. ChrisC Silver badge

      Dib DAB Dob...

      "Plus there are still articfial restrictions such as only allowing people to slect 10 dab presets on portables"

      Not quite - there might only be 10 presets for favourite stations, but since the set has already scanned for and stored every station available at the time of the scan, accessing any other station is simply a matter of scrolling through the station list until you find the name you're looking for, and off you go.

      In comparison, run out of presets on an analogue radio and it's then a case of either remembering the frequency or (if its a FM station) hoping it's broadcasting the correct RDS info, and then waiting for the radio to scan through until it finds the station. In areas with lots of stations and using a radio which doesn't offer direct frequency input (i.e. most of them) it could take a while to get there, easily longer than it takes to find a DAB station by scrolling through the list ... So yes, on analogue sets the more presets the better.

  2. Anonymous Coward

    i'll rip my car radio apart then

    let me see - its built into the CD player, so i'll have to rip some of the circuits out and leave the ones that deal with the CD player intact.

    give me a few minutes and i'll grab an envelope and post it w- what did you say the address was "Poor person, Africa" .

    ok then.


    You have been.


    Fricking digital radio waste. As if anyone cared. Its had its time its had its power.

    I remember at school we built an AM radio out of a few scraps in the science lab. It picked up Radio 1 quite well. Now *that*s technology that'll survive the fall of mankind not this digital crap.

    1. Lionel Baden

      agreed i made a stereo FM transmitter

      new company van not 3 months old and yup you guessed it FM radio

      why the hell would i fork out £500+ for a digital replacement.

      oh thats right cause sooner or later they are just going to cut off FM transmissions :( regardless of how much we want to keep them .......

    2. Frank Bough

      You tell 'em

      ...there's nothing so bold as declaiming "this digital crap" on the WWW. Nice work there, son.

      1. Intractable Potsherd

        Are you familiar with the saying ...

        ... "horses for courses"?

        There is absolutely no advantage in going to digital radio - the current system works fine.

  3. Scott Wichall

    AV reciever

    Yeah, like I am going to send my AV processor (which is FM only).......

    Plus the sound quality from DAB is inferior IMO.

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Sound quality?

      This is subjective, but I would say that a high bit rate DAB station when the signal is good sounds better than FM. But the problem is that only a small number of the stations actually broadcast a high enough bit rate, and you cannot depend on a good signal.

      In general, I would prefer to listen to hissy, uninterrupted FM in the car than to a DAB station that keeps dropping out for seconds at a time. But at it's (infrequent) best, DAB can sound superb. I listened to a carol service on Classic FM (on DAB - 160kbps) in a quiet environment through decent headphone recently which was simply breathtaking in its clarity, dynamic range and lack of noise or digital artifacts. Very rare, but a good indication of what is possible.

  4. JasonW

    Go on then, I'll bang on a bit more about DAB v FM

    Here I am, in Scotland, but because I dare to live outside the central belt - I cannot get any local (or local-national) radio via DAB because there's co commercial multiplex and OFCOM refuse to even advertise for it (because the service area is unattractive). So gone is any local news or any local programming. What a great idea.

    I can however get the World Service, 1Xtra, Asian Network - which between them would possibly garner a combined listenership well into double figures. In fact I'm so lucky that I can get 2 versions of all of the stations on the PSB bouquet but they're all in some crappy overcompressed format that is on a par with good medium wave or pre-stereo FM with ghosting.

    For my neighbours to the south, in England, they have the same story - because they're in a sparsely populated area (mid- & north-Northumberland)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Because you 'dare' to live outside the central belt.

      Ooooh get you. So original and different. If you choose to live out of the way, stop whining when basic economics kicks in.

      1. Joe 3

        Basic economics HAS kicked in...

        DAB is an economic failure. This chap in the highlands can still use FM just fine. FM has economically kicked DAB in.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Same here...

      I'm in Scotland too ... in an area with no DAB coverage whatever. Barely a year since a local branch of a national supermarket was done over by Trading Standards for aggressively selling DAB radios no-one could use (their excuse that the radios were 'DAB ready' cutting no ice whatever with the court). As we were one of the first areas in the country to go 100% with digital TV, it's hard to see why we would even want DAB radio with so many radio channels on Freeview.

      DAB - like HD TV - is just one more way of getting us to fork out for expensive new kit to replace our perfectly serviceable (and much cheaper) existing equipment. Unfortunately, in RIPOFFUK Plc, between the media industries and bought-and-paid-for politicians, it seems the consumer isn't being given a choice.

      But then, when all's said and done, it's all only radio and TV. Personally, I'd sooner take the dog for a walk and buy a few good books...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        "As we were one of the first areas in the country to go 100% with digital TV, it's hard to see why we would even want DAB radio with so many radio channels on Freeview."

        You've got digital TV in your car? I am impressed.

        It is a serious point that many people only ever listen to radio in the car and most regular radio listeners do some of their listening in the car. So digital radio on the move really needs to be adressed. Not only are DAB head units horribly expensive there are so many blackspots that using it on the move is a nightmare.

        The Ofcom argument is that these blackspots will be adressed as uptake improves. That really is a crock. People won't pay a premium to put DAB in their cars unless they are going to get good reception, so the coverage needs to be there before people will buy into it. Ofcom don't just have a chicken and egg quandry there, they think people will buy egg cups when most of the shops don't even have eggs.

