I was sad today to find out that a radio station I really quite like has shut down. That radio station was Captital Life, which broadcasted on the UK's digital radio system (DAB), a nice radio station that played a lot of music without lots of interruptions from presenters and adverts. It has been known for some time that this was going to happen as the station's owners GCap Media was having problems making DAB radio a profitable venture. This is the latest development in the sad story of DAB radio in the UK, which has recently been branded by technology news website The Register as "a very British failure", they have also published an interesting article exploring some of the options to save digital radio in the UK from terminal decline in "Fixing the UK's DAB disaster". It would be a great shame if digital broadcasting did die off as the idea of a platform that can carry many stations serving diverse tastes is very appealing. Yes you can put everything through the Internet, but for the times when you are out and about, maybe in your car, relying on a mobile broadband signal is not usually a reliable business. Radio can be used in many ways and as it is much cheaper to make programmes for radio than TV it can be possible to make diverse programming and cover costs.
Walking around the electrical section of my local supermarket the other day though, I was struck with the thought that DAB radio manufacturers should surely share some of the blame for the current problems. Rather than bringing out a range of slick, appealing units that would look in place in the most modern of houses they appear to have reintroduced the idea of a radio set, a concept most of us had forgotten about. These are stand alone units that you can all huddle around to listen to your favourite programmes. Another astonishing sight is the number of digital radio sets that are mono! This is incredible, the audio quality just gets lost, firstly by being delivered in only one channel, then made worse by being delivered through a cheap speaker. One manufacturer even introduced a radio set with a wooden effect surround, why not just go the whole hog and bundle a pipe and slippers as well? Contrast this to when the CD launched, in that case there was an emphasis on how good that audio experiences sounded, it was explained that this is a compelling, modern experience that you want to be part of.
Modern technology is surely part practicality and part subscription to a dream of a bright future. When people buy something new they want to have delivered experiences that older technology cannot provide, such as top notch audio quality, modern styling, a better user experience and maybe a chance to show off to their friends. If we don't advance with modern technology then what is the point? We might as well stick with what we have. Maybe this is the conclusion people are reaching with the current system of digital radio.
Given the declining number of stations and the uninspiring hardware, The Register might be proven right in their assertion that "DAB is a technology the public clearly doesn't want". The only course of action left to those still involved in the industry now is to sort these problems out and sort them out fast. Even if this means relaunching DAB using a better technology. Some people might get upset at having to buy a new digital radio, but I for one am prepared to if it means digital radio in the UK can become an engaging diverse platform again.