Are you listening to digital radio?

With over a decade of experience in radio, 612 ABC Brisbane radio host, Spenser Howson gave Queenland University of Technology’s (QUT) Journalism students some food for thought on Monday about the future of radio in the digital age.

Howson noted the Australian government isn’t adequately funding the digital radio roll out. Australia’s late launch of digital radio services in 2009 has significantly hindered its uptake as many Aussie’s are now turning to the internet as their popular digital audio delivery platform.

The ABC has also identified the internet as a popular platform for radio listeners and, as Howson outlined, are planning to roll out a more personalized listening experience by advancing their current mobile app. Howson also encourages people, particularly seniors, to use “their iPads as their radios”.

Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) powers digital radio in Australia.

Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) powers digital radio in Australia.

Listening to digital radio programs via these apps serves as a good and effective short term solution. As a long term solution, streaming radio via the internet isn’t the most effective, or efficient, use of Australia’s digital spectrum.

“Moving to streaming or internet platforms only, would mean drop outs, and huge costs to broadcasters, it would almost be impossible to have all current radio listeners in Sydney or Melbourne listen at an audio stream at the same time”. -Melanie Withnall

A clear distinction must be made here, digital radio is not online broadcasting, it isn’t streaming or mobile apps. Digital radio receivers look exactly the same as your analog radio with a twist. They are able to decode a digital program streams and translate them into audio content, allowing users to listen to a variety of stations, including FM and AM favourites, with crystal clarity and have the ability to pause and rewind content.

Melanie Withnall, managing director of 2SER 103.7 at the University of technology in Sydney said in an article for The Conversation, “moving to streaming or internet platforms only, would mean drop outs, and huge costs to broadcasters, it would almost be impossible to have all current radio listeners in Sydney or Melbourne listen at an audio stream at the same time”.

A screenshot of the ABC's radio apps on my phone.

More and more people are tuning in via their phones, this is a a screenshot from my phone showing the ABC’s a wide selection of radio channels via their current app.

After five years since digital radio’s roll out in Australia, it has not extended its reach beyond our five mainland cities, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide (trials are currently being conducted in Darwin and Canberra until August 31 2014).  In other words, accessibility to digital radio for Aussies outside these mainland cities is via ones internet connection…incurring additional costs for listeners. The lack of accessibility also raises issues of listening inequality as digital radio services can be received for free (once you buy the receiver) in the cities in which it has been launched.

The map below visualises digital radio’s spread within Australia.

Digital is clearly the future. It is paramount the Australian government places digital radio at the forefront of media policy in order to ensure it the radio industry isn’t “marooned on an island in the digital age”. Increased implementation of digital radio throughout Australia will allow our digital spectrum to be used in the most efficient and effective manner for both listeners and broadcasters.

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