  5. MarkOne

    None of my FM radios work

    They are full of BBC and local radio crud. I have updated all the radios on my house to be DAB so I can get the channels I want to listen to, and not the "if it's not the playlist, you aren't playing it" crud.

    Sure it would be nice to get DAB in the car too, but I can live without that for the moment, a 30GB MP3 player hooked up gives me tonnes of music...

    1. Richard IV

      It's the other way round for me

      Every single DAB radio I've owned has broken inside a year. It's not as if I bang them around or anything. By way of comparison, I've had cheap as chips FM radios that the BOFH would struggle to break without WMDs.

      I'm skipping to streaming when they shut down FM...

      1. ThomH

        I've had the same DAB for five years

        An intempo something. It was a gift and I've had good reception of a bunch of stations in Nottingham, Cumbria and here in London.

        That said, I expect an FM radio would last five years and give me good reception of a bunch of stations in Nottingham, Cumbria and London. So, no, I can't justify the cost or the change.

  6. Tanuki
    Thumb Up

    Thumpin' Choonz FM.

    From my PoV the only real benefit of BBC etc migrating over to DAB is that it'll free up a good slice of the FM spectrum for re-use by undocumented broadcasters.

  7. Version 1.0 Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Good Idea!

    Right - let's send the DAB radios to Africa ...

    1. Martin Gregorie

      I'll second that and raise you..

      Good idea. Send them the DAB receivers and chuck in the multiplexes as well.

      There's absolutely no need for energy-hungry lo-fi digital broadcasting to chew up bandwidth that can be used for better purposes. Besides, you can get more and better programming with a much wider choice of listening off Internet Radio.

      BTW, whatever happened to Digital Radio Mondial?

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

  8. thechanklybore


    It's not often I agree with you Andrew (in face you might say that I often vehemently disagree), but you're right on the button with this. Why oh why should anyone waste time, energy and perfectly good radios by shipping them halfway around the world when we're so busy listening to the terrifying reports of global warming caused by excess carbon emissions being broadcast on them? Bizarre.

  9. Sheppy

    DAB - killed by the compression...

    Gave up listening to DAB earlier when I discovered how bad the 128K MP2 sound quality is. Even freeview gets 192K

  10. Anonymous Coward

    I don't think so......

    Well, i know precisely one person who has a DAB radio and that's it.

    Let's see, I have 3 FM/AM radios in my house, one on my mobile phone, and one in my car. I get great reception on all of them other than with the mobile phone but I hardly ever use it for that purpose anyway and it's "good enough" for the times i want it.

    So, how much do you think it would cost for 3 portable DAB radios of decent sound quality, a replacement BMW in car DAB headunit and umm.......any mobile phones with DAB built in? None that I know of.

    Probably end up being cheaper to move to Africa to continue to listen using perfectly decent electronics than change over to crap DAB which i don't want.......

    DAB can get stuffed, overpriced and the portable radios are as ugly as sin.

  11. AndrueC Silver badge

    Hah hah.

    I was looking at replacing one of my radios recently (for some reason it's getting fainter and fainter and soon won't have any play left on the volume control). Anyway I did some research and discovered the cheapest DAB radio was £50. Cheapest FM..well if I held my hand out someone would probably push one into it. Worse still though the DAB site for the UK advised me to get a proper aerial. It did point out that it was available through my TV and the web..but that's rather pointless and wasteful.

    DAB might have some value if they used it to increase audio quality - but they don't. As with TV they are choosing quantity over quality.

  12. Chris Johnson 2

    DAB decoding delays...

    Main problem I have with DAB is that each reciever takes slightly different times to decode the signal. With FM, I can have the radio on upstairs, downstairs and in the bedroom whilst I'm wandering around the house doing things and everything's just nice -- can move from room to room with the radio twittering away seamlessly.

    With DAB I don't have that - there's always an audible delay, which makes it bothersome, especially if you're spending time twixt a couple of radios. If they can get that sorted, I'll be happy. Otherwise I'll stick with analogue, ta.

    1. Hate2Register

      Maybe... or NOT

      "Main problem I have with DAB is that each reciever takes slightly different times to decode the signal."

      I don't have that problem. My Denon dab and my roberts dab are perfectly in time with each other...

      1. Pigeon

        yeg but

        Not in time with an fm radio. If you set the clock from the pips, it will be a second out.

  13. Nigel 11
    Thumb Down

    Go back to the drawing board

    Dab is a technological mis-step, like the twelve-inch video disk or ECL logic. Time to start again.

    It needs a decent Codec. Preferably, one that can be upgraded across the airwaves, should a mark 3(?) Codec become preferable at a future date.

    It needs much better error recovery for use (especially) in moving vehicles. My suggestion would be as well as the standard broadcast multiplex, have a highly compressed version of the broadcasts available on a second multiplex with a five-second delay (and maybe a third one delayed even more). In a moving car, play with a delay. If the primary data stream drops out, splce in the low-resolution secondary or tertiary broadcast. You'll hear some transient distortion rather than a total drop-out. Just like FM!

    And it needs battery-powered portables that don't eat batteries any faster than an FM radio of the same audio wattage.

    If the next version of DAB can't do better than FM for car radios, with respect to both error-tolerance and broadcast coverage, just don't bother. Kill DAB and keep FM. Frankly, if you can't sell it to the auto industry for all new factory-fitted radios, then return to the drawing board.

