Are you ready for digital radio?

  • All you need to know about the digital radio switchover
  • Announcement in 2013 will explain when it'll happen
  • We explain how you can prepare your car for DAB

Were you affected by the TV digital switchover? Many thousands of UK residents were, and that’s set to be repeated when radio goes the same way.

The Government is planning on switching off ‘conventional’ radio and relying solely on DAB - Digital Audio Broadcast - radio. That means your car will need setting up for it and there are currently 25 million cars on the road which aren’t.

When is this happening?

There’s an announcement expected next year on exactly when the Government is planning to pull the plug on radio as we know it.

If that seems a bit hasty to you, consider that 42% of homes already have DAB coverage. Pretty much 100% of homes have digital TV, which also plays digital radio.

Furthermore, 60% of people have smartphones which are capable of listening to digital radio. Only 5% of cars have DAB, though. Clearly the car industry is way behind the curve.

The criteria set by the Government are simple: 50% of radio listeners must be listening digitally and there must be 90% coverage on a local level. When that threshold is reached, a decision on when the digital switchover will occur can be made.

To put that in perspective, digital radio listeners currently make up 32% of the listening demographic. So there’s still a way to go, but things are accelerating rapidly.

DAB affects resale values

Since the switchover is actually going to go ahead, it’s going to affect a car’s residual values too. A car is going to be worth more if it has DAB digital radio built in.

New cars which currently come with DAB digital radios include all BMWs, all Vauxhalls, the MINI, Volkswagen's Golf and the Ford Focus. It's expected that by the end of 2013 the vast majority of new cars will have DAB as standard.

How do older cars get digital?

In 2012 around 26% of new cars will have a DAB digital radio fitted, but what about the older cars? They’re going to need converting for their drivers to listen to the radio.

There are four main ways to do this. You can either buy a convertor for your existing stereo, which will allow you to listen to DAB stations. Alternatively, you could fit - or have fitted - an internal or external device which could receive DAB signals. 

If you've got a larger budget then you could splash out on a brand-new head unit with an integrated DAB receiver. Finally, there’s the chance to stream digital radio through your mobile via one of several apps available.

As things stand now, a handful of car manufacturers are offering retrofit DAB radio systems. This number is set to grow rapidly, with the majority looking to offer this service by the start of 2013.

There will also be a digital radio Automotive Technician Accreditation, and choosing a specialist with this should go some way towards ensuring a quality and trouble-free fitment.

Why digital radio?

The advantages of digital radio are four-fold. Firstly, the quality of sound is much better provided you are listening to a high-quality station. It’s devoid of the interference or crackling you get on conventional radio too.

You also get more choice, the ability to tune your radio more easily and artist and track information. More advanced systems also offer time-shifting functionality, allowing you to pause, rewind or record live radio.

The one notable downside is that if you are in an area with a weak, or non-existent, DAB signal then you won't be able to hear anything at all.