BBC local radio starts switching off AM
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BBC local radio starts switching off AM

The digital switch-over has quietly commenced at four BBC local radio stations in England, can reveal.

BBC Radio Kent, BBC Radio Lincolnshire, BBC Radio Merseyside and BBC Radio Nottingham have all stopped broadcasting regular programmes on medium wave, instead directing listeners to FM or DAB.

It’s part of a five week trial to make savings – and to find out if listeners will miss or complain about the lack of AM services.

The BBC told “MW services mainly duplicate what is already available on FM and DAB, and most listeners will be able to hear their local stations on FM. The BBC is also committed to a full roll out of local radio stations across the DAB network. If local radio is not already available on DAB it will be in the future.

“The aim of the trial is to get a better understanding of the impact of the loss of MW for our core listeners and also enable us to ensure adequate coverage is available on other platforms in these.”

One BBC local radio manager told us “To commence this trail at the start of the football season, when some stations use their AM frequencies for extra football coverage in different parts of the county is absolutely absurd.”

The BBC has chosen Kent, Lincolnshire, Merseyside and Nottingham areas because they have different levels of MW coverage and allow them to test a spread of MW coverage in both rural and city locations, they said.

The changes started on Friday and will finished on September 24th.

0 31 1359 19 August, 2012 Industry News Sunday, August 19th, 2012

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Roy Martin is Managing Editor and Founder of RadioToday. Follow him on Twitter @roymartin.

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  1. Joe

    I find it hard to believe, unless there is no option, that people still listen to the substandard quality the AM/MW or even LW provides. The one good thing about DAB is being able to listen to Magic 828 and the like in good quality audio. Before, I never bothered with them.

  2. David Ayling

    radio kent some times put its sports output on MW but they also put it out on DAB & online. radio kent are no longer pluging 774khz on air. when tell you where to find the sport. they now only say about find it online & DAB & FM for main programes

  3. Ormskirk man

    im surprised this hasnt happened before now. i dont see the point of them broadcasting on AM except for stations where their TSA would be reduced by switching the transmitter off

  4. james vincent

    Well it’s good that they are staring this with a trial. But with the mess thats been made of DAB, most MW services are broadcast at low out put anyway. so i dont have faith that listening quality will improve that much. and local/regional DAB coverage will never improve as this is something that no one has paid attention to. Government, BBC, ofcom and bunch of incompitant idiots

  5. Brian Christopher Winter

    It is interesting concerning Radio Kent (Medway). I remember when they had to give up their hugely popular 1035 KHz medium wave to enable the launch of a Country Music station in London. 774 KHz was introduced because there were so many listener complaints about the loss of AM coverage. Now, I know that was back in the 90s before DAB, but, and here is the thing, this will only work where there is good FM coverage and good DAB coverage. It will also only work in those areas where the AM coverage does not provide the substantial service, like here in North Yorkshire.

    1. Ormskirk man

      i totally agree with Brians comments. switching off AM will only work where listeners are able to receive alternative good coverage on FM and DAB

    2. David Ayling

      if im right Radio kent all ready had 774 KHz as that was for us lot in the east of kent. radio kent also has 1602 KHz but they mite aswell get read of that one.
      as for FM kent dose have three transmitters cover all parts of it. For DAB the the only parts that can’t get Radio kent on it are Dover & Folkestone. the rest of east kent can as they get it from sites like thanet

    3. Anorak south east

      Not quite right. 774 ran long before that – when Medway became Kent and east Kent opt from Canterbury was introduced. Nothing to do with 1035 switch off!

  6. Darren

    My local BBC station (Northampton) has not broadcast on MW since the late 80’s (1988 I think) ALL the BBC local stations MW/AM’s should be switched off ASAP to save money as they only duplicate FM output most of the time. That way the saving could possibly be used to save the BBC local evening shows?

  7. Radio Gerodie

    About time. Pitty its only about 20 years to late.
    Remeber back in the late 1980s/early1990s when the ILR services were given an ultimatum – either provide separate services on AM and FM or hand back one of the licences. All the but two of the ILR operators at the time complied by launching new services – albeit largley Golden oldies services. MFR didn’t because of the terrain difficulties and Devon Air which claimed the same. Devon Air’s downfall however, was because all the other applicants bids stated they would provide two services to the area.
    This was because of the Broadcasting Act of 1990 which was to abolish the simulcasting of radio services on AM and FM.
    This was also was also supposed to include the BBC who only handed back a small number of licences – London (1458), Manchester (1458), Kent (1035), Gloucester (603) and Radio Cleveland’s 1548 kHz (now called BBC Tees) were handed back along with the AM frequencies of Radio’s 1 & 3 for what are now Absolute Radio & talkSPORT.
    Amazingly, Gloucester got a new AM frequency to cover the county even though it was only the south western corner of the county (Forest of Dean) that had trouble getting an FM frequency (like it would’ve hurt to build a new transmitter).
    The BBC largley got away with it because many BBC Local areas (Yorkshire in particular) would broadcast the Asian Network on the AM frequencies for part of the day (noramally from teatime until closedown). Others as stated within other comments was because of sports programmes.
    Scotland and Wales are probably the only two areas that could argue that FM coverage will never be 100% due to the terrain.
    In the Channel Islands, there is no reason why the BBC Locals need to broadcast on both AM & FM. In fact, the AM frequencies could broadcast 5 Live as its only currently a sustaining service in the Channel Islands.
    Radio 4 should also give the AM frequencies. If need be, why not move 5 LIve to LW and give the 693/909 to the Asian Network meaning that the BBC Locals that are using it as a part-time AM opt-out no longer have a reason to do so.
    In fact, it maybe possible to reuse some of these frequencies to launch a fourth national commercial service – Gold?

