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Our initial take on the DCMS review to protect the future of radio:
Media Minister John Whittingdale has announced the scope of the Digital Radio and Audio Review that will examine the issues facing radio in the next decade as the digital revolution continues at pace.

 The Rt Hon John Whittingdale OBE MP

The Rt Hon John Whittingdale OBE MP

Minister of State (Minister for Media and Data)

  • Media
  • Oversight of EU negotiations
  • Overall international strategy including approach to future trade deals
  • Data and the National Archives
  • Public appointments

Radio in the UK has a long and illustrious history: from Marconi's Pioneering efforts at communication and then the broadcasting work that lead to creation of the BBC - which plugged away with the "Light program" (forerunner of R2) and Home Service (R4) for a very long time without any sort of competition, relying on Reithian principles to keep it honest.. The emergence of offshore commercial pirate radio in the 60 having patiently waited since Radio Luxembourg launched "popular music programming" in 1933

Overall, the history of radio in the UK is a story of technical enterprise and innovation damped down by restrictive and unimaginative government regulatory interventions. One clue to the nature of this regulation being that oversight of UK broadcasting was for a long time the remit of the Postmaster General (a cabinet appointment) that have been overtaken by popular demand.

Up to the arrival of the Regency TR-1 transistor radio in 1954 "valve" radios were tethered to the mains supply and located "formally" within the home and elsewhere. This first transistor radio was a breakthrough, it suffered from practical challenges around cost and life of special 22.5v battery. Circuit-wise, it followed the superhet principles of valve receivers with transistors substituting the functions of valves.

Sales of these devices were encouraging, and there followed rapid development of transistors that would work with a more practical 9v battery. Within a few years just about every home had at least one of these portable radios and every teenager wanted what was the "Walkman/iPod" of its time - fed content (after dark, due to the way the ionosphere affects the propagation of radio signals according to solar influence) by the mildly subversive Radio Luxembourg - and then in 1964 the wholly subversive offshore pirate broadcasters made pop music radio an essential part of UK youth culture.... while the postmaster General fumed and introduced a range of draconian penalties in 1967 for the operators, citing all manner of specious technical objections when the prime reason was to protect the BBC licence fee and maintain ultimate control of the output.

Also in 1967 the BBC was reinvented with the launch of Radio 1-4, Local Radio and some limited commercial competition - which was a perfectly good way to carve up the audience, and lasted until the arrival of "digital" around 1995 culminating in Digital One DAB MPX in 1999, which confused everyone from industry to listeners.

DCMS: Previously, radio’s future was seen in terms of a transition from analogue to digital broadcasting. But with the growth of smart speakers in homes and online audio platforms, the UK audio market is rapidly changing and there is no longer simply a binary choice between analogue and digital audio broadcast (DAB) platforms.

There is a danger that the analogue radio switch off has been underestimated by politicians after the nearly painless TV experience. The TV switch was simple and much less hassle than was anticipated, thanks mostly to the fixed nature of of over 90% of TV receivers an the timely arrival of cheap large LED screens. Few resented dumping their old tech CRT tellies when the replacement was so much more convenient and functional - had 10 times as much content choice - and was cheaper to run.

Radio is a very different proposition, with most radio reception now consumed in cars and with portable receivers.

Some account needs to be taken of the way that "digital" has meant that archives of the very best performances of the most popular content are trivially accessible at any time; this means that new music has a much harder job to make an impact. Many bands of the 70s are still going strong. In a world of infinite choice, radio broadcasters that want to maximize audience will always give the punters what they want rather than risk losing a listener. In the golden age of limited choice radio, the broadcasters were able to influence and set the listening agenda.