  14. JMB


    "Plus there are still articfial restrictions such as only allowing people to slect 10 dab presets on portables,"

    And how many FM radios have more than 10 presets?

    Why do you need more than 10 presets?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      I've got more than ten presets on all my radios, FM or DAB. Shirley the limitation is not part of DAB technology but the individual receiver.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Mine's In My Car

    Bit of a logistical issue, that.

  16. Hate2Register
    Thumb Down

    My thoughts..

    I like dab cos of its good quality audio. Also it's new and shiny. FM on t'other hand is crap quality and ancient, I'm sure everyone would agree. So, a no-brainer, except that all the regional and advert channels are on fm, not dab. Why? Fücked if I know.

    The solution of course is to offer the regional and ad-supported channels a rent-free period on dab. Also increase the fees for sitting around on FM.Then they all migrate to their new home, and eventually we switch off the FM bollocks. Like in 20 years, when the last prejudiced/jaded Reg hack has died, leaving his/her crappy old fm radio to their cat.

    If auntie and big-brother want us to switch over completely, then make it happen. Enough of this faffing around. Arseholes.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Here's a penny then

      You happen to live somewhere where you have good DAB and bad FM reception. If everyone would live where you do, then maybe everyone would agree with you. But then, maybe not. Since most people don't share your abode, reading the other reactions here, I'd say everyone would not agree with you.

      FM, as a technology, works. It's been around for ages and radio makers know very well indeed how to make an FM radio, good or cheap, as you like it. DAB is new technology, meaning that there'll still be kinks in the hardware on all sides even if the cheap plastic case hasn't dented yet. From what I heard DAB fails sooner and less gracefully than FM. Worse, it has limitations built into it that make it already obsolete as far as state of the art digital broadcasting technology goes, with no room for gradual improvements or upgrades. Meaning that all upgrades mean would-be listeners have to buy new radios again. And that before the broadcasters even got serious with rolling it out and replacing FM.

      As to what they use it for, well, don't hold your breath for anything "better" on DAB. That ecology is much the same once it has to hold up its trousers itself. But quite clearly already DAB is a losing proposition. Even if they stopped "faffing around" right now.

      I'll keep decades-old FM, TYVM.

    2. Tom 35

      Shiny turd

      "I like dab cos of its good quality audio." Next to an AM radio with a few holes poked in the speaker. It can sound ok if they don't use the minimum possible bit rate like most of them do.

      "Also it's new and shiny." So is a bronzed turd.

      "FM on t'other hand is crap quality and ancient, I'm sure everyone would agree." No I don't think they would.

      "Why? Fücked if I know." Because DAB is crap and already obsolete (DAB+ came out in 2007).

    3. Rob Beard

      Incentive for commercial stations

      Commercial stations (i.e. stations like Heart, Galaxy etc) already have a good incentive to broadcast on DAB. By broadcasting on DAB they already had their broadcasting licences extended (IIRC for something like 10 years).

      When I worked at a local radio station (now a Heart station) they mainly broadcasted the same thing on FM and DAB, however occasionally they would opt out of the normal programming on FM and do 'exclusive shows'. Sometimes they were 'celebrity' shows with the latest popular celebrity doing a show on a Sunday evening, or other times they did a local show for fans of the local football team with exclusive interviews with players etc. I'm not sure how popular it was at the time especially as the DAB feed was across two regions and the other region had an opposing football team.

      I personally pretty much gave up on DAB after I left the radio station. They provided me with a company car with built in DAB so it was a nice change occasionally to listen to Planet Rock and most of the time I got reasonable reception (although there was one section of the M5 and the North Devon Link Road where I couldn't get any reception, either that or it sounded like bubbling mud). However when I was made redundant and had to give the company car back, I was back in my own car with a Minidisc head unit from 1996 with FM, I wasn't prepared to replace it with a DAB unit, or get one of those DAB addon units as they were too expensive.

      I do have a DAB radio, in fact we have two in the house, one sounds pretty good as it's a proper micro system with separate speakers, but the other one is one of those crappy £30 Sainsbury's own brand units with a single mono speaker which IMO sounds crap on FM or DAB and doesn't do the music any justice!

      So anyway back on topic, I won't be sending my FM radios away, I don't use them much but I want to hang on to them for a bit longer yet.


      1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge


        Ah. The same section of the M5 and North Devon link road that I can't get reception on then.

        But for me, it extends north all the way up the A396 until I get nearly to the coast, when presumably, I start picking up the Welsh multiplexes.

  17. Cameron Colley

    Why "radio" at all?

    If I want to listen to "live" over-compressed pop music on my commute I'll plug some headphones into my phone and listen to a shoutcast stream. For anything else there are podcasts (not that I use them) and my personal music collection.

    Since it is already the government's stated intention to give us all internet -- why don't they scrap DAB and concentrate on the internet -- which can give us porn, endless babbling and El Reg as well as smug tossers and shitty music?

    Granted, I'm not in Wogan^H^H^H^H^HChris Evan's or Mark and Lard's demographic -- but any teenager, or even my old mom, can tune into BBC iPlayer, for example.

  18. Stratman


    From the original article:-

    " Why don't they get the the first world investment and high grade IT they deserve?"

    Could it be because their leaders would rather spend the money on weapons, shiny uniforms and themselves?

