Greg Dyke: Digital Radio Has Become the iPod for the Over-Fifties ; Greg Dyke on Broadcasting

By Dyke, Greg | The Independent (London, England), January 24, 2005 | Go to article overview
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Greg Dyke: Digital Radio Has Become the iPod for the Over-Fifties ; Greg Dyke on Broadcasting


Dyke, Greg, The Independent (London, England)


ALL THE fuss about the success of Freeview and the news that there could well be more Freeview homes than BSkyB homes by the end of the year has meant that another BBC-inspired digital success story has hardly been noticed.

Three years ago digital radio (DAB) was stalled and didn't look like it was ever going to happen. The radio manufacturers were refusing to make digital radios until there were enough digital- only radio services available, and the broadcasters, led by the BBC, were refusing to spend money on new services until the radio manufacturers would commit to producing digital radios. It was a classic catch-22 situation.

Yet, in December, the number of people owning digital radios easily passed the million figure - more than double the number at the start of 2004 - and the figure is expected to double again this year and reach 7.3 million homes by the end of 2008.

So what changed? What ended the impasse? When the history of digital radio is written, one person should be identified as the saviour of DAB - an incredibly determined woman called Jenny Abramsky.

It was Jenny, as director of radio at the BBC, who, by force of personality alone, persuaded - some might say bullied - the BBC into spending pounds 18 million a year on a series of new radio stations, and millions more on marketing the concept of digital radio on TV, on posters and on analogue radio. Without Jenny, I doubt whether digital radio would actually have taken off at all, as there were many at the BBC who believed the project was unnecessary.

Mind you, there are some very odd things about DAB. It is probably the only digital appliance whose sales have been driven by older people. In many ways it's the iPod for the over-fifties, with the average age of someone buying a digital radio being 51. This is probably because the highest-profile digital-only station is BBC 7 - a speech-radio service playing the best of the Radio 4 library. The industry recognises this as a problem and the next generation of digital radios is likely to have features more attractive to the young, such as pausing and rewinding.

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