An Engineer in Wonderland – Radio bloody amnesty

“The UK radio industry today launched a major cross-industry consumer initiative and marketing campaign – the Radio Amnesty – offering consumers a discount on a new digital radio in exchange for their analogue radio, which will be reconditioned and given to needy children in Africa.” – Industry body Digital Radio UK.

radio-amnesty.jpg“The UK radio industry today launched a major cross-industry consumer initiative and marketing campaign – the Radio Amnesty – offering consumers a discount on a new digital radio in exchange for their analogue radio, which will be reconditioned and given to needy children in Africa.”
 – Industry body Digital Radio UK.



 It has become a crime to have an analogue radio?

Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of DAB and wish the UK radio industry well.

I just don’t think, given the huge installed base of FM radios, and their comparatively low power consumption, that switching off FM is a good idea.

The House of Lords, following broad consultation, seems to agree.

And is it just a bit cynical to link the ‘amnesty’ to needy children in Africa?

Do these needy children also need to keep on buying batteries?

If it suddenly has a problem with radio access for the poor, couldn’t Digital Radio UK just team up with the Freeplay Foundation?

And, “analogue sets handed in will be donated to charities working in Southern Africa, or will be recycled”, said Digital Radio UK.

Hmmm, I wonder how many will not make it to Africa.

The thing is, Digital Radio UK wants to get analogue-only radios out of the system because, by law, FM switch-off cannot be triggered until listening by DAB in the UK exceeds a certain proportion of all radio listening.

Still, if you want to buy a DAB radio now, you can get some discount if you trade in an analogue radio.

Although Digital Radio UK spokesman Tony Moretta, who knows the industry well, predicted in April that DAB radio prices would continue to fall.

So it is a bit of a gamble:
Buy now and get discount
Buy later if Digital Radio UK is right and prices will fall.
Buy later and find prices have increased because FM is about to be switched off and radio listeners are panicking.

The “Radio Amnesty” was developed by the BBC and Digital Radio UK.

Discounts will be offered on selected models from Alba, Bush, MagicBox, Panasonic, Philips, Proline, PURE, Roberts and Sony.

Participating retailers include Argos, Comet, John Lewis and Tesco.

The scheme will run from 22nd May to 26th June 2010

EW has been running a poll (scroll down) on analogue radio switch off, and currently 57% of those that voted said they were against switch-off


Photo is of Crystal Palace mast, by Matt From London, published under a flickr Creative Commons attribution licence.

Respond below.

No email addresses are collected for marketing purposes from responses to this blog. I will keep it that way for as long as possible.



  1. I think it is a bloody disgrace that DAB radio companies are saying it is the best system around. I perfer the analogue system as I can get radio stations far as China on AM radio (MW/LW), Ireland and southwest England (devon and cornwell)on analogue. The previous so-call labour governement shiould have kept noses out as we the listeners know what radio stations we like and that might not be on DAB digital radio. So send david cameron a electronic mail message saying that you either want or not want DAB digital radio.

  2. Thank you gentlemen.
    I feel for Radio 3 listeners when I think about audio quality because it is they that will notice the difference.
    For me, listening in the house to speech radio with a good DAB signal, reduced audio quality is not a problem – particularly as I have tin rather than golden ears.
    And I am told DAB is often perceived as better sounding because noise is lower – which is a fair point.
    How do you persuade a gullible public (and equally gullible House of Commons) that ‘digital’ isn’t always ‘better quality’?
    The thing that annoys me most is the increased power consumption associated with DAB.
    FM switch-off should be delayed until a clear path to FM demodulator-like power consumption is at least visible.
    Communications Minister Ed Vaizey last week spoke about DAB transmission needing less power than FM transmission.
    By my back-of-an-envelope calculation, this will be offset many times over by the millions of extra digital decoders and demodulators that will have to tick away in an FM-free UK.
    Maybe I am just behind the times.
    Most folk seem happy to re-charge their phones once a week, so maybe no one will mind recharging their pocket DAB receiver in the same way, rather than replacing 2 AA cells once a month in an FM radio.
    And isn’t recharging better than disposal?
    I suppose the acid test will be when DAB is built into phones.
    – Will the need for charging increase to the point that consumers notice when they listen to the radio on their mobiles?

  3. Apart from the poor coverage of DAB radio and the high power usage of portable units one of the main objections I have to these radios is the way they are being sold as having higher quality sound than FM.
    While it is theoretically possible for DAB broadcasts to have higher quality than FM or CD in practice due to the broadcast companies cramming many more stations onto each transponder than were originally intended the bandwidth for each station is often so low that the ‘quality’ is actually worse than AM radio or even Long Wave.
    Most receivers will show the transmission bandwidth if the right buttons are pushed and people will probably be surprised by the reading if they look at the bandwidth for their favorite station.
    Bear in mind that due to the lower compression of MP2 to get the equivalent of standard 128K MP3 quality you need more like 156k on DAB.
    A lot of stations are also broadcast in mono rather than stereo to save bandwidth, and not just ‘talk’ stations.
    I really hope that the planned switch off of the FM band can be cancelled or at least postponed for a large number of years to at least let the DAB broadcasters sort out the current problems and finally decide on what system they are going to use.
    Don Stewart.

