Pop-Up Radio Potential: Australia Gets It, UK Fails

Closeup of old radio

Radio is going digital all over the world – on DAB Digital Radio in Europe and Australia, HD Radio in the United States, and via television, satellite and the internet everywhere. One of the benefits of new digital platforms for radio is that the radio industry can launch new radio stations instantly. Unlike the old world of AM and FM, these stations can be added quickly without finding a new frequency or acquiring a new licence; and in most cases they can appear automatically to radio listeners on their receivers. They’re simple to promote, and add real listener choice.

You can’t have missed the coverage over the past few weeks about the News of the World phone hacking: coverage which continued this weekend accompanied by a number of high-profile resignations and an arrest. This coverage would undoubtedly benefit from a little more depth: details about the Murdoch empire, detail and biographical information about the people involved, and full, uninterrupted coverage of the relevant Commons Select Committees and Parliament discussions. And where best to do this but radio, the place that – even now – people rely on for news and commentary.

In Australia, the *ABC* have connected the above two statements – and embarrassing the rest of the world.

They’re launching a brand new, temporary ‘pop-up’ radio station, *ABC* UK Newsgate, on DAB and online. With archive material from the *ABC*, as well as live coverage, it’s an ideal additional choice for the Australian taxpayers who fund the ABC (NYSE: DIS), and a great way to promote the benefits of digital radio, on whatever platform.

I’m baffled that, even though the story is taking place in the UK, and even though radio here is more ‘multiplatform’ than anywhere else in the world, our own broadcasters – the BBC or commercial radio – have, once more, failed to grasp the benefits of temporary radio stations and the cross-promotional opportunities these represent.

In the UK, all the talk is about FM switchover. The government wishes to ensure promotion of digital radio and encourage more voices on the air; broadcasters are keen to avoid the costs of multiple transmissions (many radio stations are broadcast on four different platforms); if 50 percent of radio listening is via a digital platform by the end of 2013, the government promise to look at FM switchoff. Yet, once more, UK broadcasters have dropped the ball when it comes to effective, efficient promotion of digital radio – and offering a more in-depth service to those interested in the biggest media story for years.

On digital radio, Australia is covering a UK news story in more depth than we are in the UK. Should we in the UK merely be embarrassed, or be ashamed?

James is a radio futurologist and is managing director of Media UK. He blogs about the future of radio on his own website at james.cridland.net.

This article originally appeared in Media UK.

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