Digital Radio UK: Ten Top Tips

Digital radio is at an odd cross-roads. It has sold bucket loads of digital radios, a third of the country are listening, people who’ve got it like it, manufacturers are making good money from the market and even radio stations are starting to write revenue on their digital stations.

I have no doubt that it will soon be difficult to buy a radio device or ipod dock without a digital radio. It even looks like in-car is going the right way with it gradually appearing, as standard, in more and more makes and models. Indeed, the only form factor that’s doing poorly is mobile.

But, it’s still happening too slowly. Being part of consumer’s replacement cycle is fine, but it will drag on the amount of money the industry is spending on dual transmission even longer.

Not that the industry has particularly helped itself. In the past two years the major UK radio groups (and to a certain extent the BBC) have been stuck in discussions with each other, Ofcom and the government to get some basics sorted and haven’t spent any time and effort promoting their new stations and the platform.

What is positive is that we’re now at a place where all the major radio operators agree that DAB is a vital part of their future. Even UTV and UKRD don’t disagree with that (their arguments have always been about structure, not direction).

With the Digital Economy Act nearly law, it’s now about getting it done. Collectively the radio industry is funding Digital Radio UK to do just that.

Now, over the years, i’ve been invovled with enough industry bodies and radio groups both in DAB and out of it, to, I think, give a Baz Luhrman-style list of advice to the Digital Radio UK team – whether it’s wanted or not! So, here goes [cue instrumental music].

1. Don’t Listen to your Board.

Their job is to keep the money coming and give their aitime to support the campaign.

They do not have experise in launching and marketing consumer electronics. They are all desperately motivated by their own self-interest and are predominantly analogue businesses. They’ve barely marketed their own digital radio stations, you shouldn’t listen to them about how to do your job.

Why should they shut up and keep the money coming? The commercial radio side has been given further licence rollovers and the opportunites to sacrifice many (expensive) local committments. The BBC get a big tick in readiness for the next charter period. The transmitter operators, when digital radio’s successful, get an (even more) profitable revenue stream from new transmitters and service providers.

2. Create an alliance with digital radio listeners.

With over 10million radios sold and a third of the UK using DAB, these are your biggest marketing assets. All the research points to them being very happy digital radio listeners -so co-opt them. Use existing data, station research and relationships to create a CRM plan that lets you reach these people on a regular basis. Incentivise them to evangelise for the platform.

3. Prioritise content.

There’s some great content on digital radio, with good brands – from 1xtra to Jazz FM and NME. Help these stations become successful. The local, regional and national split of stations is a little confusing. Do deals with Digital One to help support these stations to become true nationwide entitites. Promote their existence heavily and highlight what consumers are missing. You do not need to treat everyone ‘fairly’. If you’re successful everyone will benefit.

Stations that exisit on local and regional multiplexes are fine and will grow audience once people have a digital radio, but to get listeners through the door highlight the stations that are good, and that everyone can get.

This will also complement the BBC’s strategy of promoting Station-You-Know and Station-you-Know Extra.

4. Give every UK Breakfast presenter a (properly installed) in-car digital radio.

If you’ve got a properly installed digital radio (and not just a Highway with an aerial blu-tacked to the window) it’s an AMAZING listener experience. In-car coverage is great.

Sky gave aways Sky Plus to hundreds of celebs and they got brilliant free talk-up. In-car DAB will get breakfast shows on side and better endorsement will follow.

5. Do proper research into digital use.

I think RAJAR is generally a good methodology, when i’ve carried out research projects our data has generally matched RAJARs. It’s good at measuring listeners and listening. However, the ‘how did you listen’ question is complex to fill in and the high levels of ‘don’t knows’ shows there’s something amiss. Like Digital TV, commission a specific tracker that looks at radio’s consumption over multiple platforms.

6. Remember to get some money from the board.

Radio, like most media companies, is quite pikey about spending money on advertising (hello, contra!). The board will talk about spending money at the right time, but that time will never come. Extract a large amount of cash now and refuse to do anything until it clears the DRUK bank account. Make sure the cheque doesn’t bounce.

7. The radio airtime bank works!

Radio advertising works! Develop high quality campaigns and get guaranteed airtime from radio stations. However, mandate some sponsorships as well. If you just run ads you’ll find a disproportionate amount of them get stuck off-peak. Organise some winning weekends that run on all stations simultaneously, sponsor everyone’s weather – be bold with radio ideas.

