It’s commonly agreed that the future of broadcast radio lies in the eventual replacement of AM and FM analogue transmissions with digital services. A wide range of technologies exist to service this change-over, and for much of the world the most visible of them has been Digital Audio Broadcasting, or DAB. This VHF service has slowly increased in popularity to the extent that in some countries the FM or AM switch-off process has already happened or is well under way. It’s thus a surprise to hear a piece of news from a country that’s going the other way, as the Irish broadcaster RTÉ is about to turn off its national DAB multiplex.
The reason cited is cost-effectiveness, the take up of DAB in the Republic by listeners is low (Northern Ireland having the UK multiplexes instead), and that the broadcaster is the only one maintaining a national multiplex. Our Irish friends tell us that as in other parts of the world the rural coverage can be patchy, and with only RTÉ and no commercial stations on offer it’s easy to see why the allure of a DAB set is lacking.
In case anyone is tempted to prophecy the demise of digital broadcasting from this news, that’s not the real story. This is simply an abandonment of DAB. Plenty of Irish people listen to the radio through digital media just as anywhere else, this is simply an indication that they’re choosing not to do so via DAB. The Irish DVB television multiplexes carry the same stations and more, and meanwhile, the inexorable rise of online listening through smart speakers and mobile phones has eaten DAB’s lunch. But it does raise the point for other places: when your mobile phone delivers any radio station or streaming service you desire and is always in your pocket, why would you want a radio?
For more on DAB including some of its shortcomings, a few years ago we took an in-depth look at the system.
Thanks [Laura] for the header image.