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.

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.

Arqiva Plans Mass Reduncies

A name which may be unfamiliar to some, Arqiva is the largest UK broadcast transmission company, and they are planning to make 500 staff (around a third of their workforce) redundant.

This forms part of a wider restructuring plan at the company, owned by a consortium of foreign investors.

Arqiva operate most of the TV and radio masts in the UK, as well as operating in other areas of transmission.

Some radio stations, including Rathergood Radio and Love Sport have complained about the high costs of Arqiva’s services in recent years.

Delays to DAB Multiplex Launches

Ofcom is allowing an additional year for the licensees of three new local DAB multiplexes to launch, as detailed in the table.

Multiplex Original Launch Deadline New Deadline
Channel Islands October 2020 October 2021
Morecambe Bay December 2020 December 2021
North and West Cumbria December 2020 December 2021

All three multiplex license holders are aiming to launch the services ahead of the deadline.

Cuts to Regional BBC Services

The BBC are cutting some regional TV shows, in order to cut costs. 450 job losses are expect, with the axing of inside out the most prominent move.

Regionally news bulletins on the Breakfast programme (BBC One) will return, although a date for this has not been announced. All 6.30pm news bulletins will have a single presenter going forward. The regional politics programmes will be reinstated, but with a new format to reach a wider audience.

Inside Out, which has 11 regional variations will be replaced with a new investigation programme, from 6 larger regions. The unnamed programme will focus on single investigation per programme, rather than three 10 minute long segments.

Perhaps the biggest changes are at the local radio stations in England, which will retain the standard blocks of 4 hour long programmes introduced initially as a temporary measure back in March. Local programmes will be retained between 6am and 10pm, with a new national late show planned for 10pm to 1am. All shows will have 1 presenter only.

Some of the cuts are necessary due to the delays in reintroducing TV license charges for the over 75s, and the cost of covering the licenses for those on Pension Credit.

Review: Talk Radio Goes DAB+, is this of any benefit?

You may be aware that Talk Radio and Talk Sport 2 have both converted to DAB+. DAB+ is a newer form of DAB, which uses the more efficient AAC codec. This allows for a more efficient use of the bandwidth available, allowing more radio stations to broadcast on a single frequency.

Both stations switched from 64 kbps normal DAB (mono LSF) to 32 kbps DAB+ stereo, allowing Times Radio to launch in the 64 kbps of space made available. Talk Radio ran dual transmissions on DAB and DAB+ for a time, to assist listeners with the switch, and this gave the opportunity to compare DAB against DAB+.

The switch to DAB+ does not appear to have reduced sound quality, although perhaps there is a slight reduction in clarity. What seems a little pointless are Talk Radio and Talk Sport 2’s stereo configuration, as both are near 100% speech based stations.

Perhaps, keeping DAB+ but reverting to mono may remove the slight clarity issue.This is in stark contrast with rival speech station LBC News, which although currently uses 24 kbps DAB+ (mono), did at launch use the same DAB+ configuration as Talk Radio and suffered badly from bubbling noises and was (and still is) extremely difficult to listen to. There is a possibility that radio stations encoding equipment can affect DAB+ sound quality.

On the whole, the Talk Radio and Talk Sport switch to DAB+ has enabled an additional station to launch, without sacrificing audio quality, and can only be beneficial for listeners. However, it was worth considering those who do not have a DAB+ compatible radio, who will need to replace this to continue to access Talk Radio and Talk Sport 2. Perhaps, with the launch of Times Radio using normal DAB, this could be described as a one step forward, two steps back scenario for some.

Two radios have been used to test Talk Radio on DAB and DAB+, a Sony portable mains unit, and a Roberts pocket DAB radio. Both gave similar results.