The Brits are switching off AM – should we panic?

Radio Tomorrow with James Cridland

This month will be another month of headlines about the end of radio – and this time it’ll be the British you can blame.

You’ll be familiar with the end of radio. All last year we heard about Norway, who has switched off FM broadcasting for almost all stations, replacing it with DAB+.

This time, the British are doing their best to give the press an excuse for an unhelpful headline: the BBC are turning off thirteen AM transmitters across England for their Local Radio stations. (The commercial stations aren’t going anywhere.)

There’s a lot of misconception about what’s going on in Europe, so perhaps I might clear things up a little.

The European radio landscape is the most multiplatform anywhere in the world. As an example, we could take BBC Radio Humberside, one of the stations that is due to lose its AM transmitter. It’s a news and talkback station in the North of England, broadcasting to an area of 760,000 people (and achieving a market share of 11%).

BBC Radio Humberside is on 1485 AM, and also on 95.9 FM. It’s on broadcast television as an audio channel (on channel 722); it’s on Radioplayer and the BBC iPlayer app, and it’s on DAB Digital Radio.

DAB Digital Radio is where one of the misconceptions comes in. While North America thinks of “digital radio” as being purely online, Europeans and Australians know it as another broadcast platform. DAB is almost exactly the same as AM and FM – it’s broadcast radio, received on a little box with an antenna. You don’t need a mobile phone, a data plan, or a SIM card. It’s just broadcast radio – radio as you know it.

As you can see from the above, therefore, losing the 1485 AM transmitter for BBC Radio Humberside is not, quite, the seismic shift that the doom-mongers would want you to get all concerned about. The station is still available on a number of other platforms.

Indeed, my strategy for any radio station I’ve worked with is to get their live station on as many loudspeakers as possible. While I regularly criticise the TuneIn app, stations should be there, as well as their own national aggregator app and as many other platforms as they can possibly be.

I don’t think the future for AM is particularly bright, I have to say – it’s harder and harder to get AM sets these days, they sound pretty rubbish for music, and in metro areas they are plagued with interference.

However, switching off AM is not the end of the world in the UK and many other countries: because listeners have many different ways of tuning in. As long as we regularly remind them of that, the loss of a seldom-listened-to, inferior transmission platform probably isn’t going to cause too many issues.


About The Author

James Cridland, the radio futurologist, is a conference speaker, writer and consultant. He runs the media information website and helps organise the yearly Next Radio conference. He also publishes, a daily briefing on podcasting and on-demand, and writes a weekly international radio trends newsletter, at

Contact James at [email protected] or @jamescridland






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