Interview: Digital Radio’s Ford Ennals
Ten questions makes its way to the Digital Radio UK office, where we find CE Ford Ennals.
Are you pleased with the current take-up of DAB in the UK?
I’m really pleased – making real progress, momentum and transition towards digital. There’s been a step up, strong Q4 2010 rajars, and a good response to the radio amnesty campaign. We should continue to see stepped growth from here.
How have consumers responded to the Radio Amnesty?
It’s only just finished and is too early to have all the data. We’re collecting the radios that have been handed in, evaluating the condition of those, and sending as many as possible to Africa, which will take a couple of weeks. We had great industry support including UTV and the BBC.
Some radio stations, including the UKRD group, have spoken out against the amnesty. Do you share the concerns of stations that aren’t yet on DAB?
I took the time to invite William Rogers to come in and have a chat about it, as we want the support of all stations. 98% did carry the campaign, which was very satisfactory. His concerns weren’t about the campaign; they were concerns still about the ability of all his stations to transition across. The amnesty was a red herring.
DAB gets a fair bit of criticism in the press, that it’s being forced upon consumers who don’t need it, and that the audio isn’t very good. Why is it important that we go digital, and are we going about it the right way?
It’s inconceivable that radio would be an island of analogue in a digital world. Digital radio is better radio. 38% of adults who listen to digital radio every week prefer it – and the choice and advantages are going to increase. It’s better radio, it allows you to be more efficient, you can manipulate data (pause/rewind), and the drive towards visualisation of radio including tagging.
And people who aren’t listening to digital?
There are still 65% of listeners who don’t listen to digital. I think they don’t fully understand the benefits, we as an industry need to explain it better all the time. People who have it are champions of it.
Are you excited about Smooth Radio’s announcement that they’re moving onto D1, with the intention to be a national station?
It’s really exciting, we absolutely welcome it. One restriction of FM is that only the BBC have a full range of national channels, with only Classic FM from the commercial sector. There are no national competitors to Radio 1, Radio 2. Give that the future is digital, Smooth’s announcement gives them a real heads up.
What about the turnover of other stations on D1? Is it disappointing to see stations come and go so quickly?
Yes and no – ultimately we’ve seen a big surge of interest and listening on digital radio. On D1, we saw Absolutey 80s extend to D1, we’ve seen Smooth come in, and we’ve seen new services from well established and well funded groups with strong brands. Some services without deep pockets or a long term business plan gave it a go, but you need a 5 year plan and funding to support that.
NME had a great service and a great listen, but not the funding to get them through 2 or 3 years of startup.
Do you see any opportunities for community and smaller commercial stations to move onto DAB in the future?
The migration of national and regional from FM to digital gives opportunity to small stations – prime spots are freed up, and all radios will have FM. This could be a golden age for local commercial and community services. Ultimately, whether it makes business sense for them on DAB depends on Ofcom’s work with Arqiva and BBC… it looks like it’ll be more worthwhile for larger service.
How does radio’s digital conversion compare to your previous job in charge of TV’s digital switchover?
It’s a fundamentally different medium, at a different state of development. When the government announced a switch to digital TV, 50% had digital already. We’re back in 2002/2003 in TV terms. Also, coverage is greater on digital radio than on DTT. Until the switchover, DTT was at 70% We’re a bit further back, but what is common is that there was skepticism in the TV world at the start, but it was positive and promoted competition, choice, innovation, and sceptical voices fell away.
Finally, we assume that your house is full of digital radios – which stations and presenters do you enjoy listening to?
Like most people I enjoy a range. I particularly like Planet Rock – a bit of middle aged dad rock, and it’s a wonderful service with great passion – I’m also recent convert to 6Music, I like XFM which plays my kind of music. The BBC are wise rebranding Radio 7 to 4Extra, as it’s one of the best kept secrets of radio.