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FM to be switched off by 2020?

The switchover from analogue to digital radio could begin as early as 2017, and be complete by 2020, a report by the Digital Radio Working Group has suggested.

Between now and then, the working group suggest certain trigger points should be reached before the next stage is initiated. At least 50 per cent of the hours spent listening to radio should be on digital radio sets – and that figure is expected to be reached by 2015. It currently stands at 18.7 per cent.

Barry Cox, chairman of the DRWG and former Channel 4 deputy chairman, said: "Most importantly we need to see overall coverage for DAB improve, along with more focus to get motorists to adopt DAB so that it can be a real alternative to FM services."

“We have always believed in the future of digital radio and now urge the industry, along with Government and Ofcom to address the barriers to successful migration.”

The radio industry has welcomed the news, with RadioCentre, digital transmission provider MUxCo and the BBC all releasing statements to that effect.

RadioCentre chief executive, Andrew Harrison: “RadioCentre is fully committed to working with the industry to make that plan happen. The DRWG has done excellent work over the last 12 months in finding the best way to achieve this. We hope the recommendations in the report will be accepted by Government and will be reflected in their Digital Britain report next year.”

MuxCo agrees with the DRWG that a radio-specific broadcast platform is an essential part of radio’s future and that “DAB, unlike both DTT and the internet, is the most effective and financially viable way of delivering digital radio, particularly large local radio services, for the foreseeable future”.

Gregory Watson, managing director at MuxCo, says “Today’s announcement gives us even more comfort with the development of DAB. We look forward to the publication of the Government’s Digital Britain Report in early 2009, and urge Government and Ofcom to consider the recommendations set out in the DRWG report”.

Tim Davie, Director of BBC Audio and Music, said: "The BBC is committed to supporting DAB through distinctive digital services and extensive coverage, and will continue to work with the rest of the radio industry in driving digital listening."

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