    1. hplasm
      Big Brother


      ... very much similar to our own then. Should get on like a House on fire. If only...

    2. Circadian


      Quick check - which country are we talking about again?

  19. Hate2Register

    Kill yourself..

    Anyone who says dab is bad quality obviously hasn't been listening to fm recently, which is often appalling. Even if the MP3 purists sniff at dab's 128 bit rate (you snobs), no-one would claim that fm gets anywhere near the audio quality. Add dropouts, interference, lack of coverage, and poor stereo reception and you'll agree that fm is strictly for valve-driven relics.

    Let's the gov take back fm frequencies and hand out dab ones on the cheap. Then we can all have good quality radio without the anal arguments.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You're not very nice, but very wrong

      You can come out from your hole under the DAB transmission tower now and try how it holds up at the edges of DAB reach. And look where those edges are. There's more places where DAB doesn't hold up and FM does than vice versa.

      1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        FM quality?

        It could be apples and oranges here of course. If you have a decent aerial on a radio that does not move, especially if it is in some form of HiFi, FM quality is predictable and generally quite good. But even in this case, the stereo decoding introduces hiss (try hitting the mono button on your tuner when listening in a quiet environment, and seeing how the hiss disappears). And you must remember that many of the commercial FM stations use dynamic range compression and dead space elimination techniques to boost the quiet parts of the music and make hiss less noticeable. Try listening to Radio 3 or Classic FM if you want to make comparisons.

        In a car, there is all sorts of interference, especially when the car is moving. There are drop outs as you move, especially in built-up or hilly areas, and cars are not good environments for electrically sensitive equipment (yours may be well shielded and suppressed, but you cannot control the rusty 20 year old Fiesta that pulls up next to you at the lights!)

        In some cases, DAB can eliminate this interference. If you get a good enough data stream, other interference can becomes irrelevant (it's digital!), and transmission and decoding hiss disappears. But more often than not, the same interference that degrades the FM signal will also damage the digital signal, and when the DAB receiver does not get a enough of the digital stream, it either burbles or just drops out for a couple of seconds, whereas FM may still be listenable.

        My guess is that a lot of the people who say DAB is good and FM is bad listen to FM in the car, and DAB in the home, whereas a lot of the people who say that DAB coverage is bad are probably trying to use it on the move, or just in areas of crap reception, where FM degrades more gracefully.

  20. Mike Shepherd
    Thumb Up

    Better still...

    Better still, why not send the DAB receivers to Africa, so we can keep our FM.

    The entrepreneurs (solvers of problems we don't have) can go with them.

  21. Campbeltonian

    Internet streaming does for me

    I've got one of those iPod/iPhone speaker sets with a built-in FM radio. I can plug in my iPhone and, using a radio streaming app, listen to local, national and international radio at whatever bitrate the station streams in. It doesn't work in the car of course, but from what I hear neither does DAB.

    What would possess me to buy a DAB radio?

  22. Harry

    Sounds like a silly question to me ...

    "Why do you need more than 10 presets?"

    At a guess, its so that you can store the details of more than 10 radio stations.

    You wouldn't ask "why does a browser have to be able to store more than 10 bookmarks", would you?

    Oh, perhaps you would.

    Of course, it is slightly rhetorical at present. Probably most people cannot get more than 10 DAB stations at an even remotely listenable quality. But that's Oftel's fault for allowing the multiplex operators to squeeze in too many stations for the allocated bandwidth.

  23. Alan Denman

    Power usage will soar!

    Guarantees a bit more global warming.

    Small FM radios use about 100mw whilst your average DAB set uses 8000mw (8 watts)

    So do we now get a maximum 8000% increase in our energy requirements?

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Reading the signs

    DAB sounds to me like a solution looking for a pork barrel. Only trouble is that it has been and will be for the foreseeable future outperformed by its non-digital ancestor.

    So, reading the signs on the wall, I will predict this: DAB will be pushed through regardless, it will fail, service will be abysmal, usage will drop, optionally there will be inquiries, but the perps will get their cosy promotion and/or followup assignment and will add "visionary project leadership" to their CVs. Thus we have another illusion of digital revolution added to the national infrastructure.

  25. Alan Denman

    means global warming

    a small FM set uses 100mw whilst your DAB set seems to use 8 watts.

    This would then means up to 8000% increase in power usage for this change.

  26. This post has been deleted by its author

  27. Disco-Legend-Zeke

    Now that the US is all digital TV...

    ...they are talking about shutting down over-the-air so thay can sell the spectrum to the cell phone companies.

    That's right! No more "free" TV in America.

  28. Matthew 3
    Thumb Down

    Not just synchronisation...

    I can't see the point in DAB until the time signal is broadcast at the right time. Andrew Johnson is right about the problem of different radios being out-of-sync: with two radios on, the time signal degenerates into a cacophony of random beeps.

    Are we really saying that 'ooh, within about five seconds is accurate enough'?

    I thought that new technology was supposed to bring in greater precision and improved service.

    Oh wait, it's like Concorde's retirement: one giant leap backwards into a world offering less.

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge


      D-to-A conversion takes time. You cannot get away from this, and the delay varies inversely with the power of the microprocessor in the decoder. Exactly the same happens with digital TV. Try tuning TV's in different rooms to BBC One, one on digital and one on analog terrestrial (quick, before it disappears!) And for Sky or Freesat,, its worse still because of the longer transmission path. Nobody has complained about this yet.

