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How to listen to digital radio

By Oliver Trebilcock

The UK digital radio switchover is on the horizon, which means FM and AM national radio broadcasts will be switched off. Find out how to keep listening.

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The days of analogue national radio broadcasts are numbered. As with to the digital TV switchover in 2012, many stations, including national and local BBC ones, will only be available digitally. So, if you currently access radio through FM or AM you will need to change how you listen in the coming years.

The good news is that that there are plenty of options for listening to digital radio, which includes DAB radio, internet radio and listening through TV. If you have an FM/AM-only radio and like listening on a dedicated device, you will need to purchase a digital model. 

There are other ways to listen, too. If you’re planning on buying a mini hi-fi or wireless speaker, some of these come with digital radio built in. You can also listen through apps on your smartphone, tablet or computer, or on your TV. And if you’re worried that you have an a FM/AM-only car radio, we've got you covered as well.

Looking for a dedicated digital radio? Head straight to our Best Buy digital radios.

You can find out about all the ways to listen to digital radio below. Or, to read more about the switch and when it might happen, read our digital radio switchover guide.

DAB digital radios

At Which?, all dedicated radios we now test are DAB digital radios, which means you can be sure you’re prepared for the switchover. 

For this reason, it’s worth checking you don’t already have a DAB radio – they’ve been around for quite a while now. You might simply have been listening in FM mode and don't need to buy a new radio at all. Most DAB radios have a mode button that allows you to switch the radio from picking up FM and AM to DAB digital signals. Check your radio’s instruction manual or search for your radio model online for information from the manufacturer.

However, there are still some analogue-only radios on sale, particularly at the lower end of the market. To be sure you’re purchasing a radio that will work with national radio after the digital switchover, look for the digital tick mark.

DAB radios come in all shapes and sizes. They can be low-cost, too – our Best Buy digital radios start from around just £40. Learn more about how to get the ideal digital-ready radio in our guide to how to buy the best digital radio or visit our radio reviews.

Digital radio on your smartphone, tablet, computer or TV

Accessing digital radio isn’t just limited to dedicated devices with an aerial, such as traditional tabletop and bedside radios. You can also access it through the internet, when it is known as internet radio.

This means that you can listen to it on your smartphone, tablet or computer - either through dedicated apps such as BBC iPlayer Radio, TuneIn Radio and Radioplayer, which you can install through your device's app store - or simply by typing the name of the radio station into a search engine such as Google to find the radio station’s website to listen to the live broadcast.

There are additional benefits to listening to digital radio via the internet, too. You can often listen to your favourite radio stations on catch-up at a time that suits you, and you may be able to pause and rewind live broadcasts if you miss a bit. Some dedicated tabletop and bedside radios can access internet radio as well.

Just be aware that listening to radio via the internet on your smartphone will count towards your data allowance if you're not using wi-fi. Make sure it's connected to your wi-fi if you're listening this way at home.

Find out which are the best internet radios to buy in our top internet radios guide.

You can also listen to digital radio through digital TV services such as Freeview or internet radio on your smart TV.

DAB built in to other audio products

Other audio products, such as wireless speakers and mini hi-fis, can have digital radios built in so you only need to buy one device.

Remember to check for the digital tick mark to ensure it's digital-ready. In many cases, the built-in radio will be an internet radio. Those that aren't (mainly mini hi-fis) will typically have an aerial attached to the back, or one in the form of a wire you trail up a wall or bookcase in your home.

Head over to our wi-fi wireless speakers and DAB-radio-enabled mini hi-fis to find the perfect model for you.

Note that you’ll need a wi-fi speaker, rather than a Bluetooth one, to access internet radio, and that not all wi-fi speakers have internet radio built in so be sure to check our reviews. Nevertheless, you can also purchase any wireless speaker and stream internet radio to the speaker from your smartphone or tablet.

Getting DAB radio in your car

If you own a car with an FM/AM-only radio, you don’t need to worry about losing access to radio while driving after the digital switchover. You don’t need to buy a new car either. There are lots of options available for accessing DAB - what’s best for you will depend on your particular car. Find out more about how to stay connected by visiting our guide to getting DAB digital radio in your car.

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