EXCLUSIVE: As the roll out of the National Broadband Network (NBN) stalls, executives in the radio industry are calling on the Federal Government to now turn their attention to part funding a national Digital Radio Network (DRN).Joan Warner the head of Commercial Radio Australia believes that the Federal Government has got to commit immediately, to investing in the expansion of digital radio in Australia with funds allocated to expand digital radio beyond metro Australia, in the 2013 budget and beyond.
Warner, believes that Digital Radio can co-exist with Internet radio which is already available on millions of Smartphones, PCs and TVs.
She said “the Federal Government needs to get television in Australia off their current spectrum and it needs to be allocated to radio sooner than later. We need to see money allocated to future budgets for the expansion of digital radio outside of metropolitan areas,” she said.
At a press launch today for several new Pure digital radios, senior industry executives admitted that digital radio reception in Australia was still “scrappy” and that the service in metropolitan areas still had major “black spots. The same executives also had trouble tuning into digital radio stations on their new digital radio devices despite being in the heart of the Sydney CBD.
Earlier this week BMW Australia announced that starting in May 2011, DAB+ will be available as an option on its 5 Series and 7 Series automobiles. However industry executives believe that BMW could end up with a lot of “dissatisfied” customers based on the current digital radio service.
Rob Thompson the General Manager of Pioneer Electronics, the distributor of the Pure digital radio brand in Australia, said: “I think BMW could have some dissatisfied customers when an executive leaving Melbourne for a weekender in Lorne suddenly finds his new DAB+ radio has died half way through his trip”.
According to Warner several automotive companies are set to launch DAB+ radio this year. She also told SmartHouse that penetration of Digital Radio in Australia had now hit 817,000 listeners according to new Nielsen Research.
“The Federal Government needs to set a timeframe for the expansion of digital radio in Australia, they need to fund it to all populated areas outside of metropolitan Australia and they need to get this project moving concurrently, with other spectrum issues they are currently addressing. We need to see an allocation of funds for this project in the 2013 budget”.
“At the same time the radio industry has to work out how they are going to fund their part of it,” she said.
Warner said that Commercial Radio Australia was currently conducting test in 11 Sydney Metro areas and that a master plan was currently being developed for presentation to the Federal Government.
“We do not want to see a digital divide between metropolitan Australia and other populated areas. The regulator needs to be given the resources and the funding and we need to present our plan to the Federal Government,” she said.
At today’s Pure launch Global Sales Director, Peter Blampied, said that in Europe, several countries were already looking at turning off their analogue AM networks, a move that Warner claims is premature in Australia.
Len Wallis, the CEO of Len Wallis Audio in Sydney, said that the majority of his Digital Radio customers listened to talkback radio, ABC stations and that Digital Radio is under threat from Internet Radio.
Wallis said that “Long term digital radio could disappear, it’s going to be a case of dog eat dog as the local radio stations compete with thousands of Internet radio stations. Over time Digital Radio could become redundant as subscription services are made available over Internet radio devices. The lack of content services like Rhapsody is hurting the industry. ”
As part of their launch, Pure today introduced Australia to FlowSongs, a cloud based music service that allows users to tag tracks playing on any FM, digital or internet radio station and then buy the sound track via their digital radio.