Friday, July 26, 2013

Ten new radio stations launch on DAB in Northern Ireland today

Back in April I mentioned that the selection of radio stations available on DAB in Northern Ireland was going to expand. Ofcom agreed to extend Digital One’s licence to allow it to broadcast its range of national commercial stations in Northern Ireland.

Digital One comment:
After over a decade waiting, DAB digital radio listeners in Northern Ireland can now hear the same stations as mainland Great Britain. This follows today's switch on of six new transmitters in the area by Digital One, the national commercial network operator.

For many years Digital One was prevented from broadcasting in Northern Ireland due to a combination of frequency scarcity and regulatory issues. Today's expansion only became possible once these issues were resolved.

The new multiplex will carry 14 stations, 10 of which are new to DAB in Northern Ireland.
  • Absolute Radio (stereo 128kbps), Absolute Radio 80s (mono 64kbps), Absolute Radio 90s (mono 64kbps), BFBS (mono 80kbps), Jazz FM (mono 64kbps), Planet Rock (mono 80kbps), Premier Christian Radio (mono 64kbps), Smooth Radio (mono 80kbps), Smooth 70s (mono 80kbps) and Team Rock (mono 80kbps).

Four other stations now carried on the national DAB multiplex were already available on our local commercial multiplex. Eagle-eyed listeners may have spotted the 'old' station names on the local multiplex changing on their digital radios.
  • Classic FM (stereo 128kbps), talkSPORT (mono 80kbps), Kiss (mono 80kbps) and UCB (mono 64kbps).
Football fans will now be able to listen to Premier League match commentary on three DAB stations: talkSPORT, Absolute Radio, and BBC Radio 5 Live.

The footprint of the six transmitters – Divis, Carnmoney Hill, Derry/Londonderry, Brougher Mountain, Strabane and Limavady – should cover 74% of NI residents.

To pick up the new stations you’ll need to retune your digital radio, usually using the Auto-Tune or Auto-Scan button to update the list of stations. More information on retuning available on Get Digital Radio website.

With the dearth of choice of DAB stations broadcasting in Northern Ireland up to now, it should be no surprise that figures from Q1 2013 show that only 23% of homes have a DAB radio set compared with 44% of UK homes. Overall digital listening (DAB, Freeview, satellite, online) is low in Northern Ireland with only 21.1% of radio listening hours on digital platforms in Northern Ireland (34.3% in UK).

While the local NI Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure Carál Ní Chuilín launched the new multiplex in Belfast’s Ulster Hall this morning, it’s the Westminster-based Minister for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries Ed Vaizey who will announce the future roadmap for UK digital radio switchover at the end of 2013.

Eyes Ears will now fall to the existing local commercial multiplex (which also carries BBC Radio Ulster), operated by Bauer Digital Radio to see what will happen to the four duplicated slots. UCB are switching off their old/original broadcast in September and the other channels are unlikely to want to pay for additional carriage.
  • Citybeat (stereo 128kbps), Classic FM (stereo 128kbps), Cool FM (stereo 128kbps), Downtown Radio (stereo 128kbps), Heat (stereo 112kbps), Kiss (stereo 128kbps), Q102.9 (stereo 128kbps), TalkSport (mono 64kbps), UCB UK (mono 64kbps) and BBC Radio Ulster (stereo 128kbps).

As I commented in April, U105 has so far avoided the expense of entering the local DAB market. BBC Radio Foyle is not available on DAB and I’m not sure if there’s any precedent for the BBC to pay for a second ‘nations’ radio station to appear on a local DAB multiplex.

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