Digital radio switchover explained When will radio switchover to digital?

transmitter and signal graphic

A digital radio switchover is unlikely before 2015.

The government has said that once a switchover is announced a further two years will pass before the actual switchover takes place.

FM will be around for a while yet – there is currently no fixed date to announce a switchover to digital radio.

The target date industry is working towards is 2015, but it’s likely that in reality switchover will be later, so don’t panic, you don’t need to replace or convert your radios yet if you don’t want to.

In fact, because DAB transmissions don’t cover the whole of the UK yet, you shouldn’t rush into replacing all of your radios without checking that you can receive DAB where you live.

For more advice on what to do before you buy and how to find out about DAB coverage where you live, take a look at our guide on how to buy the best digital radio.

What needs to happen before switchover?

Government representatives have stated that ‘the transition to digital must be consumer-led’.

The government’s Digital Radio Action Plan sets out criteria that must be met before a digital radio switchover can be announced.

The Action Plan states that a decision on switchover can only be made once:

  • 50% of all radio listening is to digital
  • National DAB coverage is comparable to FM, and local DAB reaches 90% of the population and all major roads.

Any switchover target dates that have been mentioned are just targets and may change. The switchover will only take place if the criteria are met.

Consumer uptake of digital radio hasn’t been quick – in February 2011, RAJAR (Radio Joint Audience research Ltd), the official body in charge of measuring UK radio audiences, measured digital listening as 25% of all radio listening. Based on take-up figures so far, we think the switchover is likely to happen much later than 2015 as this chart from 2010 demonstrates.

Digital Radio Switchover

Digital switchover – consumer led or not at all

At Which?, we feel strongly that a radio switchover should only take place when consumers are ready and that no consumer be left unable to receive national radio in the event of a switchover. 

DAB coverage and reception in homes must be addressed before a switchover, as well as the cost impact on consumers of replacing FM radios with digital equivalents. 

If digital radio switchover is to be a success, broadcasters and radio manufacturers need to provide clear benefits in digital radio above FM, so that consumers want and choose to switch over.

Government switchover criteria includes a consumer-based target figure for digital radio uptake, however we feel it needs to go further to ensure that no consumer is left without radio in the event of a switchover.