Secretary of State switches on digital expansion and launches national retune initiative

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The Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport, Rt Hon John Whittingdale MP, has signalled a major expansion of choice and coverage of DAB digital radio stations for over 20 million households at an industry conference, ‘Drive to Digital: National Now’, hosted by talkSPORT presenter, Colin Murray.

John Whittingdale performed the official switch-on of the UK’s second national DAB digital radio multiplex network alongside Steve Holebrook, managing director of Arqiva Terrestrial Broadcast and chairman of Sound Digital. John also launched a national retune campaign, pressing Digital Radio UK’s big green retune button and urging listeners to retune their digital radios to take full advantage of the range of services now available.

The new network from Sound Digital, a joint venture company formed by Arqiva, Bauer Media and Wireless Group, will feature 18 digital radio stations, with 11 now on -air and the remaining seven launching by the end of March. In conversation with Planet Rock Breakfast presenter Paul Anthony, the Secretary of State welcomed the expansion of choice and coverage, emphasising the significance of this launch for the radio industry.

In further content news, the conference heard about new station Heart extra from Global, a national brand extension of Heart, which launched this week on the Digital One DAB network, while the BBC confirmed the launch of BBC 2 Radio Country, a four-day national digital radio pop-up station running from March 10 to 13 to coincide with the C2C Festival.

Rt Hon John Whittingdale MP, Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport, said: “The launch of this new DAB network with 18 national stations is a tremendous step forward for digital radio. It means listeners around the UK have a greater choice of stations than ever before. All the public need to do is retune their digital radios so they can get the most out of the fantastic choice now available.”

The 18 digital stations which will be launching on the new national DAB network by the end of March represent the UK’s biggest ever expansion of national radio choice. The stations include the return of Virgin Radio; new music station Mellow Magic;  new sports station talkSPORT 2; new talk station talkRADIO; business station Share Radio, and the launch of the UK’s first DAB+ services, Fun Kids, JazzFM and Magic Chilled; as well as the national expansion of existing regional stations, Kisstory and Heat.

Digital Radio UK also announced details of a consumer communications campaign encouraging listeners to retune their radios that will run across commercial radio throughout March, and further supported by the BBC. To ensure they can receive the new stations listeners should retune their digital radios by pressing the retune or rescan buttons. To check which stations they can get and for more details about retuning, listeners can go to www.getdigitalradio.com/retune.

DABThe Secretary of State hailed the transformation of the coverage of national and local DAB stations. He welcomed the expansion of BBC national DAB to 360 sites providing coverage to nearly 97% of the population and the expansion of local DAB coverage, which has been backed by Government and supported by industry, taking coverage of local stations from 75% to 91% by the end of Q3 2016.

Arqiva Terrestrial Broadcast managing director Steve Holebrook said: “As well as rolling out the UK’s second national DAB digital radio multiplex we have also been busy extending both the BBC’s network as well as local DAB coverage. Now is a great time to retune your DAB radio, or to go out and buy one, to ensure you have access to many new exciting DAB only stations as well as receiving familiar names in DAB for the first time as coverage is expanded.”

Bauer Media group managing director for radio Dee Ford added: “We are constantly innovating our products and distribution across power brands like Magic, Absolute Radio and KISS, which has resulted in Bauer becoming the leading commercial player in UK digital listening – operating nine of the top 10 commercial digital radio services. Fresh, new, exciting, engaging content delivered through loved and trusted radio brands keeps audiences listening and coming back for more.”

BBC Radio director Helen Boaden commented: “Digital radio is in rude health; digital-only stations like 6 Music and 4 Extra are going from strength to strength, we are continuing our innovative pop-up services with Radio 2 Country and we are expanding our national DAB coverage. We welcome the launch of new, digital-only commercial stations on the new network and hope the increased choice will encourage even more listeners to try digital radio.”

Global’s chief strategy officer Will Harding said: “Digital listening is really gathering pace and we are investing heavily in launching new digital only stations. Digital One covers 90% of households in the UK and we have already extended the incredibly successful brands Capital and Smooth across the UK as well as launching Radio X last year. Now, listeners will be able to enjoy the UK’s biggest commercial radio brand, Heart, across the country and turn up the feel good on digital radio.”

The combined DAB coverage expansions will bring over 10 million people and 10,000 kilometres of roads into coverage by the end of the year. By the end of 2016, the DAB coverage criteria set by Government will have been met. The DCMS plans to review a decision about digital switchover when the share of digital listening, which is currently at 42%, has grown to 50%.

Digital Radio UK chief executive Ford Ennals said: “This is a massive moment for digital radio with an explosion of station choice on the DAB platform. With improved coverage on local and national networks, and over 40 stations on national DAB, including the first DAB+ stations, there has never been a better time for listeners to tune into digital radio. We hope that everyone retunes their radios to take full advantage.”

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