FAQs - Digital Radio for Community Broadcasters


Got more questions on digital radio? Get in touch. 

Why is digital radio currently only available to metropolitan community broadcasters in 5 capital cities?

The Federal Government announced the framework for the initial introduction of digital radio in 2005, following industry planning dating back to the 1990s.

The stages of introducing digital radio services is determined by Government framework. Following a review of digital radio in 2015, the Government established an industry-wide Digital Radio Planning Committee for Regional Australia, chaired by the ACMA and including CBAA representation, to plan for the continuing roll out of digital radio to regional Australia.

The CBAA has consistently advocated for affordable access and participation for community broadcasters on all available broadcast platforms. This will continue through the digital radio planning processes, including funding support for digitisation throughout the development and introduction of digital radio.

Affordable access to the digital free-to-air broadcast platform for community broadcasters has long-standing cross-party policy support. This is important because experience has shown that where digital radio is rolled out, community radio listeners will follow and if we are not there, listeners will not be able to find their favourite stations.

What’s happening with the roll out of digital radio to regional Australia?

CBAA submissions to the Government's Spectrum Review and Digital Radio Review articulate the value of community radio services in providing media diversity, local content and information and argue the case for access to all available broadcast platforms for community radio services.

This has ensured the sector's participation in regional planning for digital radio and the platform will continue to be rolled out nationally in a staged approach. The introduction of a new radio broadcasting technology platform requires rolling industry investment and the incremental take up of new technologies. The CBAA will continue to advocate for funding to support regional development and the expansion of community digital radio services.

The CBAA’s Digital Radio Project (DRP) has facilitated the addition of services outside of the initial five capital cities into Hobart, Canberra and Darwin in 2019, and the Gold Coast in 2023. Small scale trials for Sydney sub-metropolitan services will continue to be tested in 2023.

Who currently gets digital radio funding and what is it used for?

Current funding for digital community radio supports 50 community radio licensees operating 57+ services across the 8 capital cities where DAB+ broadcasting is available – Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane, Hobart, Darwin and Canberra. Three additional stations also begun broadcasting on the Gold Coast in 2023.

Government funding helps to ensure community digital radio services are available free-to-air for listeners and on a basis that is affordable to community broadcasters. The funding is specifically targeted at broadcasting costs, and contributes to digital platform and infrastructure costs for encoding, data linking, multiplexing and transmission. This includes costs for digital radio multiplexing and transmission,  with transmission facilities shared with commercial broadcasters.  Transmission access costs are subject to Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) pricing principles. Other costs include station support and training, infrastructure planning and project management, administration and legal costs.

Each station covers its own expenses for digital content services, production and studio costs. Since 2016/17, stations make financial contributions to digital platform infrastructure and transmission costs, covering a growing share of costs themselves.

How do digital community broadcast licensees access digital radio transmission?

As digital radio is broadcast from a multiplex transmitter where multiple station signals are broadcast simultaneously in a stream of data, individual stations do not need to operate their own transmitters. Instead, a station’s signal is digitised at the station and then sent to the multiplex transmitter site via a dedicated network link. Federal legislation allows community broadcasters to transmit digital radio services by accessing a portion of a multiplex transmitter. The multiplex transmitters used by community broadcasters are shared with commercial radio stations, in accordance with the legislation that eligible community licensees can access up to two-ninths of the multiplex capacity. As there are varying numbers of community licensees sharing this capacity in each city, the exact amount of capacity available to each station dynamically varies.

Why does the funding need to be ongoing?

Ongoing, targeted funding support is required by community broadcasters to support access to digital transmission on an affordable basis and their role in providing local broadcast  services and information. In start-up stages, digital radio does not generate revenue to cover its costs and this requires long-term business planning and adaptation from stations.

Does maintaining current funding levels matter to stations not already broadcasting on digital radio?

Yes. Keeping the existing community digital radio services on air is critical to ensure community radio is included in planning for the roll out of digital radio in regional areas and to ensure access and funding support for regional community broadcasters.

The CBAA has for many years had a clear policy position to support access for all community broadcasters on all available broadcast platforms. Its absence from any platform would impact on our sector’s standing alongside commercial broadcasters and the ABC and SBS, and the choice of radio services available to the community.  

If excluded, our ability to reach listeners in our communities, and continue to provide diverse and local programming, will be compromised as digital radio broadcasting is extended to regional locations and listeners move to digital radio receivers. 

What about broadcasting online?

Many stations already provide online audio streaming services. The CBAA holds a policy position that supports the introduction of legislation to require mobile networks and internet service providers to provide un-metered delivery of licensed radio broadcast services. As media digitisation develops this will enable all Australians to have access to primary radio services in digital form.

When will analogue radio services be switched off?

Although the finalisation of analogue services is underway in countries such as Norway (2017), Switzerland (2020 - 2024) and the UK looking to switch off after the 50% listenership trigger, ACMA is not currently setting a timetable for analogue radio switch off in Australia. The DAB+ platform in Australia supplements analogue radio broadcasting services under current Federal Government policy, alongside online radio technologies.

The EU has recently mandated all new car radios to include free-to-air digital radio. Since December 2020, the European Electronic Communications Code to require all new car radios sold in the EU be capable of receiving free-to-air digital radio has been effected into national legislation.

For further information please contact the Digital Radio Project at the CBAA on 02 9318 2999 or [email protected]