5Live Formula 1

The BBC has launched a pop-up channel offering live coverage of the British Grand Prix, the UK round of the Formula 1 (motor racing) World Championship being held at Silverstone.

Broadcasting using 64 kbps mono DAB, the station is available on the BBC National DAB multiplex, until sometime just after the conclusion of the racing action. Re-tune your radio, and scroll until you find ‘BBC R5LFormula 1’ in the stations list.

United DJs Closes

Digital radio station United DJs has now closed down, having struggled to become financially viable. The service had been available online, and in a handful of locations on DAB (using the newer DAB+ format).

Some DAB changes have occurred as a result. On the Portsmouth small scale DAB multiplex, the removal of the station has allowed Passion Radio and 80s Rhythm to increase their bit rates to 56 kbps, and Sussex local station V2 Radio to increase its bit rate to 48 kbps.

All three of these stations use the DAB+ format in stereo, and although the closure of United DJs slightly reduces choice, listeners gain better sound quality from some of the services.

The Portsmouth small scale DAB multiplex is currently full, and bit rate increases or new services can only take place when a station leaves the multiplex.

Update – 25th May: Goldmine has also left the Portsmouth small scale DAB multiplex, although does continue to broadcast elsewhere. 80s Rhythm and Passion Radio have further improved sound quality, and are now broadcasting at 64 kbps DAB+ (at the time of writing).

Mono Future for London DAB

Recent changes to DAB in London have seen two Bauer Media operated stations lose stereo DAB transmissions.

Ahead of the 105.8 FM frequency switching to Greatest Hits Radio, Absolute Radio has now been removed from the London 1 DAB multiplex. The station also broadcasts on the D1 National multiplex, but unlike the former 128 kbps joint stereo slot on London 1, this is mono only.

Hits Radio (London) has also switched to 80 kbps mono from 128 kbps joint stereo, this time on the London 2 multiplex. This move has allowed Absolute Radio 70s to return to the London 2 multiplex, also using 80 kbps mono DAB. Absolute Radio 70s had previously vacated the multiplex to make way from Hits Radio to join.

Lastly, Absolute Radio 10s is now available on the London 1 multiplex, but uses DAB+ at 48 kbps stereo. Older radios may not receive this service, but listeners should get reasonable sound quality from a higher than usualy DAB+ standard bit rate. However, the new service largerly falls into the saturated pop music market.

In general, these changes mean poorer sound quality, and in the case of Absolute Radio, poorer access to services. This is partially offset by the additional services, but these bring nothing new to the saturated pop music market, and it could be argued that the changes mean a poorer DAB service for residents of the London area.

BBC Sounds App Added to Sky Q

A new app has been added to the Sky Q connected satellite platform. BBC Sounds allows users to access live radio, music mixes, playlists, and podcasts produced by the BBC.

The app is now available to all Sky Q customers, and can be launched using the voice control remote by saying “Launch BBC Sounds”.

Among the functions of the app is the ability to pick up where they left off on other devices. Users can subscribe to shows so they don’t miss an episode, and bookmark their favourites.

The deal expands on existing collaboration between the BBC and Sky, which saw iPlayer launch on Sky Q towards the end of 2019.

Love Sport Fails to Score

Love Sport, the DAB station which broadcast initially to London, has now left the SDL National DAB multiplex. The station had broadcast on both MW and DAB in London, before expanding nationally using DAB+ with some of the capacity vacated by Panjab Radio.

The closure of the station was blamed on reduced advertising revenue due to Covid-19. However, with only 762 page likes on the station’s Facebook page, it would appear the station has struggled to compete with Talk Sport and sports coverage on BBC Radio 5 Live.

For much of 2019, the station was mothballed, broadcasting rock music and a recorded message from the station founder. The station ceased its separate DAB broadcast in London earlier in the year, before handing over the North London MW frequency to Asian FX.

DAB Expansion for Star Radio

Local FM station Star Radio, which broadcasts on 100.7 FM to Cambridgeshire, has expanded its presence on DAB. The station, which has an easy listening format, is now available on the Cambridge local DAB multiplex as Star Radio (Cam), and the Peterborough multiplex as Star Radio (PB).

Both of the new instances are mono, at 80 kbps using ‘original flavour’ normal DAB. As both instances are identified separately, there is scope to vary the output for local audiences, allowing for bespoke news bulletins and targeted advertising.

