2015: a silence falls across Digital Britain

Radio. It’s portable.
Most people have radios scattered all over the house, both standalone and built into everything from alarm-clocks to mini-systems, and all those are going to be useless, too. And that’s before we even get on to the nation’s transport fleet, which relies on those annoying RDS-driven interruptions to tell us whether the road ahead is blocked. Or at least was blocked an hour ago.

Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report acknowledges that the personal nature of radio means we want to be able to listen to it anywhere we are. But then he goes and spoils it all by saying something stupid like making radio portable requires ‘a dedicated digital medium – DAB’.

Portable since the pirates
No, soon to resign Government advisor, NO! We’ve been listening to a perfectly good portable radio medium since the days we hid under the bedcovers with Radio Caroline in a hearing-aid pink plastic earpiece, thank you very much.

And as I said, most of us have perfectly viable radio receivers all over our houses – I have relatives who still use old Roberts, Hacker and Bush sets on which they’ve been listening to ‘the wireless’ for half a century or more. And they’re as likely to be streaming Wake Up to Wogan over a home network as I am to be taking a laptop with me to keep up with the cricket, tennis or F1 while out on a walk. Or indeed a drive.

So we’re going to have DAB radios down to £20 by 2013? All very laudable, except I can go into my local shopping centre and pick up an AM/FM portable for about a third of that price. Right now.

And one more point: let’s get all warm, fuzzy and tree-hugging for a moment. Digital radio uses a lot more power than analogue, and while there’s time for work to be done on making digital radio chips more energy-efficient, it’ll be a long time before a digital portable radio will go for as long on a set of batteries as the old analogue portable we have in the garden shed.

I’m not exactly sure I can ever remember changing the batteries in that…

Where will all the analogue radios go?

Oh, and consider the environmental implications of what must be hundreds of millions of analogue radios being consigned to the scrapheap or recycling centres. That’s a lot of electronic landfill, most of it made in the days before RoHS regulations took the more harmful stuff out of the manufacturing process, or a lot of recycling. I wonder whether anyone’s thought of that…

Let’s not forget, too, that streaming radio over your digital set-top box or your home wi-fi to a computer or streaming client is also using bags more energy, and all this just to get a squelchy reception of a station that doesn’t sound as good as it used to a decade ago.

Router, data centre to send it the programmes, computer to listen to them? TV on just to listen to the radio? Watch that electricity meter spin.

That’s progress for you – and so, in closing, and with the predictions of warmer summers on the way, I’ll leave you with this thought:

If you’re planning to take your radio to the beach after the day of the mighty Upgrade, make sure you have a good long extension lead.

Welcome to Digital Britain.

Andrew has written about audio and video products for the past 20+ years, and been a consumer journalist for more than 30 years, starting his career on camera magazines. Andrew has contributed to titles including What Hi-Fi?, GramophoneJazzwise and Hi-Fi CriticHi-Fi News & Record Review and Hi-Fi Choice. I’ve also written for a number of non-specialist and overseas magazines.