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.

Bilsdale Transmitter: Alternative Arrangements for Radio

I’ve held of publishing further updates on the Bilsdale transmitter disruption due to the rapidly changing situation, but as things have started to settle, I’m now confident in being able to provide summaries on the alternative arrangements that are being put in place. This post focuses on digital and analogue radio services, and where possible refers to information published on the Arqiva website (although supplementary information from other sources may be used).

Most radio services have been relocated to the Eston Nab transmitter, which has been upgraded using a temporary mast. Joining Smooth Radio which permanently broadcasts from this site, are national stations Capital and Heart, local BBC station BBC Radio Tees, and network station TFM. These are broadcasting on their normal frequencies, so there is no requirement to retune your radio. All stations have RDS (station name display) output, and should be available to most places within their normal coverage area.

For DAB, the D1 National and SDL National multiplexes have also been added to the Eston Nab transmitter. As these multiplexes operate on a single frequency network, there is no need to retune. These join the BBC National and Teeside local DAB multiplexes which permanently broadcast from this transmitter.

A further article on TV arrangements will follow.

Bilsdale Transmitter: Services Affected

The Bilsdale West Moor transmitter broadcasts terrestrial TV, FM radio, and DAB digital radio to the North Yorkshire and Teesside areas. These services are impacted in slightly different ways, but all are facing major disruption.

The transmitter is a main terrestrial TV (Freeview) transmitter, broadcasting all public service broadcaster (PSB) and commercial multiplexes, including temporary multiplex COM7, and the local TV multiplex. The transmitter also provides the provides the feeds for the PSB relays in the area (excluding Scarborough). As a result, all Freeview services from these transmitters are off-air. If you can, repositioning your aerial towards Pontop Pike to North, or Emley Moor to the south may be an alternative.

For FM, the Teesside frequencies of national stations Capital, Classic FM, Heart, and BBC Radio 1 to 4 are off-air. Additionally, local station BBC Radio Tees and network station TFM are also off-air. For most national services, signal from another transmitter should be available, although as Classic FM uses a network of fewer but larger transmitters, this may not always be the case.

Local FM services are facing more disruption. The BBC Radio Tees relay at Whitby should still be operating, but otherwise there is no FM service for BBC Radio Tees. TFM has no relays, and is off-air completely on FM. In the north of the area, Capital and Heart may be available on frequencies from Pontop Pike, but are otherwise off-air completely.

DAB is likely to be the least impacted by the disruption, as the Bilsdale transmitter is one of a number within the networks. National multiplexes BBC National, D1 National, and SDL National are broadcast alongside the Teesside and North Yorkshire local multiplexes. For BBC and D1 national services, other transmitters in the area should provide some service. SDL National listeners will face more disruption, as this network uses fewer but larger transmitters.

Local DAB should still be available to most listeners, with listeners in northern fringe of the North Yorkshire multiplex most like to be affected. For all multiplexes, DAB transmitters broadcast using single frequency networks. As all transmitters use the same frequencies, your radio should automatically pick up the signals from other transmitters if signal is available.

This list is not comprehensive, and there may be other alternatives for receiving TV and radio, such as cable, satellite, and online.

Major Disruption Caused By Transmitter Fire

The Bilsdale West Moor television and radio transmitter is currently off-air due to a fire, causing major disruption to some services in North East England.

The transmitter broadcasts terrestrial TV (Freeview), FM and DAB radio to around 1 million people in the Teesside and North Yorkshire. A further post will follow explaining how these services are disrupted in more detail.

It is understood that problems were caused by a lightning strike, but it does not appear that this is the direct cause of the fire. The fire was first reported by an engineer working at the transmitter site, with North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service sending multiple engines to site.

Arqiva, the operator of the transmitter, are currently working on a temporary transmitter to restore services, but this will take time to complete. The temporary transmitter may need to operate at a lower power output, meaning a reduced coverage area.

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.

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+ for Talk Sport 2 and Talk Radio

Both Talk Sport 2 and Talk Radio have switched to DAB+ transmission on the SDL National DAB multiplex. Talk Sport 2 has made a direct switch, meaning some older DAB radios can no longer receive the service

Talk Radio has begun a period of dual transmission, with the new DAB+ service identified by a ‘+’ at the end of the station name. Dual transmission ends on 26th June, allowing some time for listeners to upgrade their radios if required.

Both stations have switched from 64 kbps mono, to 32 kbps DAB+ stereo. The use of stereo is unlikely to be of benefit as both services are talk based, but the changes free up additional space for new services, including the forthcoming Times Radio. Unlike some other DAB+ services which suffer from poor sound quality, Talk Radio and Talk Sport 2 do not appear to be affected in the same way.

Talk Radio, Talk Sport 2, and Times Radio are all operated by News UK’s subsidiary Wireless Group, who alos hold a 30% share in the SDL National DAB multiplex. SDL stands for Sound Digital Limited.