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The future of radio may well be digital, but it won't survive on DAB

pxd

Radio Paradise - yes!

Thumbs up for the RP mention. pxd

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Anonymous Coward

Tried DAB a few times. Apart from the ridiculous latency, it sounds TERRIBLE compared to FM or Internet radio. Come on...we're using technology that's over 20 years old at this point. It's not even MP3..it's MPEG Layer-2 which is now over 25 years old. And even though it's capable of 320kbit, you're lucky to get 192 on DAB.

Shame we can't just scrap the whole thing and start again with Opus...they'd get better sound quality in less than half the bandwidth, much lower latency, and royalty free..

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Lucky to get 192 on DAB

It's 128K for stereo here in Ireland, which is an insult.

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It really doesn't matter how you broadcast it if it's on my radio with its 2 inch mono speaker, or in my car competing with tyre, wind and engine noise. 128 or 192 is more than enough. It's the convenience I like.

If I want better sound quality at home I use my phone and stream radio to a BT speaker. It's not perfect but it's more than good enough.

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Alien

better sound quality in less than half the bandwidth, much lower latency, and royalty free

Do you really think that "free" has the least attraction for the decision makers? To people far enough up the ladder, "free" and "low price" are actually disincentives.

I would question how much they listen to the product too. They will get analysis on their iThings but "listen to it?" seems unlikely.

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@Mage Re: Lucky to get 192 on DAB

RTÉ Lyric FM is transmitted at 160 kbit joint-stereo on DAB: Only BBC Radio 3's bitrate is higher at 192k, and other UK stereo services are 128k joint-stereo or worse.

But even at 160k it's still not good enough in MP2, especially in comparison to the superb audio quality of the analogue FM signal. Lyric is proof that a lot of lousy radio quality is something the stations themselves do before broadcast: Lyric's FM signal always has superb dynamic range, with none of the "all loud, all the time" Optimod compression that makes other services tiring to listen to.

There's also a DAB+ version of Lyric at 48 kbit, and it's actually pretty close in audio quality to the 160 kbit MP2 version, but still not as good as the FM.

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MJI
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In car

I have to turn mine up quite a bit over the

Tyre, engine, transmission, wind, suspension, hydraulics, noises

But I can still tell how good the source is like over companded and different CDs

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Re: In car

You can tell, but those other intrusive sounds mean there's no significant advantage.

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Re: Lucky to get 192 on DAB

Honestly wasn't aware Ireland had DAB, any time I drive across the border I lose DAB around the Dundalk North turnoff, flick it onto whatever is strong on FM, usually TodayFM or 2FM.

Back when car radios were crap the likes of Atlantic 252 used to do a great job on long journeys with no retuning. I think RTE now uses this frequency for their Radio 1 (which is like a mixture of BBC Radios 2-5)

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Re: Lucky to get 192 on DAB

DAB coverage in Ireland is pretty limited, but the North-East is one area that is actually well-covered (as this map, from back in 2008, shows: https://www.rte.ie/digitalradio/images/DAB-map-large.jpg ).

The reason you're losing coverage at Dundalk is because your car radio is still trying to find the service on the UK-labelled multiplex you were listening to while in NI, and is ignoring the Irish multiplex entirely. Either that, or the presence of DAB+ programme streams on the Irish multiplex is confusing your radio (but any car radio after about 2013 should support DAB+).

Assuming your radio works with DAB+ streams, you may be able to get it to swap over by either changing channels, bringing up the "all channels" list, or performing a rescan, in order of driver annoyance.

RTÉ still uses 252 kHz AM at 500kW (100kW at night) for its Radio 1 service, but that's on borrowed time: it was supposed to close in 2014, then 2017, and now closure has been put out to June 2019, and this time I think it will go for good. Service to Irish ex-pats in the UK (the bulk of 252's listenership) will be achieved by renting space in local UK DAB+ multiplexes and the existingAstra satellite service.

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FAIL

Avoid VQ radios

The reception in my house is fine but my VQ Christie radio is the buggiest piece of crap I have ever had the displeasure of owning. There's practically nothing good I can say about it except that it looks nice. I complained and they sent a replacement but it was just as bad. I should have got my money back while I had with chance. I would entertain you with all its crazy quirks but I don't have the hours to spare.

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MJI
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Cars are priority

Main usage of radio is in cars.

When I was young we had independant local radio, small stations for your local area with local news, music and staff.

Then the big merger.

Last time I used them was on a motorway trip 5 radio stations all with different DJs playing the same songs.

Most channels now have inane DJs so now prefer chat radio to music.

BBC local OK in morning, but on trip home, recently replaced chat with old people music. Music from 60s and 70s for people old then.

Tried R4, it is either listenable or instant turn off. When something important is happening good, otherwise now lots of inane drivel. They once repeated the same article 3 times in a row with no gaps, was probably more but by then a CD was playing.

