Digital switch a severe threat to local radio

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A leading West Sussex independent radio station this week warned that its future would be in severe jeopardy if the government proceeds with plans for a digital switch-over.

In December, the Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, Ed Vaizey is expected to announce the timetable for moving from FM and AM to DAB digital radio.

But independent radio stations across Britain have said there is no public benefit to such a switch and local audiences will be hugely penalised.

In Chichester, Spirit FM Managing Director Sally Austin said: “Spirit FM has been proudly serving the wonderful county of West Sussex for nearly 18 years, we would dearly love to continue to do that for at least another 18.

“If the government proceeds with its plans for a digital switch-over Spirit FM’s future would be in severe jeopardy.

“We are by no means opposed to other platforms for listening, in fact we currently have tens of thousands of listeners every month who access our station either online or on smart phone apps. What we are opposed to is the government pushing through a switch-over that would force our listeners to purchase a new suite of digital radios at huge expense - nationally this is estimated to be over 4 billion pounds! - and force Spirit FM to pay an enormous additional license fee to broadcast digitally.

“We may have a huge personality but we are in effect a small local business. Even if it is technically feasible for us to broadcast digitally - which is not yet confirmed - it will almost certainly be financially impractical for us to go down this path. All we are asking is that the government look at the facts before making any decisions that will affect not only Spirit FM, but well over 80 local radio stations up and down the country.”

She said that to replace every FM radio in the UK with a digital one would not only cost the consumer an estimated £4bn but would also offer them a much reduced service. In the UK only 3-5% of cars have DAB radios, which was not a huge problems as DAB currently only reaches 56% of roads - compared to FM which reaches 96%. In homes and offices FM can be received by 98% of people whereas DAB currently only reaches 72% of people – 14 years after it was launched.

The chief executive of Spirit’s parent company UKRD Group William Rogers commented: “This is a needless and quite unnecessary forced switch-over which will require millions of people to spend hundreds of pounds to do what they already do - listen to the radio. The threat to many existing local radio stations is also real and the government needs to sort this policy out and support the sector rather than doing all it can to cost the consumers hundreds and threaten smaller stations in this way.”