A New Hybrid Future for Talk Radio

Talk Radio, the speech based station from Wireless Group (owned by News UK), will become a hybrid TV and radio channel with the launch of Talk TV. The development of the channel has been forming discussion for sometime, but there are now enough confirmed details for a full news article.

Talk Radio have been streaming an online TV channel Talk Radio TV for some time now. Largely, this comprises the same audio feed as the station on DAB+, with the addition of a studio video feed, and a scrolling news ticker. Daytime content will be carried over to the new hybrid service largely unchanged.

Screenshot of Talk TV website, 21/04/2022.

In the evenings, new primetime shows will be added, hosted by well known names such a Sharon Osborne and Piers Morgan. The audio for these will be rebroadcast on Talk Radio, but will be broadcast from new TV studios.

A website has now appeared online, but helpfully this only confirms the start date of the new Talk TV service, which is the 25th April (2022). Channel availability confirmed so far includes terrestrial Freeview on number 237, satellite platforms Freesat (217) and Sky (526), and cable platform Virgin Media (number not yet confirmed).

NB. All channel numbers confirmed are based on details obtained from platform websites or direct observations.

More DAB Radio Stations Close

Perhaps a sign of a worsening economy, or a realisation that there is excessive duplication, several more DAB (and/or DAB+) stations have now closed.

On the Surrey local DAB multiplex, the service Full FM Radio has been removed. The Polish language service does continue online.

Full closure has occurred for All Oldies Radio, which was broadcast on the Herts Beds Bucks local multiplex. This station was on oldies music led service, that initially broadcast online before restructuring as a local service aimed at the Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, and Buckinghamshire it broadcast to on DAB.

In Scotland, the three Scottish Sun branded services Sun 80s, Sun Chilled, and Sun Hits have now closed. These three services were largely fillers utilising a large amount of vacant capacity on the Central Scotland regional DAB multiplex, with Sun Chilled initially launching as Sun Greatest Hits (prior to the Bauer Media owned station of a similar name).

The three Scottish Sun services were largely automated, but did feature comprehensive travel bulletins, and some news bulletins, though latterly the news bulletins appeared to be more of a promotion of articles on the Scottish Sun website. Despite this, all three stations broadcast in high quality 128 kbps joint stereo DAB, something of a rarity for commercial radio.

With the three Union Jack stations having already closed, it seems that more DAB stations are likely to follow, despite the new small-scale, hyperlocal DAB multiplexes starting to launch.

DAB Changes

As expected, and widely promoted to listeners ahead of the change, UCB (United Christian Broadcasters) have switched to using DAB+ for both UCB1 and UCB2. Both stations are now on the D1 National DAB multiplex, and are using 24 kbps DAB+ stereo (from 56 kbps Mono LSF for UCB1, and 64 kbps Mono LSF for UCB2).

As part of this, UCB2 moved from the SDL National multiplex, and has now gained wider coverage by being on the D1 National multiplex. However, this is at the expense of sound quality, and some DAB radios will not be able to receive both stations at all, due to not being DAB+ compatible. UCB2 was removed from the SDL National multiplex without any recorded re-tune loop advising listeners to retune.

With UCB relinquishing space on the SDL National multiplex, and reducing overall bitrates on D1 National by a further 8 kbps, this represents a significant cost saving for UCB. Also on the SDL National multiplex, Sunrise Radio (national/London station) have also reduced their bit rate, dropping from 64 kbps to 56 kbps (retaining mono LSF).

In a separate move that has also taken place relatively recently, the three national Jack Media services; Union Jack, Union Jack Dance, and Union Jack Rock, has left the SDL National DAB multiplex. All three services remain available online, and the local Oxfordshire services remain unaffected. The reason for this change is yet to be confirmed.

Closure of Great Yorkshire Radio

Digital station Great Yorkshire Radio appears to have quietly closed at the start of January this year (2022).

The digital only station was broadcast on the Lincolnshire DAB multiplex using DAB+ and overspill reception to target parts of East and South Yorkshire. The station had previously broadcast on the North Yorkshire multiplex. The station had close links with community FM station Driffield FM, and carried similar branding and jingles.