My biggest hate though is misuse of traffic announcements.

Listening to local news or traffic and traffic for London starts sprouting off and I cannot remember how to disable without manual. And I have to keep disconnecting battery while doing suspension repairs, (It has had 4 in last year, 2 to go), otherwise it could crush me*

* air springs and level sensors

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Re: Cars are priority

Although many people do listen in cars, according to the latest Rajar data, 60% of listening is in the home, 24% in car, and 16% in the office.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Cars are priority, but what about DAB?

Does DAB in the UK have a widely available (in DAB terms) equivalent of RDS yet? IE something which the receiver can use to auto switch to 'local' traffic news when it is broadcast, like UK BBC FM stations have been doing for decades? Or is 'public service broadcasting' just a hip name for a band these days?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Those RAJAR figures

The RAJAR release for the 2018 listening figures [1] actually says things like

"‘Live Radio’ listening hours are dominated by traditional AM/FM and DAB Radio sets (AM/FM Share = 44% DAB = 39%). Can't remember what the car numbers are (link below if you want the RAJAR report).

Listening to radio via a Smartphone, TV and Desktop/Laptop have a share of 4%.

Wifi Radios have a 2% share. Listening to radio via a Tablet or Voice activated speakers have a smaller share (1%). "

And so on.

IE what RAJAR actually says is that 83% of total listening hours for live radio are via traditional broadcast-reception devices using the traditonal broadcast transmission network.

Meanwhile, the oriiginal concept of "independent local radio" needing lots of FM channels has largely vanished without trace, as today's commercial stations are mostly not independent, mostly not local, and mostly just global records and adverts (some ads global, some ads local). The commercial output frequently barely resembles their original commercial licence proposals.

And yet for some reason BBC 6Music still isn't on FM; the best way to listen to 6Music and find out what's on still requires internet access, a personally identifiable BBC logon and an Android device, preferably with something decent for the sound output. What's that all about?

If one of the BBC's most popular channels is not going to get a listen-anywhere-in-UK FM slot, why isn't the iPlayer Radio or similar capability (TuneIn Radio etc don't really count) more widely available on TVs, media gadgets (Roku, etc)?

Confused? Absolutely.

[1] RAJAR release for the 2018 'MIDAS' listening figures: find via

http://www.rajar.co.uk/

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Re: Cars are priority, but what about DAB?

Does DAB in the UK have a widely available (in DAB terms) equivalent of RDS yet? IE something which the receiver can use to auto switch to 'local' traffic news when it is broadcast, like UK BBC FM stations have been doing for decades? Or is 'public service broadcasting' just a hip name for a band these days?

Yes it has all the same stuff plus more, mine does that, it switches to "local" stations that might be 2 counties away as well as dsiplaying the current radio station, programme details and currently playing song and artist. It also receives TMS data for the satnav and does auto route suggestions.

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Re: Cars are priority, but what about DAB?

RDS is a total pain. I always disable it.

1: Information is usually way out of date

2: It's usually not "local" at all

and

3: Idiot broadcasters who press the "RDS announcement" button and then forget to turn it off. So suddenly, the debate I'm listening to is interrupted by a short traffic announcement and then a stream of DJ wibble that can only be turned off by - disabling the RDS on my receiver.

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Re: Cars are priority, but what about DAB?

Or pressing the cancel button.

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Re: Cars are priority

"Although many people do listen in cars, according to the latest Rajar data, 60% of listening is in the home, 24% in car, and 16% in the office."

Those figures don't add up. Or rather they do but leave nothing for all the vocal diarrhoea DJs that seem inescapable in shops etc.

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Boffin

Re: Cars are priority, but what about DAB?

Yes, it has something far better: TPEG. Conventional traffic info is old hat. You're likely to be stuck in the jam before you hear the warning, and most of the bulletin will refer to places you're not going. It also ruins the programme for the majority of people who aren't affected.

A satnav with TPEG is the answer. It receives info from Digital 1 every minute or so and, best of all, will re-route your journey to avoid the jams. Usually no subscription is needed, it's just a one-off fee built into the cost of the satnav.

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Re: Cars are priority, but what about DAB?

That's not RDS. That's Traffic Programming, a feature of RDS.

RDS is the facility that displays station names rather than frequencies, and allows a station to be tracked across different frequencies. It can also deliver traffic information to a compatible satnav, silently.

TP is the interruption when there's a traffic announcement. There are supposedly fines for stations who misuse it - either triggering it early or leaving it switched on. It should only be used for the announcement itself, and I think they're allowed an announcement beforehand ("Here's the traffic news on Radio Titwaffle" or whatever). A friend worked in local radio and once forgot to turn the TP off, he was hauled over the coals with the suggestion being he'd cost the station thousands of pounds. Either that or he was a shit DJ and they wanted a reason to sack him.

