UK: FM Radio faces Government switch-off as Digital listening passes 50%

FM Radio faces Government switch-off as Digital listening passes 50% milestone

Analogue radios could become useless as Government prepares for FM radio switch-off

By Adam Sherwin Thursday May 17th 2018

Analogue radios could be consigned to the dustbin of history after figures showed that the majority of all UK radio listening was via digital devices for the first time.

The radio industry passed a milestone, with digital listening reaching a new record share of 50.9%, up from 47.2% a year ago, according to Rajar.

FM switch-off plan

The landmark will trigger a Government review into whether the analogue FM radio signal should be switched off altogether.

Last year Norway became the first country to end national radio broadcasts on FM.

BBC: Switch-off ‘Premature’

The BBC said it would be “premature” to switch off the FM signal. It could cut off drivers with analogue car radios and disenfranchise older wireless listeners.

Margot James, Digital minister, welcomed “an important milestone for radio”.

She confirmed that the Government will “work closely with all partners – the BBC, commercial radio, (transmitter business) Arqiva, car manufacturers and listeners” before committing to a timetable for analogue switch-off.

Podcast boom James Purnell, BBC Director of Radio and Education, said: “We’re fully committed to digital, and growing its audiences, but, along with other broadcasters, we’ve already said that it would be premature to switch off FM.”

Mr Purnell said that BBC podcast listening was up a third across all audiences since the same time last year, accounting now for 40,000 hours a week. But younger audiences have not inherited the habit of listening to “live” radio, even on digital.

Smart speaker radio listening

The new digital figure includes listening through DAB sets, cars, voice-controlled speakers and online. For the first time that audience share is greater than analogue platforms – FM and AM.

Ford Ennals, CEO, Digital Radio UK, said: “This is a landmark moment for the radio industry and for listeners alike. The digital transition is good news for radio and is helping our industry compete more effectively in a digital age.”

Digital has boosted the popularity of “live” radio. Global Radio’s LBC now reaches a record 2.2m listeners every week, up 382,000 in the past year – the highest number in its 45-year history.

BBC Radio 6 Music attracted a record 2.53m listeners in the last quarter, the Rajar figures showed.


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