      I know all about the problems with the time signal, I use it myself (on FM of course), but you ought to realise that there are propagation delays in all transmission systems. When I was involved with radio clocks, there was a map that used t be published that detailed the NPL radioclock delays to the extreme edges of the country. This must have been upset when the service moved from Rugby to Cumbria. 200 miles will lead to a measurable delay in the milisecond range. Ignorable if you are setting your watch, but not zero.

  29. Dazed and Confused

    Not just the sticks

    I live in the Thames Valley in what is laughing called the Silicon cooridoor (this country not being about afford a whole valley dedicated to "high tech")

    I can get loads of commercial c£*p stations on DAB but in order to pick up Radio 4 I need a thumping great big roof mounted aerial, a number of my el'cheapo FM radios don't even need any external aerial. Now needing a roof mounted one might not be too much of a deal breaker, I could run aerial cabling around my house, the builders stuffed it into quite a few rooms already, but none of the DAB radios I've used have had a socket for attaching one. So you end up having to bodge it.

    When I was looking at buying a DAB radio, the sales man was suggesting using rechargeable batteries and running mains powered when ever possible. I can't remember when I last changed the batteries in some of my radios.

    As to quality, I don't think I own a either a good FM or a good DAB radio, but the sound quality on a pair of head phones seems better on my FM ones. Most peoples first exposure to digital was CDs. A cheap CD player sounds better than all but the best analogue music systems. OK a friend who had several grands worth turntable could outperform any CD player I've heard, or when I another friend had a Revox 1/2 track play and various studio cut tapes then sure they were better. But for the vast majority of the population CDs were better than anything they'd had before. Digital TV was mostly helped by being released at the same time as flat screens, so firstly people upgraded to those and got digital at the same time, then HD came along and offered the hope of higher quality.

    This is just not true for DAB. So there is no need to change.

    1. Nigel 11
      Thumb Down

      DAB crap for non-electronic music

      At home I have a hi-fi FM receiver and I can also plug my DAB receiver in to the same amplifier. There's a good emough DAB signal that I don't get any drop-outs or burbling, and since it's a digital medium I believe that what's going to the amp is a good rendition of what's transmitted.

      On speech I can't really tell much difference.

      On classical music, I most certainly can. DAB introduces highly objectionable, non-harmonic distortions. When the source is a solo instrument or a small ensemble, it is actually quite painful to the musical ear.

      The problem is partly that all lossy digital encoding introduces tones that are not harmonically related to the music, but mostly that the DAB codec was obsolete many years ago. Interference on FM, in contrast, adds extraneous noises that one's mental listening process is very capable of filtering out. Over-compression by the broadcasters (or insufficient bandwidth) may be another contributory factor.

      The only reason I haven't thrown away my DAB radio is that it's great for listening to BBC World service, compared to Medium Wave. They don't transmit World Service on FM. Sigh.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Size issue?

    Just bought a Sony Walkman MP3 player with radio.

    its the size of a large USB stick and the radio is FM. Very comfortable size for leaving the office lunchtime and listening to news/World at One. reception sound quality good

    How big are the smallest DABs?

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I gave DAB a go

    I wanted to listen to 6 music in the bathroom, I gave up after I realised that a charge of 6 (2600mah) batteries would afford me roughly 1 and a half (usually rushed) showers.

    I was half tempted to bodge the power supply into the light fitting.

    1. Martin Gregorie

      ..but did you test the batteries?

      In fairness to DAB, a lot of your problem was probably the rechargeable batteries. I've yet to buy a budget NiMH rechargeable battery that wasn't a heap of fetid dingo's kidneys. The capacity written on most of them is a figment of the salesdroid's imagination.

      I've tried cheapo ones with claimed capacities ranging from 2400 mAh to 2800 mAh but the measured capacities have ranged from 400 mAh to a whole 650 mAh. How do I know? When my Pentax DSLR ran out of steam after 20-30 shots instead of the expected 320 I stuck them on a ProPeak Prodigy II charger/cycler, ran a charge/discharge cycle and read off the numbers, junked them and went out to find something better.

      I've only discovered two rechargeable AA brands that do what they say they can: Maplins Hybrids and Sanyo Eneloops.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I have no idea if they're near their rated capacity

        But it doesn't hide the fact that my portable fm/am job will last weeks on less of them.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    DAB is a poor platform

    The problems with DAB are too many to mention. I have recently had the pleasure of renting a car in the US that had the XM/Sirius Satellite radio. The sound quality was very good but more importantly, the reception was faultless and you had the option to choose radio station by genre. I was even able to listen to Radio 1 whilst driving down International Drive in Orlando. A shame that we didn't settle on this platform for digital radio

  33. Ben 5

    DAB is already obsolete

    The problem with DAB is that it's already obsolete. A few years ago DAB+ was standardised which offers far more efficiency, better quality audio and more robust error correction. It is far better to forget DAB and adopt DAB+ as indeed a number of other countries already are. Unfortunately a DAB receiver cannot receive DAB+ unless it was designed to or designed to be upgraded to DAB+.

    I imagine in a few years the UK will adopt DAB+ and anyone who bought a DAB receiver that cannot be upgraded will simply be left behind.

