From DAB to worse 

15 August 2001 tbs.pm/3191

The Great British Public paid virtually no attention to the launch of independent stations like Oneword and Core, while other stations from Digital One’s network like ITN and Bloomberg have come and gone. But when the BBC speaks, people still listen.

But these new stations have been born at the expense of the established ones and the DAB sound quality of most of the BBC’s radio networks have now been reduced to the mediocre level of their commercial rivals.

When confronted with complaints about the current state of DAB in the UK the BBC’s replies are often ill informed, evasive or arrogant. When they say things like “even if the bandwidth could be made available we wouldn’t transmit BBC7 in stereo” it does not inspire confidence that there is anyone there with any sense who has power or that anyone with power has any sense.

The BBC has now dismissively dumped on early adopters who forked out £700+ for a hi-fi radio source. I bought into DAB specifically for BBC7 and did not do so in order to hear a stereo station in mono. Radio has not been so technologically backward since the early 1970s.

If it turns out that they have a long-term strategy, which I’m unaware of, then I shall be delighted. But I’m pretty convinced, that no one in BBC Reception is aware of it.

It is also a high-risk strategy. Pissing-off early adopters and the theologically aware is not an ideal foundation on which to build the reputation of a new platform.

Another puzzling and extremely irksome aspect of the BBC’s DAB policy is the presence on their mux of World Service. This was a nice luxury but now the pressure on the mux capacity is so extreme, often forcing R4 into mono for half the day, World Service is a luxury we can and should do without.

If the BBC were interested in starting to forge an expansionist policy towards DAB bandwidth they could do so now by buying the spare capacity on the Digital One multiplex.

Let’s be under no illusions about the BBC’s role in DAB. They may have been first but Digital One is now taking the lead in terms of coverage.

The BBC are not setting standards in DAB’s audio quality either, they are merely following them. The commercial sector has had minimum standards imposed upon it by the Radio Authority and it is those standards the BBC are following.

I can’t help thinking that if the commercial sector reduced their standards still further the BBC would do so too.

Finally I should like to quote this wonderful post by ‘Aztech’ from the alt.radio.digital Usenet group:

“Let’s see, it’s a highly efficient use of spectrum, the broadcasters can over pack a whole load of ‘stations’ into an allocation traditionally used for a single FM station, such spectrum efficiency and replication also pleases the government, it doesn’t require much transmission power either. Four large radio groups control all the digital licences between them and ask significant premiums for carriage, so it’s all very open and democratic with the interests of the public at heart.

“From the perspective of the consumer and electronics manufacturer, the chipsets associated with DAB cost up to x50 greater than their FM counterparts and draw a great deal of power/heat (an obvious problem for mobile use), sound quality is sub-FM quality and coverage and reception is atrocious, not to mention the system is dated by a decade of advancement. “A complex way of solving a problem that doesn’t exist”, as one chap from Pioneer R&D once said, apart from that it’s a pretty decent system but the ownership and regulation that has shaped the UK implementation is lamentable, it has been irreparably crippled by myopic greed and folly, hence its continuing failure in the mainstream.”

With the launch and attendant publicity of the BBC’s new digital radio stations last year, digital radio is finally beginning to capture the public’s attention.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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