A brief guide to the small-scale DAB digital radio pilot

A week has now passed since the application deadline to Ofcom and the dust is beginning to settle. So now things are calm, we’re taking this opportunity to explain what it is we are hoping to do.

Firstly, a basic explanation of how DAB digital radio works. With analogue (FM/AM) radio each service requires its own individual frequency from its own individual transmitter. With DAB digital radio, many services can be accommodated on the same frequency, and this is known as a multiplex. You don’t need to know what services are on each multiplex is, because most DAB digital radio sets simply display each service in an alphabetical list.

Generally speaking, in the UK there is a national multiplex broadcasting BBC national radio services. There is a national multiplex broadcasting commercial national radio services, and in 2016 a second national commercial multiplex will launch. Finally, each area usually has one local multiplex. In the case of the Portsmouth area, coverage is provided by the South Hampshire multiplex.

There is a finite amount of capacity on a multiplex, which means it isn’t possible to accommodate every small scale service on each local multiplex. The larger the area, the more transmitters are required and the cost to each service also becomes more substantial.

Ofcom, the communications regulator, are to pilot small-scale DAB multiplexes. These multiplexes will have small coverage areas, typically broadcasting to just a town or city. We’re proposing to broadcast our six services from a transmitter at Highbury College to cover the Portsmouth area. Ofcom have said they will award a total of 10 pilot licences for a nine month period. A total of 51 organisations (including ourselves) have applied.

If we are successful, we are proposing to broadcast Angel Xtra, Express FM, JAAM Radio, The Flash, Triple Hits and a dance music service to the Portsmouth area on DAB digital radio for the duration of the pilot.

We now patiently await Ofcom’s decision. Fingers crossed.

Radio stations collaborate to propose more choice for Portsmouth

Local radio operators are hoping that the City of Portsmouth is one of ten pilot areas licensed by radio regulator Ofcom to trial small scale DAB digital radio services. If successful in their application, transmissions could start as soon as July.

The application is a collaboration led by Angel Radio involving local community broadcasters Express FM, JAMM Radio and The Flash that plan to bring more choice to DAB digital radio in Portsmouth.

The broadcasters involved and their proposed services are:

Angel Xtra – a spin off service from Angel Radio broadcasting dance band music from the 1920s to 1950s by day and easy listening music from the 1940s to 1950s by night.

Express FM – a simulcast of the popular local community radio service for Portsmouth featuring music, talk and live Portsmouth FC commentary.

JAMM Radio – a service from Highbury college playing chart hits with programmes made by students for students.

The Flash – a classic rock service featuring blues and music from local bands.

Triple Hits – a service aimed at 20 to 44 year olds playing current and classic hits.

A dance music service will also feature.

The Ofcom pilot will allow many very small broadcasters the opportunity to be heard on DAB digital radio for the first time. One of the stations taking part is The Flash, a community radio station based in Havant. The station founder Martin Kirby said:

“We have been operating as an internet station for almost three years now with the occasional seven day FM broadcast to the local area. To have the chance to take part in this Ofcom trial is by far the most exciting opportunity we have had so far. It will give us the chance to offer our unique service to a wider audience and for a more substantial period of time.”

Tony Smith, Station Manager of Angel Radio, said:

“We will be able to offer extra choice to listeners in Portsmouth through our proposed spin-off service, Angel Xtra. This is a very exciting opportunity available to us and we have worked hard collaborating with our broadcast partners to come up with a proposition that showcases the best in Portsmouth broadcasting.”

David Harber, Commercial Manager of Express FM said:

“Many people are aware that much of the offering from commercial radio stations is homogenised and lacks real variety. We are proud to be working in partnership to not only geographically extend own range of ‘Passionately Portsmouth’ programmes but also to support this opportunity to fully extend listener choice in and around Portsmouth”.

The Ofcom trial will last for up to nine months. Once the trial concludes Ofcom will form a policy on how to formally licence small scale digital radio services for longer periods.

Notes to editors:

  • Celador Radio’s The Breeze was offered the opportunity to join the application but declined.
  • The identity of the dance music service has been disclosed to Ofcom, but is confidential for the time being.
  • The trial licence, if granted by Ofcom, would commence in July and last for up to nine months.
  • A website at www.solentwireless.com will provide updates about the application.