    Interesting article on how the rollout of DAB was so badly handled:

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      DAB vs DAB+

      Take up of digital has been very slow because it gives people very little that they don't already get with FM. When DAB was adopted in the UK DAB+ did not exist. The problem with switching to DAB+ is simple to explain.

      We don't really have enough spectrum for DAB and DAB+ so in order to switch to DAB+ we would have to switch off DAB. The only realistic way to do that would be to buy back all the DAB receivers already out there or swap them for DAB+. Who is going to pay for that?

      Of course once we have completed the digital switchover there will be spare spectrum about and then mayber DAB+ could be introduced and DAB gradually phased out in exactly the same way as may happen with FM. Except that it is unlikely that they will sell enough DAB receivers to switch off FM in the forseeable future, because people do no see digital radio on any platform as giving them anything they don't already get from FM.

      You need to understand that people listen to radio in a very different way to the way they watch TV. It boils down to the fact that most radio's are always tuned to the same channel so what does the average radio listener care that digital offers them more channels than FM? Also FM quality is good enough for tha vast majority, so who cares that digital might give them better quality?

      1. countryboy
        Thumb Down

        @ AC

        "so who cares that digital might give them better quality?"

        Errr.. I do - because it doesn't!

        In order to squeeze in more channels they've chopped the bit rate and thus the quality.

  34. Sim

    DAB neither portble nor convenient nor affordable

    My tesco value windup FM radio is great - I can listen to it anywhere -at home or in the garden for example and it cost me less than £10 .

    Portable dab radios cost a fortune and probably require constant battery changes.

    I will stick with FM radio.

  35. A J Stiles

    The REAL agenda

    Oh, come on. Nobody ever thought this was about improving the experience for the listener, did they? It's not even about selling off chunks of the airwaves. No, the switch to digital radio is about one thing and one thing alone: Preventing the common person's voice from being heard over the wireless without the say-so of the powers that be.

    Just look at the efforts made in the 1960s to crush the independent broadcasters such as Radio Caroline, and look at the security measures in place at transmitting installations today. Notice also *which* independent radio stations get closed down first by The Authorities. If all you're doing is playing a bit of music, you can stomp all over the broadcast band; you can even be putting out sprogs all over the emergency bands, and as long as you steer clear of the wrong material, you might as well be the BBC. Mention politics, though, and your studio door is going to be coming in before you can say "I'm as mad as Hell and I'm not going to take it anymore".

    Any schoolkid can build a MW or LW receiver, and it's not that much harder to build a MW or LW transmitter. FM is more complex, but still not beyond the abilities of a dedicated amateur. Building a digital transmitter, on the other hand, is a whole new ball game and requires access to restricted, proprietary technologies.

    By the time ordinary people finally realise that there is no alternative but to get out of their armchairs and join the revolution, it will be too late. You will be strapped into those armchairs.

    By the way, the Internet is absolutely not a viable alternative medium for clandestine communications. Proprietary players almost certainly can be disabled remotely to prevent the playing of "unapproved" (i.e., not encrypted against a restricted key) content, and chances are anyone who's using an Open Source player is with you anyway .....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Ho hum...

      Except that you're talking bollocks. A chunk of the current FM band has already been earmarked for "community" radio post switchover. So pull your neck in and take your tinfoil hat off.

      1. Cameron Colley

        What the hell is "community"?

        You mean that some spectrum has been earmarked for licensing to approved groups or individuals?

        While there may be something of the tinfoil hat about the OP, your reply actually makes their case stronger not weaker. Had you said some was to be set aside for public/amateur use, I could see your point.

  36. The Douros

    Why keep DAB?

    Two words: Planet Rock

    Another two: Rick Wakeman

  37. KeithSloan
    Thumb Down

    FM Radio's

    Article got it totally wrong. It should say let common sense, good audio quality and battery life prevail and send DAB radios to Africa or bury in the ground

  38. Steen
    Thumb Down

    Is all this digital stuff

    really appropriate technology? DAB radio stutters and coughs, can't listen to my prefered station because the signal is weak. My aged tranny lives in the bathroom and keeps on going.

    Have to admit that I'm a bit deaf , so what will I want with fabulous quality? FM works for me.

    I sometimes wonder why we chase all these new alternatives without considering whether what we have does the job.

    1. Oz

      No title is required as this is a reply

      "My aged tranny lives in the bathroom and keeps on going."

      Whatever floats your boat. I would have thought the bedroom would be more convenient for a "love-in" ;-)

  39. Fihart

    I just want to listen to Radio 4

    Without interference from moronic urban-music stations broadcasting illegally either side of most BBC FM wavelengths.

    The Dept of Trade used to go up and confiscate the equipment from tower blocks but presumably have stopped hoping we'll all switch to power-hungry, overpriced DAB.

  40. Anonymous Coward

    DAB head unit? Get lost!

    I updated my car recently. I loath factory head units so thought it might be the time to go for a DAB model.

    Of the literally hundreds of head units available to me, there were very few DAB receivers available. Sony had discontinued their model and there was only a rather nasty JVC that had DAB built in. JVC did offer a DAB module, but you had to spend an extra £130 on top of the JVC head unit. Not to mention the fact that ideally you need a DAB aerial (a proper one not some glass mounted tat). Probably looking at about 300 quid for the radio + dongle and then you'll need an aerial and probably professional fitting.

    In short to have DAB in your car you have very little choice in head units and will have alot of expense and hassle. Who wants dongles hanging off the back of their head unit when space is often at a premium?