Additionally, the existing instance on the trial Cambridge multiplex has converted to DAB+. This means that the 128 kbps available space can now deliver higher quality sound, but older radios may only be able to access the mono version on the main Cambridge multiplex. The conversion may be a test/trial.

DAB Highlights

A number of DAB changes took place towards the beginning of December (2020), and here’s a run down of the main stories.

Around the 1st, Great Yorkshire Radio migrated from the North Yorkshire local multiplex, to the Lincolnshire multiplex. The latter has some over spill into parts of North and East Yorkshire, and the station appears to be refocusing to become a larger regional service for Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. DAB+ at 32 kbps is still used.

York Mix (initially as festive service Xmas Mix), has now joined the North Yorkshire DAB multiplex. The station is targeting the area previously served by Minster FM, which closed earlier this year. Similar (but unconnected) service This Is The Coast is also on the North Yorkshire multiplex, targeting Scarborough, Bridlington, and Whitby, all left un-served when Yorkshire Coast Radio closed. Both are using stereo DAB+ at 32 kbps.

On the Central Scotland multiplex, Scottish Sun Chill has replaced Scottish Sun Greatest Hits. The new service has an easy listening/pop format, and retains 128 kbps of joint stereo normal DAB. No other changes have occurred on this multiplex since Sunoh Radio left, but Central FM has been run in varying configurations.

Lastly, and perhaps the biggest change, is the launch of Union Jack Dance and Union Jack Rock, which took place on Friday 11th December. Both follow the same format of British music and comedy, with listener controlled playlist as Union Jack, but with dance music and rock music respectively. The same 32 kbps stereo DAB+ parameters are used, with Union Jack Dance replacing Jack Radio, and Union Jack Rock filling the vacant space on the SDL National multiplex.

Review: Capital Dance

I make no secret that I’m not a fan of the two big groups that now operate almost all commercial radio stations. Neither of their national or so called local stations are attractive, for various reasons too numerous to detail here.

However, with both the BBC and Global Radio announcing new dance stations within quick succession, I decided to give Capital Dance a listen, to see what all the hype was about. In total, I listened for about 1.5 hours at various times over a couple of weekends, using two DAB+ radios.

What was immediately apparent is the poor sound quality. 40 kbps is the bit rate, higher compared to other DAB+ stations, and although bubbling was minimal, there was no clarity or depth to the sound. Both radios gave similar results, ruling out equipment issues, suggesting either a poor technical set up or that DAB+ is unsuitable for the station.

In terms of music, most music played by the station can be found on other stations, albeit in lesser quantities. There was nothing immediately new or distinctive about the service. I’m not really convinced by the need for a 24/7 dance music station, with the existing Capital and Hits Radio stations already serving the market on Friday and Saturday nights.

I was also left disappointed by the fact that the existing Capital Weekender Friday and Saturday night shows are being simulcast on Capital Dance. These now have “All New Capital Weekender” jingles, despite sounding largely unchanged, perhaps with fewer remixes. These shows run through most of the overnight period, and suggest there is little new content available to fill Capital Dance with.

Although not a show I listened to, the MistaJam drive show is not enough to attract me to the station. Although a highly skilled presenter and dance music specialist, the name alone is not enough to draw me to the station.

Overall, Capital Dance appears to be a knee-jerk reaction by the commercial radio industry to the new BBC Radio 1 Dance online stream, having been announced after Radio 1 Dance and launched just a week ahead. I remain unconvinced by the need for either station and find the content on Capital Dance poor, although I am pleased that Capital Dance is more presenter led than other digital offshoots. Overall, only a 3 out of 10 for this station.

New Director for BBC Scotland

Steve Carson has been appointed the new director of BBC Scotland, and will replace Donalda MacKinnon when she steps down later this year.

Steve Carson is currently the Head of Multi-Platform Commissioning for BBC Scotland, and is known for both content making and commissioning.

In his new position which he will take up in the Autumn, he will be responsible for leading 1100 staff who produce content across TV, radio, and digital platforms, in both Gaelic and English.

Further BBC News Job Cuts

The BBC is to make a further 70 job cuts in its news service, increasing to 520 from the 450 job losses announced earlier this year.

The increase in the job losses are a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has increased the financial pressures on the BBC. The jobs cuts include senior management positions.

Most of the BBC News output is being retained, but more content is to be shared amongst programmes both locally and nationally.

However, some high profile shows including the Victoria Derbyshire programme have been axed, although Victoria does remain as a BBC News presenter.