8. Blackmail people.

The airtime bank is a great opportunity to encourage partners to do the things that you need.

For manufacturers – free airtime for radios that have EPG, colour screen, are good value and don’t look rubbish.

For car companies – airtime for manufacturers that include DAB as standard. Also fleet requirements for radio stations should mandate vehicles with digital radios as standard.

9. Get coverage sorted.

Coverage will always be a stick that digital gets struck with. Remember though, coverage is much better than the people who moan, say. More people can listen to Classic FM on DAB than will ever get it on FM.

There are good plans that exist to ‘fix’ coverage for the majority of people with problems. It’s time to push forward the discussions with Arqiva and the BBC to get this sorted out. Also, it’s time for commercial radio to play its part in that too.

10. Rapid rebuttal.

There’s lots of lazy reporting about successes and failures about digital radio, it’s mainly down to lack of information and understanding. Ensure that there’s a permanent presence on the team that seeks out this reporting and then provides the right information to journalists/commentators. It’s not about invoking an Alistair Campbell style rant at people who disagree, it’s about ensuring there’s understanding.

In most things perception equals reality. I’ve had converstaions with journalists who think DAB has failed mainly because they personally can’t pick it up in their basement flat. These are the ones that need to be educated.

[DRUK, I am just having a bit of fun so don’t take too much offence…!]

8 thoughts on “Digital Radio UK: Ten Top Tips”

  1. In general all looks like sensible stuff; interested in the Classic FM factoid (not disputing, just interested) – does D1 really exceed their national FM coverage.

    In car is surely the key battlefield, and whilst manufacturers should be pursued – I (like a large number of people) drive a fairly old car which I’m not adverse to spending money on – yet Halfords stock next to no DAB receivers (from memory one very expensive Sony with a fairly limited featureset beyond the DAB itself) – surely getting DAB sets here must be a key target (I’ll go and by one as soon as it does what my current sony headunit does, is less that the 160 it cost, is easy to fit, and can be bought from halfords – and that’s an actual promise!)

    Also now debil is deact, can we please have a few more stations on digital in Oxfordshire – the more choice argument falls down a bit, when the FM band is more full! (If we discount super niche religious stations in our analysis)

  2. All good points.

    Yes – from memory when I was there, D1 exceeded FM.

    After-fit for in-car is a really small market (especially with so much gear built into dashes now). I think line-fit’s the real prize and that all seems to be going in a better direction now. This is partly driven by the govt saying they will turn off FM, but also the fact that France is mandating it etc.

  3. There’s always going to be an issue with volume of content vs quality. From a listener perspective, the approval scores for current audio fidelity are very high. It’s not going to satisfy everyone and it’s great there’s online and digital TV sources for higher quality audio. If it’s important for stations to have specific quality levels they can do that (as stations like Classic and Radio 3 choose to). Personally I think the mix is about right, but I completely understand if you don’t feel the same way. Hopefully there’s other platforms that cater for your need.

  4. Hi,

    It’s great that you are really evangelical about this, but really DAB is over isn’t it?

    Wifi – now there’s a brilliant delivery platform. I just bought a new Sony Bravia TV with it built in – what a fantastic way to demand and consume a world of content – and it’s a worldwide accepted standard.

    I’m also really excited about getting my iPad with wifi and 3g. Do I want a DAB radio? About as much as I want one of those 80s mobile phone bricks.

    Surely we need to accept it and move on. DAB was a good idea – in 1995. We’re in a different age altogether now.

    You can’t keep saying ‘We just need a bit more time, money and marketing’, it is had 15 years worth already…

    BBC News report from ’95 on ‘third generation’ radio:

  5. Hi
    well firstly most people i know who have tried DAB arn’t happy with it so i find the research rather odd.
    personally i have 2 DAB set neither which i now sure as i hate the audio quality and theres a much choice on analogue .if DAB is all we end up with i won’t bother with radio anymore ,lets hope the pirates return , mel sheffield

  6. I agree with this article very much, especially the bit about getting PROPER DAB radios in cars. I hear a lot of people complaining that DAB in their car is not as good as FM in their car… but the real reason for that is that their FM radio uses the decent aerial sticking out the car roof, while their DAB set is a bolt-on that uses something stuck to the windscreen with ear wax.

    My car as DAB factory fitted, using the on-roof aerial, and the reception is always better than FM.

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