    Instead I ended up choosing a high quality analogue unit. Loads of models to choose from, cost half of the DAB setup and was able to fit it myself despite VW's best efforts to prevent such tinkering.

    If there was a demand for DAB, the head unit manufacturers would be falling over themselves to produce models. They aren't.

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    DAB? Schmab!

    The radio industry want FM receivers to be chucked in the skip? But they are not in any way behind DAB. I live in West Yorkshire and BBC Radio Leeds is supposed to cover the whole of the county. I live within a couple of miles of Emley Moor transmitter. You know the one, it's the big bugger you can see from the far side of Leeds. Guess what? No DAB coverage of Radio Leeds.

    So? The BBC aren't even apologetic. Try telling them this is a problem and they simply respond that you probably do not live in an area with good DAB reception. Like it's your fault for living there. They are, however, talking crap. The reception is crystal clear, but there is no Radio Leeds. The irony is that while I live near a huge transmitter which is transmitting DAB I can't get my local station on DAB, but I can get loads of local stations on FM, including stations from Humberside, North Yorkshire and South Yorkshire.

    So when my wife's trusty old FM set died she bought a DAB unit. Which she uses to listen to Radio Leeds on FM. Why buy DAB then? Because this particular radio was as good as any of the FM boxes as the same price.

    And I hear the same story from people all over the country.

    More people listen to local radio than national radio, but DAB coverage of local radio is next to useless. Coverage of national radio is in a different league altogether. If the industry really want us to go digital they need to improve local radio coverage on DAB enourmously. Maybe they are so stupid that they believe that Wogan's 8 million listeners mean that national radio is more popular than local, but here's a simple question: When 8 million people were listening to Wogan how many people were listening to their local station?

    They tell us they will start to switch off FM when 50% of the receivers out there are DAB capable. Does their figure include DAB sets that are permanently on FM? Does it include DAB sets given as gifts but never used?

  42. Christian Berger

    I seriously don't get your problem

    DAB in the UK was a great success. There are _millions_ of receivers in your country. You can see DAB receivers in your soap operas. You probably have seen DAB radios in stores, maybe even in other peoples homes. People know about it.

    I am a geek, I have studied electronics with a focus on information technology. So far I have only seen 3 DAB radios in real life. One in a laboratory, one in a museum, and the last one in a transmitter building of the regional broadcaster.

    You might question if a digitalisation rate of 50% are right or not. Here even 0.1% seems overly optimistic.

    In Germany the radio solution for audiophiles certainly is DVB-S, or radio over the infrastructure for digital television. All public music stations are availiable in 320kbit MP2, while some stations even broadcast in Dolby Digital.

  43. Ponmyword
    Big Brother

    Dab is dead

    It's poor technology which is already out-dated, it has next to no take-up and anyway why pay 10 times as much as an FM radio which will be smaller, more energy efficient and more portable (if that's your bag daddy-o).

    DAB take-up is what the lefties at the BBC want.

  44. ForthIsNotDead


    It wouldn't be so bad if the radios that were actually sent to Africa were going to be freely distributed to the needy. But you just know that they will all be bought by the container load at the docks, and then sold in shops, making hand$om£ profits for $om£body.

  45. Alfonso Vespucci

    I've got 150 million trannies in my shed.

    Well I exagerate a little, but off the top of my head i can list 12 analogue radios in the house, from cheapo efforts to high end units. Plus the one in the car, and one in the garage (see what I mean). This figure of 150 million seems a bit on the low side to me.

  46. JohnG

    Traffic information on FM

    Here in Germany (and several other European countries), TMC is broadcast along with regular FM radio stations. I am not aware of this feature being supported on any navigation systems using DAB. In the car, I listen to my own music rather than radio and I use Internet or satellite radio at home. On holiday, I sometimes listen to local radio stations on my MP3 player - using FM. I don't need or want DAB.

  47. Hollerith 1

    DAB good, DAB radios bad

    I need a clock radio by my bed, and only DAB gets me reception, as the old mansion block i live in kills anything else in that particular location.

    I have tried two different DAB radios and, while they work, they are so @*!%#£ difficult to use that I have given up on both. I want the thing to turn on witht he right time and date, then allow me to find my preferred radio station BBC3, set a weekday and a weekend alarm, and that's it. But hours later, I was finally reduced to getting out my old battery alarm clock and using that, with the clock/radio gatthering dust at the back of the night table.

    I am not sure it's DAB that died, or whether the unbelievably user-unfriendly radios killed it.

    1. Oz
      Thumb Up

      DAB Alarm Clock

      I've got the Pure Siesta Flow. It's not cheap but gives AM, FM, DAB and Internet Radio. It has four alarms that you can set independently, to different stations on different sources, and at different volumes. The vanilla Siesta doesn't have the Internet radio feature, but in my opinion, is not so easy to use.

      All the above said, I wouldn't change my unit for anything. It does what is says on the tin, properly.

  48. MarkOne

    DAB Expensive?

    Sure any cretin can find a DAB radio for £70. Anyone with even an ounce of sense can find one for £35 (A Pure one).

    And you can even go cheaper than that £20 seems to be the cheapest online.

    Perhaps it me, but every "news" items that Andrew Orlowski writes, it's about his hate for DAB. What gives? Who buys his lunch?

