The UK’s national digital radio network Digital One is being extended to Northern Ireland on Friday, with 10 new stations available for the first time.
Ford Ennals, CEO of Digital Radio UK is heading the push towards digital radio and writes this opinion peice for RadioToday.
These are exciting times for digital radio, and exciting times for radio listeners in Northern Ireland, with the full set of 14 Digital One stations being launched on DAB by Arqiva for the first time on Friday 26 July.
The extension of Digital One into Northern Ireland takes national commercial DAB coverage to just about 90% of the UK population. For Northern Ireland it is particularly significant, as it means that 1.4 million people will now be able to receive 10 digital radio stations not previously available on DAB, including 3 Absolute Radio stations, 2 Smooth Radio stations, rock stations Planet Rock and Team Rock, as well as Jazz FM, BFBS and Premier Christian Radio. The four Digital One stations currently available on the Bauer local multiplex in Northern Ireland, talkSPORT, Classic FM, Kiss and UCB, will now move to Digital One and get the benefit of coverage expansion to an extra hundred thousand people.
From Friday, radio listeners in Northern Ireland will be able to enjoy over 30 stations on DAB with three stations providing Premiership match commentary on DAB in the province, which compares with only one for the 2012/13 season. The impact of these changes should mean that we will see digital listening and digital radio take-up in Northern Ireland increase to UK levels.
The big switch-on of the 6 Northern Ireland digital transmitters by Arqiva is being celebrated on Friday at the iconic Ulster Hall in Belfast, with live music performances sponsored by Absolute Radio and Smooth Radio, and featuring radio celebrities and politicians, including Eurovision Song Contest winner-turned-politician Dana.
Following the Northern Ireland switch-on, the DAB coverage expansion focus will turn to Wales: South West Wales. MuxCo and Town and Country plan to launch a new local DAB multiplex in August that will bring national BBC and commercial radio stations, in addition to local commercial radio stations to 350,000 people in Wales for the first time on DAB.
These DAB launches, together with the 4 local DAB multiplex launches earlier this year, are part of Government’s long-term masterplan for expanding both national and local DAB coverage towards FM equivalence as detailed in the Memorandum of Understanding on radio switchover signed last year. Ofcom have now delivered a switchover implementation coverage plan to DCMS, to support the Government decision on a future radio switchover to be taken at the end of the year.
As well as the DAB coverage build out another sign of the increased momentum for digital radio is the industry D Love communications campaign which returns to BBC TV tonight and to BBC and commercial radio this weekend. As D Love says; “if you love radio, go digital.”