UK Commercial Radio DAB MUX Winner – Good For Operator – Bad For Listeners

The UK’s 2nd national commercial radio DAB multiplex was recently awarded to “Sound Digital”, a consortium including the likes of Arqiva, Bauer Media and UTV Media. The result is that within a few months from now, we’ll have available new radio stations such as talkRADIO, Virgin Radio and Magic Mellow, while existing stations like Heat, Jazz FM and Kisstory may be broadcasting across the whole UK.

I suspect this new MUX (multiplax) will still be using DAB at the lowest possible cost for the operators. That means lowest possible bit rates Kbps. providing the lowest possible audio quality for listeners and using Mono instead of Stereo wherever they can get away with it.

So this is where the evolution of terrestrial broadcasting ends: an evolution which was to always – over the years – increase audio quality. e.g from MF/AM to VHF/FM, first in Mono and then in Stereo, then to provide Station-Labelling enabling car radio listeners to follow a programme by its label throughout the country.

But most of all it reverses the move to higher audio quality pioneered over the years by the Beeb, to one of quantity squeezed in. Never mind the quality – feel the quantity! Feel the number of channels over the quality. Future generations will never know real audio quality if/when they still listen in.

Listening to BBC Radio Without Tears

A few days ago CIB’s David Prewett sent me a link to Jack Schofield’s article in “The Guardian” of 5th March 2015 with the headline: “Do I need to buy a new internet radio to listen to BBC Radio?”. In it he suggests ways to resolve the negative consequences of the BBC’s recent decision to drop support for some internet streaming formats such as WMA and AAC which has led to many UK internet radio listeners being left out in the cold.

When suggesting how listeners can resolve the issue, Jack Schofield correctly points out that BBC radio streams can be accessed using almost any PC, smartphone or tablet. However, he fails to mention a useful little tool which has been around for a few years that can easily resolve many radio listening problems both at home and in the car.

So what solution am I referring to?

Well, this little device is usually hardly larger than a pack of cigarettes and can be used almost anywhere since it is powered either by a couple of AA batteries or your car’s cigarette lighter socket, or any USB connection. Of course, if you prefer, you can always use a wall socket.

Just plug this device into your PC, smartphone or tablet at home or on the move and it will play any radio station you have tuned to, through any FM radio receiver within a radius of up to 50 yards. That will certainly be a big enough range for any car and in almost all homes unless you own a vast mansion!

These useful little devices are called FM transmitters and need not cost more than about $100.00, sometimes less. You can select to transmit in Stereo or Mono on any FM frequency from 88 to 108 MHz.. You should, of course, follow any local regulations but it won’t usually cause a problem since the transmitting range is limited.

Finding a suitable FM transmitter isn’t too difficult. A Google or Amazon search will bring up a range of devices to choose from. As for me, I’ve installed two of these FM transmitters from WholeHouseTransmitter.com in my home. They include all the connector leads you need and the transmitters have been giving me excellent service with no problems for more than two years.

2 more Quick Tips to help overcome the recent BBC radio stream changes…

1. Avoid the “Listen Now” buttons on BBC and other UK radio websites. Instead use a comprehensive and regularly updated free portal like http://www.radiofeeds.co.uk as mentioned in the Guardian article.

2. Use VLC as your default media player. VLC is an open source, cross-platform multimedia player that plays most multimedia files as well as DVDs, Audio CDs, VCDs, and various streaming protocols. There are versions for PC, Mac, Android, all free at: http://www.videolan.org/.

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