FAQs - Digital Radio for Listeners

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What are the benefits of digital radio?

The key benefits for listeners are improved sound quality and greater choice due to the increase in the number of digital services. Some digital radio receivers can also provide pause and rewind functions and on-screen information. Screens can convey programming information such as artist and track titles, program schedules, local weather and information concerning station events and activities. Tuning is also easier as stations are identified by name rather than frequency. There are no subscription fees or sign up, and no drain on battery for mobile devices that are DAB+ enabled. 

How can I listen to digital radio?

You will need to purchase a DAB+ digital radio. New vehicles on the market currently offer DAB+ radio, with DAB+ in-car adapters available also. The DAB+ chip is starting to be integrated into smart phones & tablets, with LG launching the first models for the Australian market last year, in April 2016. Electronic retailers across Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, Sydney, Canberra* and Darwin* currently stock DAB+ radio devices. (*Low transmission test areas)

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 first stage of introducing digital radio services was determined by the Government’s framework and is ongoing in five capital cities. 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 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 it is expected that digital radio will commence in several areas outside of the current capital cities to include Canberra, Hobart and Darwin in 2017 - 2018. Consultations are now underway with stations in these areas and the planning process will continue for the expansion of digital radio services. (See further information on regional planning in the question above on why digital radio is only currently available in 5 capital cities.)

The introduction of a new radio broadcasting technology platform requires a staged approach for industry investment and the incremental take up of new technologies. Digital radio listening now represents 27% of all radio listening in the capital cities where it is available. The CBAA will continue to advocate for funding to support regional development and the expansion of community digital radio services.

Who is listening to digital radio? 

There are currently 36 community digital radio stations broadcasting 40+ services in five capital cities: Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. Digital radio service trials are being conducted in Darwin and Canberra. Currently 27% of radio listening is by way of DAB+ digital radio, averaging out to 11.3 hours a week.[1] Community sector research echoes these CRA figures with 26.5% of community radio listening averaging out to 13.7 hours a week.[2] Listener numbers are around the 3.6 million, with over 2.9 million digital radio receivers out on the Australian market to date.[3]

What is a ‘pop up’ or ‘special event’ broadcast?

The flexibility & dynamic of digital radio technology, means it can be utilised to highlight special events & seasons in the community radio cultural calendar. The ‘pop up’ or ‘special event’ broadcasts are live for temporary amount of time, as an alternative to regular programming. For example a Christian service in Melbourne created a seasonal pop up service Light Christmas. Aboriginal & Torres Strait Island and First Nations broadcasters collaborated on two pop up broadcasts, Radio Survival & Radio NAIDOC. Specialist music & educational broadcasters collaborated on a pop up for International Women’s Day - Girls to the Mic. More recently ethnic broadcasters presented Unity In Diversity highlighting the cultural diversity of the sector. 

How does digital radio broadcasting (DAB+) work?

Digital radio broadcasting (DAB+) is a transmission platform, and differs to AM and FM radio. DAB+ utilises an audio compression encoding system called AAC+ to transmit data (a digital program stream). Digital radio receivers are able to receive and decode the digital program stream, which you can then hear and, on compatible receivers, also see program and station related metadata or text & image information displayed on small screens.

Can I receive AM & FM on digital radios?

Digital radio broadcasting (DAB+) is a transmission platform, and differs to AM and FM radio. DAB+ utilises an audio compression encoding system called AAC+ to transmit data (a digital program stream). Digital radio receivers are able to receive and decode the digital program stream, which you can then hear and, on compatible receivers, also see program and station related metadata or text & image information displayed on small screens.

Does digital radio cost anything?

Digital radio is a free to air broadcast platform like FM or AM broadcasting. Once a receiver is bought (varying from $30 – $300 on average) there are no on going costs, subscriptions or fees. 

Is internet radio the same as digital radio?

Internet radio uses a stream of data accessed through a connection to the internet via a computer, mobile device or or an internet enabled radio. Digital radio is terrestrially broadcast from a transmission site and received by DAB+ enabled receivers. Digital radio is a free to receive broadcast platform and does not require an internet connection but does require a digital radio receiver or a DAB+ enabled mobile phone. 

Can I listen to DAB+ in my car? 

Yes – if your car is fitted with DAB+ radio, and within the DAB+ broadcast metro areas. 31% of all new vehicles sold in Australia now have DAB+ radio with it becoming standardized for new Toyota Camry, Ford Focus & Nissan X-Trail. 652,000 vehicles with DAB+ have been sold since the start up digital radio.[4] For more accurate mapping visit the Digital Radio Plus website page regarding DAB+ broadcast areas.

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. More information outlining the current Government position regarding radio broadcasting can be found in the Digital Radio Report, released by the Department of Communications in July 2015.

For further information please contact the Digital Radio Project at the CBAA on 02 9318 2999 or email drp@cbaa.org.au


[1] GfK CRA, December 2016, Digital radio listening. All stations 27.0%, 11.3 hours per week

[2] NLS National Listener Survey, McNair Ingenuity, October 2016. Community digital radio listening 26.5%, 13.7 hours per week

[3] CRA December 2016 and GfK Point of Sale DAB+ Fusion Report

[4] Glass’s Automative Business Intelligence Q2 2016