The UK government has ruled out a deadline for switching off FM radio signals. Ed Vaizey, the communications minister, said it was still too early to set a date for digital radio switchover, or even if it would happen at all. He was responding to concerns that takeup of digital radio, available in the UK through DAB since the mid 1990s, is not widespread enough to justify ending FM transmission.

Vaizey said in the Telegraph: “I absolutely believe that the future of radio in this country is digital. “We are not there yet. So now is not the time to switch over.”

The announcement is a setback for several large commercial radio groups, which have urged a deadline of 2018 for switchover. 2015 was named as a switchover target by the previous government. DAB advocates say that listeners will have access to more stations with superior reception, and that a switchoff date needs to be set to encourage migration. Critics, particularly small local and community stations, say that an analogue switchoff will be financially crippling.

While TV, mobile phones and photography have made almost full digital transitions in one way or another in recent years, radio is proving a far more difficult medium to switch over. The UK was the first country to provide widespread digital radio broadcasting, but no country so far has committed to an FM switchoff.

Facts and figures on digital radio switchover in the UK

  • Criteria which must be met for a digital radio switchover date to be set, within two years of:
    — National digital radio coverage matching FM coverage
    — Local digital radio reaching 90% of the population; and,
    — 50% of radio listening to be on digital radio platforms
  • Current level of digital listening: 35.6 per cent
  • Year of DAB public launch: 1995
  • Proportion of digital listening on DAB radio sets: 65 per cent (the remainder being primarily online)
  • Estimated number of analogue radios in the UK: 100 million
  • Proportion of all radio listening in cars: 20 per cent
  • Proportion of existing cars with digital radios: Less than 10 per cent
  • Average cost of the cheapest DAB radio set: £25
  • Approximate number of DAB-only radios in use: 20 million