Written by Radio

Radio Extra

Earlier this week, Global announced that it would soon be launching Heart Extra on national DAB. This is the first of a big DAB push.

They already have Smooth Christmas running on the platform, and that rebrands as Smooth Extra from December 27th. They also have Capital XTRA, LBC and Classic FM all on the same DAB multiplex. The press release also promises “more to come,” although it’s not clear how many more stations “more” means.

Anyway, for Global to add one additional station to the D1 line-up, something has to give. That means one current station has to go to make way for Heart Extra. We know a Global station isn’t going. And Bauer has announced longer term plans for its digital portfolio, including replacing Absolute Radio 90s with Magic.

And we can be certain too that Talksport isn’t going anywhere.

So that leaves three independent services: BFBS, Premier Christian Radio and UCB Christian radio. I believe that at least one of those has to go to make room for Heart.

Furthermore, depending on what kind of bitrate Global wants to run Heart Extra at, they may have to play around with the bitrates of their other stations if they want to broadcast Heart Extra at 80k mono.

For all things bitrate and multiplex related, the go-to site is Wohnort DAB, so I’ve used their reports of the current state of play as a jumping off point.

Here’s a view of what the radio services look like currently, and what they’ll possibly look like in 2015 once Heart Extra is on-air.

Current StationOwnerCurrent Bitrate Possible Station 2015OwnerPossible Bitrate
Absolute RadioBauer112 kbit/sAbsolute RadioBauer112 kbit/s
Absolute 80sBauer64 kbit/sAbsolute 80sBauer64 kbit/s
Absolute Radio 90sBauer64 kbit/sMagicBauer64 kbit/s
KISSBauer80 kbit/sKISSBauer80 kbit/s
Planet RockBauer80 kbit/sPlanet RockBauer80 kbit/s
Capital XTRAGlobal112 kbit/sCapital XTRAGlobal112/80 kbit/s
Classic FMGlobal128 kbit/sClassic FMGlobal128/112 kbit/s
LBCGlobal64 kbit/sLBCGlobal64 kbit/s
Smooth XmasGlobal80 kbit/sSmooth ExtraGlobal80 kbit/s
Heart ExtraGlobal80/64 kbit/s
talkSPORTUTV64 kbit/stalkSPORTUTV64 kbit/s
BFBS RadioBFBS80 kbit/sBFBS RadioBFBS80 kbit/s
Premier Christian RadioPremier64 kbit/sPremier Christian RadioPremier64 kbit/s
UCB UK ChristianUCB64 kbit/sUCB UK ChristianUCB64 kbit/s

The three at risk stations are italicised at the bottom of the right hand side of the table.

Furthermore, for Global to launch another DAB service right now, then a second of these stations would need to go as well.

Another thing to consider is the forthcoming “D2” multiplex. There was a late extension from Ofcom for applications, strongly suggesting that we will see at least two competitive bids by the closing date at the end of January. That said, you may see some of the same services crop up on both bids.

The timetable from the end of January is for Ofcom to look at the applications, fire lots of questions at the applicants and generally put everyone through the mill. Ofcom says that it will announce an award “as soon as practicable thereafter.” I would anticipate an announcement sometime during the summer. In reality, that means the earliest new services could get up and running would be sometime in early 2016, so there’s a while to go before any more new space appears.

What all this means is that if a service gets bumped off Digital One today (or outbid anyway), then it’s going to take them a while to get back onto a national DAB multiplex, because it’ll be another year before more space is available.

It’ll be interesting to see what Global and others do in the meantime.

[Update: 16 December 2014] It’s now official that Premier Christian Radio hasn’t secured an extension to its place on Digital One. Radio Today reports that Premier has a temporary extension allowing them to run from this weekend through Christmas until February. But it’s clear that Premier wants to remain on the multiplex, while Global claims to have “more to come.” Arqiva won’t be complaining then…