The station was removed from the Lincolnshire DAB multiplex on the 4th January, but may have stopped regular broadcasts earlier than this. Closure doesn’t appear to have been publicised, with the Twitter feed making no mention of closure, having last been updated in December 2021. Facebook and Instagram pages appear to have been taken offline.

Curiously, although almost all content has been removed, the website remains online. At the time of typing, this is currently only displaying the station logo. This may be a sign of further developments.

GB News Radio Launching in January

GB News, the recently launched news based opinion channel, has now confirmed its plans for a radio based version of the channel.

The broadcaster has announced that GB News Radio will launch on the 4th January 2022, coinciding with a new presenter line up for the brreakfast show. GB News Radio will largely be an audio only simulcast of the TV station, albeit with advertising better suited to the audio only nature of the radio service.

Ahead of the launch, GB News Radio has been added to the D1 National DAB multiplex, and is broadcasting in mono at 24 kbps DAB+. The station is using capacity vacated by UCB1 reducing its bitrate, and capacity made available by the cessation of traffic info data services previously carried for satnav systems.

At present GB News Radio is broadcasting test transmissions consisting of a promotional loop. Though not directly observed, reports suggest that this makes no mention of a launch date. Reports also suggest that trials of different adverts have been conducted using the online stream of the channel, presumably testing the ability to have different adverts on different platforms ahead of the launch of the radio service.

GB News is currently available on free-to-air satellite (including Freesat and Sky), Virgin Media (cable), and the UK terrestrial platform Freeview. The addition of the DAB+ radio service will further widen the reach of GB News, improving access to GB News when on the move.

Newstalk and UCB Ireland Leave Satellite

Changes that have escaped my attention until I started using satellite TV myself, are the removal of two radio stations, Newstalk and UCB Ireland, from satellite transmissions. Both changes appear to have occurred this year (2021), with Newstalk leaving satellite on the 31st August.

This will impact on most on Sky viewers in both the UK and Ireland, where both services could be found on the Sky EPG. Both services were broadcast free-to-air, so could also be accessed via generic satellite receivers, including dedicated Freesat receivers in manual or non-Freesat mode. Both stations are aimed at Irish listeners and continue to be available on other platforms, including FM (Newstalk), and Saorview terrestrial TV (UCB Ireland) in Ireland. For satellite listeners seeking Irish radio, stations from RTE continue to be available.

Both changes are understood to be cost driven, although few if any public announcements appear to have been made. Unlike with analogue radio, where there is one clear platform that proves most popular (FM), digital radio has struggled to see a clear winner.

DAB in particular has seen mixed fortunes, with DAB seeing a lot of investment in the UK, but hasn’t seen widescale adoption in Ireland. After a brief foray into semi-national DAB, RTE closed the only national DAB multiplex in Ireland, with commercial broadcasts never commencing beyond a handful of trials. The UK, although seeing more investment, has seen a race to the bottom with DAB and the newer DAB+ format. Broadcasters have sacrificed bit rates to squeeze on an ever increasing number of stations. This has (broadly) widened choice, but at the expense of audio quality, to the point at which some stations become unlistenable.

Going back to Ireland, beyond on-line listening, it would appear that digital listening is struggling in the popularity contest, with neither satellite or DAB able to muster much interest.

Like Acquires Glasgow Small-Scale License

Like Media Group, under the Like DAB banner, have acquired the license for the Glasgow small-scale DAB multiplex from Nation Broadcasting. Nation Broadcasting latterly operated the trial small-scale multiplex in Glasgow, having acquired the multiplex alongside Dumbarton area station Your Radio in 2018, from Brave Broadcasting.

Nation Broadcasting subsequently won the permanent small-scale multiplex license from Ofcom earlier this year, with the license having been uncontested. Recent developments saw the trial multiplex close to focus efforts on the permanent multiplex. The previous news article on the trial multiplex closure can be read here.

