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Will the DAB radio survive the internet age?

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Back in 1984, Queen released Radio Gaga, a song agonising over what seemed an inevitable extinction of the radio. But despite these fears, 30 years on, the radio is still alive – is it vibrantly surviving or undergoing a slow, painful death?

One might have been forgiven for thinking that any chance the radio stood of survival in the TV age was eliminated by the internet. There is some evidence that listeners are moving to online listening, but Ofcom figures claim DAB sets accounted for 64.9 per cent of the nation’s digital listening hours for the year ending June 2013 – suggesting dedicated radio devices are still preferred, even for those who have made the digital switchover.

Of course the DAB is a shift away from the traditional FM or AM, but with 66.1 per cent still listening on analogue sets there is evidence to say the DAB has yet to take off, if it ever will. Just a third (33.4 per cent) of radios sold in the year ending June 2013 had a DAB tuner, demonstrating how they are far from becoming an essential.

The true home of radio in the modern day is in vehicles, where 33m people listen per week. Over 60 per cent of cars still don’t have DAB radios fitted as standard, another key reason why they are yet to become the mainstream option. But change looks to be on the horizon in this department as major car companies such as Volkswagen have announced they will now fit all new cars with DAB radios.

The government also has a big role to play in DAB popularity. The UK completed the switchover from terrestrial TV to digital in 2012 but has yet to do the same with radio due to the high quantity of people still listening on analogue sets. This is rumoured to be up for review in 2016 and is likely to go ahead if over half the population are listening on digital devices.

An Ofcom report this year claimed only 14 per cent of those not owning a DAB said they were likely to get one in the next 12 months. But, whilst they have not grown in popularity organically, many will probably be forced to purchase through fear of an analogue switch-off or the worry of buying a vehicle which will quickly become outdated.

Thus, whilst the initial years of the DAB have been slow, the radio could has years of retail-worth ahead of it. As the late Freddie Mercury sang: ‘radio, someone still loves you!’.

Published on Monday 11 August by Editorial Assistant

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