    1. Mark Andrew

      Your comment re BBC Radio Gloucestershire is incorrect.
      They were given two 1413AM transmitters.
      One to cover the Cotswolds (as they only had a small FM relay to cover Cirencester in those parts).
      The other, as you say, to cover the Forest of Dean.
      Both of these areas are very hilly and would require numerous FM relays to give the service currently provided by the two AM transmitters.
      The Ofcom DAB rollout plans for Gloucestershire do show that a number of DAB transmitters would be needed, but there is no sign of DAB for local radio here at present.
      (Interestingly, despite the hilly nature of this county, on the national DAB stations, DAB is more reliable in my car than FM.)

      1. Mediamgt

        But the Cotswolds AM transmitter near Stow-On-The-Wold only runs 500 watts. And on that frequency in relatively hilly country the coverage is pretty woeful. Disregarding the even more woeful limited-to-5kHz audio response. A decent high power FM transmitter in that area would be a good idea. But I guess the Beebs’ idea of high power would be 100 watts ERP from a nearby bump. Or a wooden light pole with 8 watts. Laughable that an area barely 100 miles from London has such appalling local radio coverage.

  8. Lincolnshire Listener

    BBC Radio Lincolnshire doing this? Around here the only decent signal for the station is on AM and Lincolnshire still doesn’t have it’s DAB multiplex promised years ago.

  9. F. McGee

    The real pity is BBC has abandoned DRM for digitising MW and LW (and SW for that matter!) Had it been done right, the coverage would have been amazing. CDNSE Newstar DR111 receiver is out now with excellent DRM reception all bands.

    1. Jonathan Marks

      As someone involved in the early days of DRM, I’m afraid the window of opportunity has closed for that technology on AM as a stand-alone medium. People adopt a technology because it has a content reason not because of the excellent reception. It’s also linked to cool design. That’t the problem I have with all the DRM receivers.

  10. Jonathan Marks

    This “anyone still listening” campaign is similar to what was tried in Denmark, Austria. Germany and the Netherlands several years back. But these weren’t trials because they had no intention of continuing the AM service. They noted that listenership had fallen to an all time low and basically broadcast announcements sending who was left to FM alternatives. Worked fine. In the UK’s case you can send the AM opt outs to the Radio Player and DAB where they exist. If there is no digital/FM alternative to the AM coverage, then face the facts that this audience is going to go away.

  11. amorr

    Radio 5 Live will never go on the Long Wave, that will always be Radio 4, if there is a national emergency and Radio 4 goes off air, captains of nuclear submarines could be ordered to carry out a nuclear attack on whoever was attacking the UK, I can’t imagine that for Radio 5 live. Just looking around the medium wave recently, its amazing how many stations are no longer broadcasting on it, particularly in Germany, Denmark and Norway, they are all going on DAB and the Internet. There are quite a lot of stations I used to listen to many years ago on the medium wave , gone from it but have “come back” that I now listen to on the Internet. DAB and Internet Radio is the future I think.

    1. Radio Geordie

      You know that, and so did I. The big question is, does anyone at the BBC remember that?
      The reason I mentioned Radio 4 LW was because I read a story recently (probably on this site), that the BBC were looking to close the LW service as part of its ‘cost savings’.

    2. Radio Geordie

      You know that and so did I.
      The thing is… does anyone at the BBC know this?
      I only ask as I read somewhere (Possibly on this site) that the BBC were going to close the Longwave service.
      What’s to stop all out war if the BBC does switch off the signal?
      Wasn’t that also the plot of Crimson Tide?

  12. John Nash

    To me the MW service is more reliable than FM or DAB I live in Bristol, I
    have contacted BBC RADIO BRISTOL, about the DAB not being very clear or
    FM not being clear I have not as yet received a reply.obviously they
    do not want to rock the boat and admit that there is a problem, I
    llisten to smooth 70’s on DAB it is always lovely and clear. May be

    John Nash

    1. pr

      Dundry to Henbury, a line of sight distance of about 6 miles and you can’t get a clear signal on either FM or DAB? Something is very wrong with your reception setup then as there is no problem with TX coverage.

  13. Merseysider

    Why Trial and waste more money, ‘the writing is on the wall’ , switch them off now and stop tinkering BBC !

  14. EricF

    There are a lot of dead spots in Kent not covered by DAB or FM which are therefore only served by medium wave so the MW transmitters can’t just be turned off as suggested.

    As a result of this trial, I have just lost access to BBC Radio Kent which is really inconvenient. The DAB and FM signals are abismal whereas medium wave is clear and solid. I live just on the edge of Sittingbourne and I miss not having regular local news and the morning and evening programming.

  15. MG

    I live in Ashford, a notorious black spot for BBC Radio Kent FM and DAB signals. I relied on 774 kHz so the switch-off is a disaster as far as I’m concerned . Bring it back or do something to get FM into here properly.

  16. tony

    This is a very bad move for me as I can’t get RM on FM but the AM broadcasts are strong in the daytime hours. Listening online isn’t always possible and DAB won’t pick up RM in my area. I suspect this is all to do with government cuts to the BBC. Very sad as Radio Merseyside is a good station.

  17. Jamie Deane Skinner

    VERY VERY VERY BAD MOVE! I live in Norfolk and restore VIntage Radio’s! I’m an avid listener to BBC Norfolk and certainly don’t want to lose it! Sure I can tune into GOLD or plug in an mp3 player, But I’d rather listen to a truly local station than something networked. But im sure the BBC will not listen anyway.


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