The digital switch-over has quietly started at four BBC local radio stations in England, RadioToday.co.uk can reveal.
BBC Radio Kent, BBC Radio Lincolnshire, BBC Radio Merseyside and BBC Radio Nottingham have all stopped broadcasting regular programs on medium wave, instead directing listeners to FM or Digital Audio Broadcasting. Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) is a digital radio technology for broadcasting radio stations, used in several countries, particularly in Europe. As of 2006, approximately 1,002 stations worldwide broadcast in the DAB format. DAB may offer more radio programs over a specific spectrum than analogue FM radio. DAB is more robust with regard to noise and multipath fading for mobile listening, since DAB reception quality first degrades rapidly when the signal strength falls below a critical threshold, whereas FM reception quality degrades slowly with the decreasing signal.
It’s part of a five week trial to make savings – and to find out if listeners will miss or complain about the lack of AM services.
This "anyone still listening" campaign is similar to what was tried in Denmark, Austria. Germany and the Netherlands several years back. But these weren't trials because they had no intention of continuing the AM service. They noted that listenership had fallen to an all time low and basically broadcast announcements sending who was left to FM alternatives. Worked fine. In the UK's case they can send the AM opt outs to the Radio Player and DAB where they exist.
The BBC told RadioToday.co.uk: “Medium Wave services mainly duplicate what is already available on FM and DAB, and most listeners will be able to hear their local stations on FM. The BBC is also committed to a full roll out of local radio stations across the DAB network. If local radio is not already available on DAB it will be in the future.
“The aim of the trial is to get a better understanding of the impact of the loss of MW for our core listeners and also enable us to ensure adequate coverage is available on other platforms in these.”
One BBC local radio manager told us “To begin this trial at the start of the football season, when some stations use their AM frequencies for extra football coverage in different parts of the county is absolutely absurd.”
The BBC has chosen Kent, Lincolnshire, Merseyside and Nottingham areas because they have different levels of MW coverage and allow them to test a spread of MW coverage in both rural and city locations, they said.
The changes started on Friday and will finished on September 24th.
Could this happen here? AM listenership is at its lowest level ever. What if AM disappeard?