Why can’t I get LBC or Xfm on DAB radio any more in my area?
STOP PRESS (14th Sept 2015): Read about where Xfm has gone and likely reasons why you can’t receive its successor, Radio X.
Two regional multiplexes have closed, which means there’s no room on their equivalent local multiplexes for either LBC or Xfm to fit on. The same problem applies to Real Radio XS, UCB and Gold in the North-East of England and Real Radio XS, UCB and local community station Mountain FM in South Wales and The West.
If you’re on the South Wales coast, it’s worth seeing if you can pick up Xfm from the North-Devon DAB transmitter. Chances are, the station won’t be broadcast in Devon forever, but if you’re missing your wake-up call, it’s worth a try.
The issue is also one of finances: it’s a large investment and a long contract duration for even the biggest station operators to place each of their brands on DAB, therefore they need to consider whether they’ll make enough revenue from advertising to justify the outlay. It’s easier to sell advertising when there’s an equivalent local FM station covering the same broadcast area as DAB, as listeners numbers will inevitably be higher. Unfortunately “niche” stations on DAB tend to have fewer listeners, particularly when they originate “out of the area”.
Consolidation, consolidation, consolidation – it’s what the radio industry is going through at the moment. Following today’s news that Bauer Media (of Key 103, Clyde 1 and Heat Radio fame) is acquiring Absolute Radio with a cornucopia of “decades” brands, let’s hope there’s room for a decent nationwide modern rock brand (with witty, real, live talking presenters, not voicetracked garbage and shallow links) to take the place of Xfm whose availability on digital radio is being cut back, due to a squeeze on the space now available on DAB thanks to the closure of two huge multiplexes with extensive coverage of the North-East of England and South Wales and the West of England.
Similarly, since the historical rebrand of Talk Radio to talkSPORT (and its more recent repositioning as a 24-hour nonstop football-and-other-sports talk station), LBC has stolen the baton from disenfranchised listeners and has been busily entertaining expats and hooked talk radio fans in Scotland, South Wales and the North-East for many years since the rolling news service DNN (remember that?) was dropped, as an alternative speech station needed to meet regional license requirements.
These two stations became quasi-national brands thanks to the rollout of regional DAB multiplexes and attracted a relatively small but extremely loyal following.
Way back in 2007 a second national commercial multiplex was advertised and 4DigitalGroup were awarded the license to operate stations such as the new talkRADIO, to sit alongside talkSPORT, and Original, an album-track-driven station from an overseas operator. Unfortunately, due to the economic downturn, plans for new radio stations were binned.
Had the regional multiplexes been extended to cover as wide an area as this proposed second multiplex, the stations on it might have attracted more listeners as a result of better and dependable coverage, and certainty for listeners that they’ll receive the same stations whether they live in South Wales or South Shields.
Fast forward to today – in this period of closures, consolidation and lack of clarity – and we have yet more uncertainty and confusion for loyal listeners than ever before. They don’t really care for the mechanics as to why they can no longer access their station on DAB, they just know it’s going to be a pain to switch to internet radio or a less-reliable app and will either turn off or look elsewhere for their audio entertainment.