It's the question that many radio insiders have been asking: does the BBC have a future on FM? With the government considering a digital radio switchover sometime in the future, all eyes have been on the BBC to lead the charge. As the country's biggest broadcaster, they are effectively the leading voice in the debate. If they were to broadcast on digital radio, then it seems certain that everyone else would follow suit.
Related: Can I Get Digital Radio in my Area?
Last year, Norway became the first country to drop FM completely. So, does this mean the UK will follow suit? Not necessarily. At a conference in Vienna, Bob Shennan, the BBC's director of radio and music, gave a speech on just this subject. He said that while the BBC is "fully committed to digital," the organization needs to "do more in the UK before we consider a switchover."
He also stated that any such switchover needs to "be genuinely led by the audience." This is presumably a reference to the government's own criteria for shutting down FM. For years, they have said that overall radio listenership needs to be at least 50% digital before they will consider putting the switch. Until then, it simply wouldn't make sense to turn off FM transmissions. This was the main reason why the government abandoned their original plans to shut off analogue radio in 2015. Had they done so, it would have left the majority of listeners unable to tune in.
Another requirement is that at least 90% of the population needs to be covered by DAB radio transmissions. Until both of these criteria are met, Shennan says that he believes listeners are better served by a "mixed economy" of both FM and DAB broadcasts. But with digital radio listenership on the rise, it is only a matter of time before the UK goes digital-only. The government are due to review their plans later in the spring- so the switchover could be just around the corner.
Update: After carrying out that review, new figures show that digital radio has edged ahead of FM for the first time. What's more, signal coverage is well above that 90% benchmark. This means that the government could begin planning for the digital radio switchover as early as next year- so there's never been a better time to invest in a DAB radio.