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Digital radio switchover target of 50% listening share reached

The government's major milestone has been met – but it could be more than two years before national analogue radio is switched off

More than 50% of people are now listening to radio digitally. This is one of the key targets necessary for the government to begin consulting about the digital switchover, which will see national radio stations no longer broadcasting on FM or AM.

The latest release from radio body Rajar shows that digital radio listening has now reached a record 50.9% share, up from 49.9% in the last three months of 2017 and 47.2% a year ago. Almost two thirds of the UK population now listen to digital radio each week.

The government proposes to make Digital Audio Broadcast, commonly known as DAB, the main broadcast platform for national radio stations, and plans to switch off FM and AM radio broadcasts for national radio. FM will likely still be used for local and community radio stations, and AM broadcasts will switch to either FM or DAB.

If you own an analogue-only radio when this happens, you will need to upgrade to a digital radio to continue listening to national radio broadcasts, including all national and local BBC radio stations.

Best Buy Radios – head straight to our top digital radio recommendations.

Digital radio switchover

The government launched its Digital Radio Action Plan in early 2010, when the share of digital radio listening was only 24%.

It set out certain criteria that needed to be met before the switchover could be scheduled. These criteria are:

  • Digital listening must reach 50% of all radio listening – this includes listening through TV and the internet as well as DAB.
  • National DAB coverage is comparable to FM.

This 50% digital listening threshold has now been met, and it’s expected that the government will conduct a review in due course to decide the next steps towards the digital transition.

Margot James, minister for digital and the creative industries, said: ‘The 50% share will be an important milestone for radio,’ and confirmed that the government will ‘work closely with all partners – the BBC, commercial radio, Arqiva, car manufacturers and listeners – and subject to this will make some further announcements.’

But there’s no need to rush. The government has said that once a switchover is announced, a further two years at least will pass before the actual switchover takes place. Plus, there’s no guarantee a switchover date will be announced simply because 50% of people are now listening digitally.

How to listen to DAB radio

The good news is that there are plenty of options to make sure you’re ready for the digital switchover.

Good dedicated digital-ready radios can cost as little as £40. To make sure you’re buying a radio that’s digital-ready, look for the digital tick mark.

But there are plenty of other ways to listen to digital radio, which includes DAB radio and internet radio, as well. You can listen through apps on your smartphone, tablet or smart TV and go to the radio station’s website on the internet.

You can also get digital radio through some wireless speakers and mini hi-fis, and in your car if you have a DAB radio fitted or a specialist device that gives you access to DAB.

For more on how to listen digitally, see our guide to how to listen to digital radio.

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