Meanwhile, Your Radio itself has now effectively closed, with the station having simulcast Nation Radio Scotland since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. This move looks set to be permanent, although no official confirmation of this has been given, beyond obtaining the necessary license variations from regulator Ofcom.

Like DAB won the Isles of Scilly small-scale multiplex license, and are preparing to launch both multiplexes in 2022. Like appear to be re-focusing their efforts on small-scale DAB, having removed their main station, Like Radio, from the Gloucestershire, Hereford and Worcester, and Somerset local DAB multiplexes.

Like Media Group previously owned Imagine Radio in the Greater Manchester and Peak District area, sold to and subsequently closed by Bauer Media. Like Media also for a time operated the Durham and Darlington FM licenses, using the brand names Durham Radio and Alpha Radio. These have also been sold, and now broadcast Sun FM, a station owned by Nation Broadcasting and based in Sunderland.

Nation Broadcasting appear to be taking the opposite approach, instead concentrating on expand their larger regional FM services, alongside shareholdings in larger local DAB multiplexes. Nation Broadcasting have recently expanded their DAB portfolio, with the recently launched Channel Islands DAB multiplex, and the soon to launch Morecambe Bay DAB multiplex.

BBC Radio Cumbria To Go DAB+

Page last updated on November 29th, 2021 at 02:05 pm

BBC Radio Cumbria is joining digital radio for the first time next Wednesday, with the station joining the new Carlisle/North Cumbria and Morecambe Bay DAB multiplexes. Both multiplexes are expected to launch on 1st December (2021), and are operated by Bauer Media and Muxco Cumbria respectively.

However, unlike most BBC stations, and following in the footsteps of BBC Radio Guernsey and BBC Radio Jersey, the station will use the newer DAB+ format. Reasons for this are unknown, as the BBC have 128 kbps of space reserved on each multiplex, enough to broadcast in joint stereo using normal DAB.

There is some speculation suggesting that the BBC may use the Morecambe Bay multiplex to improve coverage of BBC Radio Lancashire to the north of that station’s coverage area. Speculation also suggests that the BBC may use spillover from the North Cumbria multiplex to broadcast BBC Radio Scotland on digital radio to parts of south west Scotland, but this appears less likely.

In any case, the use of DAB+ will mean that some listeners with incompatible DAB radios will be unable to access BBC Radio Cumbria on digital radio.

Launch Date Confirmed for Morecambe Bay DAB Multiplex

Muxco Cumbria have confirmed that the forthcoming DAB multiplex for the Morecambe Bay area will launch on the 1st December.

The multiplex, which will also cover South Cumbria, will launch with a variety of national, local/regional, and community services. Included from launch will be BBC Radio Cumbria, community services Cando FM and Bay Trust Radio, and national services Capital, Heart, and Smooth Radio.

The multiplex coverage area will broadly mirror existing FM services, and will use a mixture of conventional DAB and the newer DAB+ format. Some older DAB radios will not be able to receive all stations.

Muxco Cumbria is a joint venture between Nation Broadcasting (owners of Nation Radio), and local DAB multiplex operator Muxco.

Trial Glasgow Small Scale Multiplex to Close

The current trial small scale DAB multiplex in Glasgow is to close on Friday (8th October 2021), as the equipment used by the multiplex has reached the end of its life.

Nation Broadcasting, who operate the multiplex have said it would cost significant investments of time and money to continue the multiplex. Instead, they have opted to focus efforts on building the replacement permanent small scale multiplex, to which they were awarded the license for earlier this year.

As the permanent multiplex is not expected to launch until mid-2022, there will be a significant period in which some services will be unable to broadcast to Glasgow. Off the affected services, only Nation Radio Scotland (also owned by Nation Broadcasting) has moved to a different multiplex, in this case the Central Scotland regional multiplex.

Nation Radio Scotland has dropped bitrate as part of the move, from 112 kbps joint stereo to 80 kbps mono, but has gained wider coverage and is now available across the whole of the central belt of Scotland. Nation Radio Scotland is also available on 96.3 FM in the Glasgow area, and service does still appear to be targeted to Glasgow and the West of Scotland.