  49. Wize

    Analogue has many advantages

    Multiple radios in a house are always in synch.

    Good reception almost anywhere (DAB was patchy in my old flat. It was top floor and looked over all the buildings in the area. My car on the street below wont stand a chance).

    Where the signal is weak, you can still listen to it. A bit of hiss, sometimes almost unnoticeable, is ok. Try that on a DAB signal.

    Ok, more channels, but if you are failing due to the above, its really less channels.

    These problems also apply to terrestrial analogue/digital TV.

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dib DAB doh!

    Why the UK is propping up the table of international DAB standards.

  51. Alan Brown Silver badge

    DAB's dead, die dammit

    DAB is pretty much uk-only with pricey receivers that have established about zero in overall market penetration. It seems the only organisation pushing DAB is the BBC and noone else seems to care.

    Nothing is going to replace FM until it's at least as convenient to use - the last DAB unit I tried was 'orrible (not to mention what everyone else brings up - battery (non-)life....)

    I listen to digital radio at home - via a cheap freeview receiver plugged into the aux input on my home stereo. Can't be a***d buying a DAB unit when what I have does the job quite nicely.

  52. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's patronising a developing country. Mondial, AM/SW or Mobile Internet Radio is better.

    FM receivers to Africa is patronising them with our cast-offs.

    Digital Radio Mondial (digital radio over AM), existing Short Wave or other AM-based analogue services would serve a large rural continents much better with greater, wider transmission range covering larger areas for reception.

    FM should be kept running in UK and in parallel the future should be Internet Radio:

    1) streamed by Wireless WiFi in the home to a dedicated set such as the Revo RadioStation and

    2) for portable radio, to our ubiquitous swiss-army knife featured better value for money mobile phones via 3G or even GPRS with increasingly generous data packages offered by our mobile operators.

    Internet Radio offers:

    - maximum choice: stations all over the country, all over the world

    - unlike DABdoesn't patronise the listener by their location (e.g. you can't get Kiss on DAB on the south coast but you can in London)

    - latest efficient codecs, AAC+, eAAC+ (great for mobiles particularly)

    - listening on good-value for money devices that do other things, such as on mobile phones: email, cameras, etc.

    Battery life and reception are increasingly advanced on mobile phones, with ongoing incentive to enhance further. Whereas on a single purpose device like DAB this is behind - and why re-invent the wheel?

  53. Verne

    Why I want to keep my FM radios, a personal view...

    There are certainly a lot more negatives, in my view, for DAB than FM. Reception, power consumption and sound quality being the main things. Here is the reasoning why my FM radios will be staying in this country.

    Reception can be down to a variety of things, distance from the transmitter, structures and buildings can affect both analoge and digital transmissions. I seem to recall that when Freeview came along we were told that a new larger outdoor aerial would been needed and, for most people, this was the case. The slightly all or nothing nature of the digits means that a higher level of signal is required to prevent drop-outs which, in the analogue world, would just have resulted in an increase in back-ground noise. Unfortunatley, DAB set makers seem to have omitted this requirement from their designs and provided us with aerial systems not up to the job. I have yet to see a portable Freeview TV with a rod aerial.

    Anyone who says there is no power problem with DAB is living on another planet. Just walk through John Lewis and look at the consumption figures of their fine range of radios to see what I mean. If FM were abolished there would be no incentive to improve on this either. I must be one of the few who feel that some sort of local and national emergency broadcasting by radio is important (though not well implemented I grant you) but, if resorting to batteries, you would stand little chance of hearing any message with DAB.

    And then there is the sound quality. CD quality (44.1kHz sampling at 16-bits) does quite a good job and if DAB worked at this resolution most people would be happy with the quality. Sadly this uses a lot of the spectrum up so broadcasters have to reduce the data rates using lossy compression. Some of the sound is taken away to get the bit rate down therefore more channels fit in a given block of spectrum and generate more revenue. The effect of taking some of the sound away is usually loss of ambience in recordings making them seem very 2 dimensional, or on voice a harder attack to the speach which makes it quite tiring to listen to for long periods. Last year I did a test by taking a recording of a piano and encoding it with various bit rates in mp3. The original sounded best by a long way (and that was recorded onto a compact cassette from Radio 3 in the late 1980s - you can't beat TDK-SA tapes). The same exercise can be done comparing FM, Freeview and DAB broadcasts of the same station and' I'm sure' most listeners will detect a difference, maybe a little more hiss on FM, but not a lot on good quality radios.

    DAB is good if you want a wide choice of channels, most of us can survive with what is on FM.

    Ramble over, back to pint. Have a good day!

  54. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    It's a chicken and egg problem

    "It's a chicken and egg problem"

    No it's not it's a catch-22 problem.

    Anyway, the egg came first obviously.

  55. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

    Re: It's a chicken and egg problem

    "Anyway, the egg came first obviously."

    Not if the chicken was a mutation, or the result of an experiment by a visiting Martian, etc.

  56. TeeCee Gold badge

    Why FM's in for the long haul.

    Get into a car in, say, Prague and drive to Manchester*. Listen to the radio on the way, retuning as necessary. Now do that with a DAB tuner.

    FM won't go until cars have been fitted with digital tuners as standard for at least five years. Vehicle manufacturers won't find the things as standard until they get to somewhere above chocolate teapot in the usefulness stakes.

    *Yes, you probably will need to stop for a wee a few times.

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