15 August 2001 tbs.pm/3187

The slow revolution that is digital radio came to Leicester on the 6 December 2002, when Leicester’s local digital multiplex was switched on.

Following a battle between radio giants GWR and EMAP, the licence had been awarded to the GWR subsidiary Now Digital East Midlands in February 2002. Shareholders in the venture included GWR themselves, Capital Radio, Chrysalis Radio and Sabras Radio.

EMAP had promised more services, and committed to providing digital radios for £50 in Leicester’s shops if they had won the licence. Surprisingly, it was Now Digital East Midlands that won the licence!

The opening of the service was a week later than planned, due to problems accessing the transmitter site arising from the fire strikes. There was little fanfare for the opening, indeed there has been no coverage in the local press. Of the stations on the multiplex, only BBC Radio Leicester have made any effort to promote the medium.

The 7 services available are as follows:

  • Leicester Sound (the existing FM licencee for Leicester)
  • Sabras Radio (the existing AM licencee for Leicester)
  • 106 Century FM (the existing regional licencee for the East Midlands)
  • Galaxy (dance music, simulcast of Birmingham FM station)
  • Capital Disney (new service for children)
  • A Plus (new service for young Asians and other groups from Sabras Radio)
  • BBC Radio Leicester (existing BBC local radio for Leicester)

As you can see, of these 7 stations, 4 of them are already available on FM in Leicester; so only 3 are digital exclusive, which, although they are good stations, I do not feel is enough to drive sales of DAB receivers to higher levels.

There was a Pop Hits station promised in the application which has not appeared (I assume this will be Classic Gold, which Leicester doesn’t have on AM), which I think would attract listeners.

It is also interesting to note that Saga 106.6 (the 2nd regional licensee for the East Midlands) did have capacity reserved for them in both licence bids but decided to refuse the offer, so will not be heard on DAB in Leicester.

I have mentioned above that only BBC Radio Leicester seem to be promoting DAB. This surprises me, as Sabras particularly benefits from it, being an AM station, so you would think they would promote it more, and as GWR seem to be very much behind digital radio, I am astounded that Leicester Sound have not (as far as I know) promoted DAB at all, apart from on their website.

Century have had commercials for DAB receivers, but as they cover Nottingham, Derby and Leicester, I accept it would be difficult for them to promote DAB as you can only hear it on that platform in one of the cities it serves.

We have all heard how few DAB sets have been sold, so surely the platform needs promoting, especially now extra local services are available in this area, as it’s always been an issue that cities in the West Midlands have a larger choice of terrestrial stations, while us over in the East Midlands usually have one local commercial FM station (all GWR around here), one local commercial AM (Classic Gold in Nottingham/Derby and Sabras in Leicester), Century FM, the soon to be launched Saga 106.6, and the BBC locals.

Having said all that, for the digital radio listener I feel that the Leicester multiplex does not offer enough choice in services. I can also receive multiplexes from Coventry, Birmingham and the West Midlands, and these are far more varied in the amount and type of services they provide.

In Coventry they have the excellent rock music station The Storm, Birmingham has Magic, and the West Midlands have The Arrow (which was included in the Leicester application but changed to Galaxy a week before launch), Smooth and a regional news service in DNN.

While I would not expect all of these in Leicester, I feel that for local digital radio to really take off in this area, the multiplex does need some new and diverse services adding to it.

I look forward to reporting on future DAB development here in Leicester!

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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