TP can be disabled without turning RDS off.

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Re: Cars are priority, but what about DAB?

Is that why TP now kicks in too late?

".... and motorists are asked to avoid the area."

What area???

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Re: Cars are priority

"They once repeated the same article 3 times in a row with no gaps"

That wasn't the article on Groundhog Day on the PM program was it? If so, I guess you didn't "get it".

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Anonymous Coward

57 channels and all the same things on

"when it comes to digital radio it feels like sound quality is secondary to content, "

Sound quality is secondary to advertising quantity. More DAB channels doesn't mean more choice for The Listener, it does mean more space for advertising. Who gives a **** about sound quality.

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Happy

Re: 57 channels and all the same things on

"13 channels of **** to choose from..."

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Anonymous Coward

Lies, damn lies and statistics

"more than half of Brits now access radio digitally"

I'm willing to bet that means 'people who listen digitally at least once a week', and notably 'digitally' is not exclusive to DAB - e.g. through tune-in or online, as well as DAB. Indeed DAB may be only a small proportion of it.

It also does *not* mean that those 50.9% only listen to radio *exclusively* digitally. I would bet that if you asked the same group whether they had listened to conventional FM within the same period, the percentage of FM users by the same measure would be much more than 50%.

I have an FM radio in my phone, my kitchen, my lounge, my stereo and built into the facia of my car. A couple of those have DAB but frankly the interface is more hassle than its worth and the sound quality is not noticeably better on small systems.

In particular I'm not changing my car just to get far inferior coverage so that the government can sell off airwaves that are far more useful to us all as a public utility...

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Re: Lies, damn lies and statistics

DAB is by far the biggest component of digital at the moment - 72% of it. But as some of those other figures show, online listening is growing, especially table or smartphone. That particular element has doubled in size in five years.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Lies, damn lies and statistics

"I'm willing to bet that means 'people who listen digitally at least once a week', and notably 'digitally' is not exclusive to DAB - e.g. through tune-in or online, as well as DAB. Indeed DAB may be only a small proportion of it."

Don't gamble on it, don't assume, when the source is reasonably easily available (though it doesn't Fit In A Twit).

The RAJAR report does actually address the topic of hours spent listening on different classes of device. Have a look, it's available to the public, no registration required. Start at www.rajar.co.uk and work from there.

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If you have an older car and don't want to upgrade the stereo...

It's pretty hard to upgrade the "entertainment system" on cars these days - their CAN-extended tentacles are wrapped around too much of the vehicle's fabric. Gone are the days of just slipping the unit out of its DIN slot...

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Re: If you have an older car and don't want to upgrade the stereo...

At least modern cars usually offer a 3.5 mm AUX in. Some models such as the Ford CD 5000 don't always have it present, but a cable kit can be had for £5 of tinternet.

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Linux

Re: If you have an older car and don't want to upgrade the stereo...

This may depend on your phone having a 3.5mm socket on your phone.

As I will not buy a phone without one, I'm fine but anyone with an iThing is not and they are unfashionable with many manufacturers of more adult oriented phones too.

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Re: If you have an older car and don't want to upgrade the stereo...

Try upgrading the radio in a 2000s Saab with it's proprietary fibre optic system!

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Facepalm

The DAB+ standard offers some hope as it uses the far more efficient HE-AAC encoding

Yeah. The broadcasters see the hope of cramming even more channels in.

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Batteries and Delay

Quality is less an issue for me than battery drain. DAB battery radios last a few days at most. My Ferguson transistor radio lasts weeks on a PP3 and the Cossor radio in the bathroom lasts for years (at 10 mins a day) on a zinc pp9 - and I mean years.

The delay is only a problem a the cricket. You can't listen to the commentary on a DAB radio because it's too far behind. When the last LW valve goes life is going to get a lot worse.

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Re: Batteries and Delay

I have an old Roberts Gemini, more than 10 years old. It has in-situ rechargeable AAs and it will play for more than 24 hours on one charge. That translates to weeks of use.

Newer radios are much better than this, Roberts EcoLogic 7, 150 hours on one charge.

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out of context

"more battery hungry than a traditional tranny"

Maybe not all users will be aware tranny meant as abbreviation for (typically portable) transistor radio AKA analogue radio - certainly distracted me for a second or 2 reading that line

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Re: out of context

Well, indeed, context is everything. But surely everyone knows E6 slide film doesn't need batteries?

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Gimp

Re: out of context

Maybe they were talking about the Ford Transit van?

Or the fetish photographer's absent minded moment? "Damn, I left the trannies of the tranny in the tranny because I was listening to the show on the tranny"

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Radio as a gateway drug

One of the things I think would be a big loss if we went all digital - though somewhat outside the scope of the article - was the way that radio, for me at least, was a gateway into many other things, and especially learning about electronics.

