So, the government has once again worked its way around actually setting a date for the digital switchover of radio. I mention this because I’ve been looking into this over the past couple of weeks as it’s relevant to what I’m doing for my dissertation.
I mention this because there’s some quite interesting stuff out there, and – hopefully, although I’ve got a bad track record with this type of thing – I’ll be putting some of what I find out here as I come across it. This isn’t necessarily part of the dissertation itself, but other stuff I’ll likely come across.
My dissertation is looking at small stations – small local stations, community stations and RSL stations – and their plans for what will happen if – or probably when – FM is ‘switched off’. And there’s the first point I’ll make here: unlike when TV went from analogue to digital, I doubt FM will be quite as easy to ‘switch off’. Radio stations can be smaller outfits than a TV station – for an assignment last year, I looked into Dorchester-based station Wessex FM, a station that had less than ten members of staff, most of which were involved in advertising. Community stations could have more as they are volunteer-run. And when it comes to the broadcast, an FM transmitter is a simple thing – you plug an audio source in one end, an aerial in the other, and you’re broadcasting. They can be cheap – a quick eBay search revealed that you can pick up a transmitter for less than £200. A pirate broadcaster could set up for less than £300, and as pretty much everybody has at least one FM receiver, everybody can receive the station (you may not even realise it – many mobile phones have FM tuners, something mentioned in the speech given at the government conference yet the actual technology was missed…). Digital transmission is more expensive.
Conversion isn’t quite so easy or cheap as TV was to do – when that switchover happened, loads of people already had digital TV, by way of satellite, cable, or freeview. New TVs and the like came with digital tuners in them, and even for people who kept hold of their old equipment as long as possible – and possibly still have them – you could pick up a freeview box for about twenty quid. Conversion to digital radio isn’t quite as simple. In fact, it’s probably not even possible.
My dissertation won’t quite be so aggressive. Hopefully.