Department of Culture, Media and Sport looks to help local radio move to digital

Written by Sam Trendall on 9 January 2018 in News

DCMS has launched a consultation on DAB licensing for community and small commercial stations

Radio West Fife studio 1 - Image credit: Ross Murray via Flickr

The UK Government is looking to help local radio stations across the UK still broadcasting on analogue FM and AM frequencies to move into the digital age.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has launched a consultation on how best to develop a licensing process to help create a UK-wide network of local digital audio broadcast (DAB) multiplexes.

These would be used by the 400 or so commercial or community-run local radio stations that still broadcast via analogue technology.

Unlike FM and AM radio – in which each broadcasting station requires its own unique frequency – DAB radio allows stations to be grouped together and broadcast via a single multiplex frequency.

The UK has 13 national multiplexes, each of which broadcasts multiple stations throughout the country or across a large region.

Beyond this, there are more than 50 local multiplexes which serve cities, towns or regions.

In 2014 DCMS funded a programme which has trialled the use of 10 ‘small-scale’ DAB multiplexes, running on open-source software to serve a much more localised area.

These multiplexes are based in Aldershot, Birmingham, Brighton and Hove, Bristol, Cambridge, Glasgow, London, Manchester, Norwich, and Portsmouth.

The scheme, the UK Government claimed, has allowed community radio stations and small local commercial broadcasters to make a switch from analogue to digital frequencies.

But according to the consultation website launched this week, while these they have been a technical success, “the licensing arrangements for the 10 trials are not a suitable basis for the long-term licensing of small-scale DAB radio multiplexes”.

To broadcast via DAB, radio stations currently require a Digital Sound Programme (DSP) licence.

The UK Government is planning to create a new, community radio-focused option – dubbed the C-DSP – that would offer a more streamlined application and approval process.

Stations holding a C-DSP licence would, the UK Government claimed, be eligible for funding from the Community Radio Fund and would also have access to small-scale multiplex capacity that has been ring-fenced for use by community stations.

Culture minister Matt Hancock said: “Local radio is much loved and vitally important as a source of objective and in-touch local news.

“As more power is devolved locally, and as local newspapers struggle, local radio’s role in the community is becoming more and more critical.

“So, we are working hard with stations and listeners to make sure the rules are up to date, and give local radio the chance to use new digital technology to reach audiences, new and longstanding, old and young.”

The consultation runs until 28 February.

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