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Analysis of comments by BBC Director of Audio & Music Tim Davie concerning a date for DAB digital radio switchover in the UK, written by Grant Goddard in November 2010 for Grant Goddard: Radio Blog.
BBC HEAD OF RADIO: "I'M NOT
GOING TO GIVE YOU A DATE"
FOR DAB DIGITAL RADIO
'Feedback', BBC Radio 4, 26 November 2010 @ 1330 [excerpt]
Roger Bolton, interviewer [RB]
Tim Davie, Director of BBC Audio & Music [TD]
RB: Tim Davie is the BBC’s Director of Audio and Music. I asked him if the campaign to get
decent DAB coverage in 90% of the country by 2015 is still realistic.
TD: I think 2015, and I’ve said it before, is highly ambitious. The BBC would not want to see
any [digital radio] switchover unless you had clear evidence of mass listening to digital, and
good penetration of digital devices. I think the idea that we force a lot of listeners to a situation
where they have to get rid of FM devices and not have something to listen to on digital is
clearly not in the interests of the head of BBC radio [laughs].
RB: When would you say, without doubt, we will have digital switchover …
TD: [interrupts] I’m not going to give you a date. I’m not going to give you a date. I’m …
RB: … not ten years, not fifteen years, not twenty years?
TD: I think there will be a switchover. I think it’s been extremely helpful to put a stake in the
ground and say ‘could we get to 2015?’ I say that’s ambitious. I quite like ambitious targets.
We’ll see how we go.
RB: And there’s concern about coverage. What about quality? Because there are still a lot of
our listeners who are not persuaded that the quality [of DAB] is superior, in that digital is
actually sometimes worse than FM.
TD: In terms of the areas that are covered by a digital signal, I would be the first to say that
we’re not there yet. So, you know, I know some of the listeners out there will say ‘well, I just
can’t get a good signal’. Let’s be clear. Before the radio industry would say to people ‘we’re
moving away from FM’, we must have full coverage of a DAB signal …
RB: And yet, despite this, you are running a campaign, or rather supporting a campaign, which
says ‘digital radio: more to love’ [and] pushing it hard. You’re pushing something …
BBC Head Of Radio: "I'm Not Going To Give You A Date" For DAB Digital Radio Switchover page 2
©2010 Grant Goddard
TD: [interrupts] Absolutely.
RB: … which you have reservations about.
TD: When you say ‘reservations’, I don’t think it’s quite the right word. I’m saying we’re building
out coverage. I would not endorse a switchover unless coverage were as good as FM. At this
point, I think it is utterly appropriate for me, as the BBC head of radio, to say: those people in
areas of coverage – and it is important, by the way, when people buy radios, they check that
they are in an area of coverage, we absolutely say that repeatedly – but, if they are in an area
of coverage, I would absolutely say ‘buy a digital radio’ because you can get 'Radio 7', the joys
of '6 Music', etcetera.
RB: But, in terms of this campaign, let me quote something said by William Rogers, the UKRD
Chief Executive – part of the commercial radio network. He says it was ‘fundamentally immoral
and dishonest to run the campaign, knowing that DAB infrastructure is not good enough, and
knowing full well that when people buy a DAB radio, it may not work when they get it home.
The BBC should be ashamed of themselves for running this ad. They are telling their listeners
to buy something which they know isn’t ready for us yet.’
TD: Well, I mean, it is one voice, and I say ‘one voice’ among many in commercial radio and
RB: [interrupts] And there are quite a few others who, again, refuse to run the ad.
TD: Absolutely. And, well, I think their beef is, by the way, slightly different to that articulated
by William, but it’s really straightforward. 88% of the people in the country can get a signal. If
you can’t get a good signal, I wouldn’t recommend digital radio. If you get that coverage, we
would absolutely recommend – I think it’s utterly appropriate – to say to people: ‘go and get a
digital radio to enjoy the full range of services.’
RB: But the commercial radio sector, or some of it anyway, is saying ‘this is precisely the thing
the BBC should be doing. It should be investing and spending so that everybody can get digital
TD: Mmm. We’ve said, in the last few weeks, and part of the BBC [Licence Fee] Agreement
with the government was to build out national coverage of DAB services. The debate with local
radio – just to be clear, and this is a bit complex, so apologies, but – is around the local layer
of DAB. And we are negotiating out those costs at the moment. While that negotiation goes on
in pretty tough financial circumstances for the BBC, it’s understandable that people say ‘well,
we need a bit more clarity.’ I agree with them.
RB: Can I ask you, though, whether the BBC’s enthusiasm for the potential of digital, in terms
of stations, is waning. For example, you did propose the closure of '6 Music' and the end of the
'Asian Network', at least as a national station. Are you still in love with digital?
TD: It’s a fair point. The idea around looking at the line-up of stations was never about taking
money off the table for digital. We want to keep investing in digital and, I think, in terms of our
commitment to digital, this not just about DAB, this is about internet services. We’ve just said,
on 'Radio 3', we’re launching HD sound, which will be a wider signal through internet radio. I
think, as the head of BBC radio, I really want to see radio develop into a more competitive
marketplace so that it can grow. The idea that the BBC just sits on FM spectrum, and there’s
no growth in radio, to me, seems a pretty limited vision of the future for the industry.
RB: So there’s no doubt about the destination, only the amount of time, the speed of getting
TD: Radio’s going digital.
BBC Head Of Radio: "I'm Not Going To Give You A Date" For DAB Digital Radio Switchover page 3
©2010 Grant Goddard
BBC Head Of Radio: "I'm Not Going To Give You A Date" For DAB Digital Radio Switchover page 4
©2010 Grant Goddard
[First published by Grant Goddard: Radio Blog as 'BBC Head Of Radio: "I'm Not Going To Give You A Date" For
Digital Radio Switchover', 28 November 2010.]
Grant Goddard is a media analyst / radio specialist / radio consultant with thirty years of
experience in the broadcasting industry, having held senior management and consultancy
roles within the commercial media sector in the United Kingdom, Europe and Asia. Details at