I can still visualise the crystal set I made, using an OA81 diode, a variable capacitor, and a load of wire wrapped round a toilet roll, all housed in a plastic ice cream tub, and a long wire strung down the garden as an aerial.

The novelty of building something like that, which needed no batteries, got me interested in tinkering more. It led to a powered version, with a speaker, on which I first heard Hitchhiker's Guide.

I don't much like the thought that kids won't be able to do something as simple as put together a crystal set in an all-digital future

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Re: Radio as a gateway drug

Maybe the kids of the future will use a Raspberry Pi zero with an LED display, and get into electronics / computer science that way?

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Re: Radio as a gateway drug

Maybe, I'm not sure it's the same hands-on electronics learning experience though. Ferrite coil, piezo earpiece, diode, tuning capacitor, quite a cheap kit, and each component can be taken apart, it's fairly easily understood how they connect and operate together. Vs, have a raspberry pi, connect it to some pre-wired radio module that somebody has built, install a library or two that do something then try to get it to work. It's still teaching something, but not the same lesson.

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tfb
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Re: Radio as a gateway drug

I think there's a huge difference between making something out of a tiny number of active components (in the limit, one diode) which you can understand the physics of and playing with a machine containing the best part of a billion transistors, with multiple layers of caching, virtual memory &c, and millions of lines of OS between you and the hardware.

The Pi is a great thing, but using one is nothing like the experience of using, say the BBC micro, and using that was nothing like the experience of building a radio out of bits.

(Note I am not implying that one of these things is better than the others, just that they are not in any way the same thing.)

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Re: Radio as a gateway drug

"I think there's a huge difference between making something out of a tiny number of active components (in the limit, one diode)"

I seem to remember that if you had a crystal earphone that would serve as the diode. But memory hazy. I once had a 1920s or so book where the instructions for making a crystal set started "Go to the chemist's to buy .... bishmuth ..., melt together, break up, select a likely looking fragment for use as the detector crystal." (Stupidly threw that book out a decade or two ago when moving house :( ).

Agree that a crystal radio set was a perfect introduction to electronics. And a PDP8 with punch tape was the perfect introducion to IT (had to manually load (using 12 front panel switches) a short piece of software first so that it could recognise the tape reader). Guess that makes me an official old f.....rt!

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Re: Radio as a gateway drug

@Nigel Whitfield. My dad was (on and off) a TV Service Engineer (remember them). That's where my interest in all things radio / TV / electronics came from. I still remember building my first crystal set, closely followed by the purchase of a red spot transistor from "Pitts" in Picton Street, Bristol, to make the sounds a little louder ... using drawing pins and a piece of wood! I couldn't try a piece of coal, because we lived in a smokeless zone, so had to use coke for the fire, so an OA81 it had to be!! I am hopeful that medium wave a/m will continue for many years to come, but think the simplicity of something like a crystal set is lost on most of today's youngsters with their sparkly 'do everything' digital possessions. Sad.

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Re: Radio as a gateway drug

My first radio had a red knob connected to a sprung brass pin which you used to select the best 'point' on the crystal. My father taught me that this process was, in the days of his own youth, called: 'tickling the cat's whisker'.

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Nigel! Great to see/notice an article from you, I've not read your blog page for a while so will have to catch up with what I've missed (still a Toppy owner!).

My previous Mondeo had a good DAB radio, my current one not so good. I've noticed some spots without coverage on the M40 now have coverage (near Banbury), Wales still isn't so good. I'm not a massive fan of DAB as I was happy with FM. Life does go on though and technology changes, I'd just like something that works.

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Psion Wavefinder

I bought the Psion in about 2004, when it was a failed product and was being flogged off cheap. The software supplied was rubbish, but there was a (free? shareware?) suite which was better: it could even save the MP2 streams as files. I still have recordings of John Peel and R3 from back then.

That was when I lived in an area with coverage. I moved house last year, from a remote, rural location to a small, seaside commuter town. Now, if I turn on a DAB radio, all I get is a burbling sound. I have to use a DVB decoder to listen to BBC R3 & R6.

(Actually, we don't even get full Freeview here. Almost every house has a satellite dish.)

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Re: Psion Wavefinder

Hehe, the Wavefinder, from back in the days when not including a DAC would save a considerable amount of money.

Heck, a decade earlier my first DAC (not including those built into CD players) cost a couple of hundred quid - a Gravis Ultrasound.

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Re: Psion Wavefinder

Blast from the past! I had a Psion Wavefinder for the same reason - I think I paid about £20 for it. Never did get it working as I think the drivers were outdated or for an older version of Windows by the time I bought it.

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Re: Psion Wavefinder

Have an upvote for mentioning John Peel. Him and Bob Harris and to a lesser extent Nicky Horne on Capital (before they went crap) were my must listen programmes when I was a student.

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