  4. DAB could have and should have been a good step forward in terms of ausio quality. However, one of the features of the system is that bandwidth allocated to each station within the multiplex can be dynamically changed to meet demands of the content – i.e. talk radio bandwidth can be reduced in order to provide a broadcast concert more. Unfortunately this feature enabled each multiplex to be filled with more channels (than originally intended) at a lower bandwidth. Therefore as pointed out, you will get better quality reception from a decent FM receiver.
    Having said this, I have a DAB receiver in my car and cannot fault it. The quality of mobile reception is fantastic. Driving from one side of the country to the other (listening to a national BBC station) is seemless. It is actually a pleasure listening to sport on Radio 5 live.
    In my opinion, FM broadcasts will be around for many more years. DAB will not die and as car manufacturers are forced to put DAB radios into new cars, then the listening public will ‘hear’ the benefit. Cost and power consumption will decrease over the coming years – although probably not to the same level as the equivalent FM receivers.

  5. The “radio Amnesty” is nothing more than a cynical con trick in my opinion, and the analogue switch-off is, like ID cards, just one more bit of fading newlabour glitz.
    I have two DAB radios at home, if BBC6 and BBC7 didn’t exist I could have saved myself a lot of money.

  6. It is not, as they say, as simple as that. A big proportion of radio listening is done in cars, and DAB for cars is hard. It’s further complicated by the fact that other countries use other systems, like DAB+ or DRM for their digital radio, which means the car manufacturer would either need to have country specific audio equipment, or a radio that can recieve all of the standards (v.expensive).
    what a mess, and not a technical one, a political one!

  7. The big problem of the DAB-industry is, that in a few years the first generation of DAB receiver won’t work, because the stations switch to DAB+
    FM will still work.
    The big advantage of analogue FM signals is, that there are no dropouts if the reception is weak. And there are no coders and decoders.
    In contrast to digital tv (DVB-T), DAB has more disadvantages. In Germany, most of the commercial DAB stations have switched off their service, because of $$$ and the few receivers, that where sold.

  8. DAB is extremely unpopular. There are an estimated 100 million analogue radio sets in the UK. DAB sound quality is inferior to FM. DAB signals are difficult to receive and suffer “warbling”. For these and many other reasons I expect DAB in the UK to fail. A higher tech version DAB Plus may also fail as internet WiFi access will be the next generation.

  9. The campaign for Radio Amnesty is causing even more confusion for the older generation including my mother in her early 70s. I just stopped her, and possibly most of the elderly population of the small town she lives in, from rushing out to buy DAB radios. Between the Digital TV switchover in their region this week combined with the Radio Amnesty campaign, it had them all believing analogue radio was being switched off “within days”! Mass panic not helped by the fact that most of the information is online to which most of them have no access.

  10. Thanks Folks.
    There is a plan to put up quite a few – between 50 and 80 extra transmitters – to fill in gaps, but as far as EW has managed to discover, the plans do not extend to matching DAB coverage.
    My DAB set – a Pure Oasis – is also not upgradeable.
    As far as we have heard here, there is no plan to go AAC – have you heard otherwise Mr Blissett?
    Having thought it through, we were thinking the best option would be to keep existing DAB stations on MP2, but take new stations to AAC (MP4).
    And to Mr Kurt – TV switch-over in the UK appears to be going OK – according to the House of Lords report. There are some subsidies for TV converter boxes here too.
    With TVs there seems to be a case of adding a converter box which is 10% of the price of a new TV, but with analogue radio switch-off the cost of a converter is going to be very much the cost of a radio receiver.
    Is there an attempt to switch off analogue radio over there in the US?

  11. Interesting!
    Reminds me a bit of the change to digital TV broadcasts here in the States. They had to delay the changeover because not enough folks were buying digital sets. Eventually they just said “sorry, we’re switching anyway”… but they did offer coupons for converters to allow folks to watch digital TV broadcasts with their analog sets.
    It does seem like a terrible waste to force good radio receivers to be trashed. And will the DAB be as good? Digital TV broadcasts don’t reach as far as the analog transmissions that they replaced. Many people can’t get TV at all now. (not that this is such an awful thing, really)

  12. Does it qualify as a ponzi scheme?

  13. For those readers under the impression that DAB will give you an improvement in sound quality and the number of stations you can receive over FM – be warned.
    I live in the Thames Valley between Oxford and Reading. I think you’d agree, not exactly ‘the back of beyond’. How many stations can I clearly receive on the DAB radio in my Kitchen? Just 3. All others are either completely unobtainable or lost in a sea of warbling digital white noise.
    However, things improve if I place the radio on the outside sill of my bedroom window. I can then pick up, wait for it… a whopping five stations; all bar one, I could get on FM with better quality.
    I thought it must be a fault with the Radio but another borrowed from friend, gave exactly the same result.
    I also learned that with the change being planned from MPEG coding to AAC (so called DAB+) the firmware on my 3 year old DAB Radio is not upgradable and so the Radio will be obsolete.
    What a Fiasco.
    The best quality Radio in my house remains my late father’s 50 year old valve powered Pye Fenman. With its solid wood case and Goodmans speakers the sound quality is excellent and I’ve picked up local radio transmissions from as far away as Northern Ireland.
    As they say, ‘they used to make things to last back then’.

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