Martin Newell’s Joy of Essex: In the battle for the airwaves, it’s a victory for DAD over DAB

BBC Broadcasting house. Picture: ARCHANT

BBC Broadcasting house. Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

FM radio listeners, the newspaper item informed us last week, would not now have to go digital if bosses at the BBC get their way.

Bakelite radio. Picture: ARCHANT

Bakelite radio. Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

I breathed in. They have been beating us over the bonce with this for a decade or so now, ordering us all to either keep up or be left behind.

It was some time ago that someone at Bossy Boots Central decided that because they were switching off the FM transmitters, we’d all need to buy DAB radios. However, as the deadline neared, it became apparent most us hadn’t bothered.

The last chance to convert to DAB was 2015. What the BBC failed to understand was that DAB radio was never going to win the battle against DAD radio.

DAD radios are those paint-spattered, sticky-looking appliances which live in nearly everyone’s kitchen, garage or bathroom.

Degen Radio. Picture: ARCHANT

Degen Radio. Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

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Most of us, I am sure, when ordered to get rid of our beloved radios, said: “I’m not throwing my kitchen radio away and spending yet more money.”

More importantly, many drivers still have FM radios in their cars. The BBC’s plans have been foiled by a disappointing take-up. Fewer than 50% of us have converted.

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In my own case, if really pushed I would anyway have fled straight to an Internet radio, bypassing DAB.

The BBC are trying to put a brave face on their unexpected and costly defeat. They now say the future of radio may be “hybrid”.

Fisher Radio. Picture: ARCHANT

Fisher Radio. Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

Broadly, this can be interpreted as “OK, we won’t make you throw away your scruffy old DAD radios.” Actually, they have no choice. The people haven’t exactly spoken but the tacit response has been a traditional two-fingered one.

Bob Shennan, director of BBC Radio and Music, also asked last week: “How can we protect the critical radio space in cars when we need to work with suppliers to ensure that radio thrives as part of the connected dashboard?”

No. I didn’t understand it either. It sounded like classic W1A-style management waffle to me.

What the Beeb claim they want to do is to secure the future of radio. Well, they might begin by devising better daytime schedules.

Radio DAB. Picture: ARCHANT

Radio DAB. Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

Weekday mornings between 7am and midday are a disaster zone. Musically-hackneyed playlists spliced with presenter banalities fills one channel, neurotic news analysis drones over another, and grim, high-fibre classical music populates a third. Venture to BBC regional radio and you discover the money tree almost defoliated.

BBC Essex’s breakfast schedule, for instance, consists chiefly of phone-in contributions, amiably coddled along by Ben and Sonia. Today’s subject: Can you remember your gran’s old Co-op number? Seriously. Ask the people at the top and you’ll probably find them pleading poverty. Well, I could tell them right now how to save at least £2.2m a year, if they ever want to bring me in as a consultant.

Despite my harsh words, our national broadcaster remains, by the skin of its teeth, the best in the world.

But as long as my licence fee helps fund them, if I consider them to be making a pig’s ear of things I will dissect them as if they were a locust on a science table.

The facts remain: The suits in London make terrible decisions whilst we in the regions are treated like mud-bespattered peasants, to be lectured, patronised or starved of all but base-level resources.

Our refusal to junk working radios for expensive DAB ones may be just the start of the rebellion.

One of the things the Beeb have inadvertently done right is 6 Music. It’s not available on FM (naturally) but lots of music fans love it for its eclectic, adult approach to pop and rock.

Typically, not that long ago, someone at the top suggested closing it down. The seismic listener outcry may have coincided with the corporation’s realization a DAB defeat was looming, because they soon changed their minds.

Now, just to put a jaunty little tin hat on the debacle, they have the temerity to inform us they’ve decided that, for the time being, we can keep our white emulsion-speckled DAD radios. Gee. Thanks guys.

In case anyone thinks I hate the BBC, I don’t. However, I pay my licence fee nowadays mostly to listen to the radio, because I don’t watch much TV.

The BBC are still capable of making radio programmes that will move your very soul; and, sometimes, still do. They won’t criticise themselves, however. Nor will their book-plugging celebrity chums dare to bite the hand that feeds them. So it is up to old boot-boys like me to kick rudely at their door until they stop embarrassing themselves and, by default, the rest of us. Hybrid radio indeed.

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