You may have read that 612 ABC Brisbane did very well in the first radio ratings survey of 2011. Whilst B105 is the top-rating station overall, I’m extremely proud that for the past 12 months, 612 Breakfast has consistently been the most popular morning radio show in Brisbane. However, there is a second set of listening figures released at the end of last month which I am just as excited about.
Less than two years after its launch, digital radio now has more than 700,000 listeners around the country. Not bad for new technology that’s taken a while to come down in price and that noone has been told much about.
Eventually it’s expected AM and FM will be switched off and you will need to make the move over to digital (or DAB+ to give it its proper name). And if that all sounds familiar, you’re right. It’s just like the switch to digital TV. Remember when ABC TV was just one channel? Now we have ABC1, ABC2, ABC3 and ABC24. Digital radio provides this same choice.
612 ABC Brisbane has had as many as four different shows on air at once, using analogue and digital services. For example, every Friday night during footy season, ABC digital radio listeners can choose between AFL, NRL or a sport-free evening show. Earlier this year, the ABC mounted temporary channels called Queensland Floods, Cyclone Yasi and Christchurch Earthquake, each carrying live rolling news. The recent Cricket World Cup was broadcast live on digital radio. And on 25 April, there will be an ANZAC Day channel broadcasting archival material as well as ANZAC Day services from around Australia and abroad.
It’s not just the ABC getting into multi-channel digital radio. Every month, 4KQ’s second channel plays a feature artist non-stop. These have included U2, Queen and The Beatles. There are new music stations, like Radar and Nova Nation. Barry is a 24-hour comedy station. Popular community stations 96-Five and 4ZZZ each have a second channel on digital radio. And SBS soon will switch on a Eurovision Song Contest channel, playing hits and misses from the past 50 years.
There are some sticking points with digital radio, not least of which has been the cost of the receivers. However, you can now buy a decent digital radio for between $50 and $100. The coverage area needs improving. I have picked up digital radio as far north as Bald Hills, west to Ipswich and south to Waterford. But if you’re on the Gold or Sunshine Coasts, don’t even bother. There’s also a school of thought that says internet listening – including via phone apps – will make digital radio redundant. I’d argue that whilst online listening is popular, it also incurs a download cost. By contrast, digital radio is free-to-air and who doesn’t like something that’s free?
As you can tell, I am passionate about radio. It’s the instant medium you can take with you anywhere and have on in the background no-matter what you’re doing. But, competing as it is against online news and personal MP3 music collections, radio has to reinvent itself and keep pace. That’s why I’m so excited about those digital radio listening and sales figures.
Most exciting of all is the recent news that some car manufacturers will soon start installing digital radios as standard. Once your new car introduces your ears to digital radio, you will understand what I’ve been going on about for these past two years!
Four reasons to get excited about digital radio:
1. Superior sound quality. FM listeners won’t notice much difference but you should hear your favourite AM radio station in digital stereo.
2. Digital radios have a screen on which your radio station can post news, weather or the name of a song.
3. Some digital radios have the ability to pause and rewind. This is similar to the PVR you might have for your TV.
4. Finally, and this is the clincher, radio stations can have more than one program on air at once.