19 July 2021

A small-scale revolution for local radio

  • Innovative technology to bring over 500 hyper-local stations to the digital airwaves
  • New services to launch in all four nations of the UK
  • Further licences to be awarded later this year

Thousands of listeners right across the UK are set to enjoy a richer and wider range of radio programming thanks to an innovative new technology called small-scale DAB.

Pioneered by a spectrum planner, small-scale DAB provides a low-cost way for local commercial, community and specialist music services to take to the digital airwaves.

25 small-scale DAB licences will allow 500 new local radio stations to launch.

Since February, Ofcom has planned the airwaves and awarded small-scale DAB licences in 25 areas across the UK. With the first round of awards now complete, these licences have the potential to allow the launch of over 500 new local radio stations

Some of the hundreds of new stations set to launch on small-scale DAB are existing analogue community and small commercial radio services. Many others will be completely new - ranging from grass-roots community services to boutique specialist music stations, and services aimed at minority groups and other under-served audiences.

Ofcom will award further small-scale DAB licences in the North West of England and North East Wales later this year.

Kevin Bakhurst, Ofcom’s Group Director, Broadcasting and Online Content said: "The rollout of this innovative technology will give listeners across the UK an unprecedented choice of locally produced content – serving communities and audiences across the country in a way never seen before. The UK’s commercial and community radio industry continues to go from strength.”

Find out about some of the new stations…

Stations launching in Newcastle and Gateshead.

In Newcastle and Gateshead, Tyneside Community Digital (TCD) will provide four local analogue community radio stations (Radio Tyneside, Nova Radio, LGBQ station Pride FM, and Asian service Spice FM) all of which will be able to broadcast via DAB for the first time.

The line-up is also set to include a new North East-based dance music station, Frisk Radio;  Hindu FM, a Newcastle-based faith based station aimed at the Hindu community; Anxious Minds Radio, a North East-based station raising awareness of mental health and providing self-help tools for its listeners; and Toon FM, providing news and discussion about all-things Newcastle United.

Richard Finch, one of TCD’s directors said: “Our application had been over a year’s hard work which involved existing FM community radio stations and a whole batch of new channels - most of which are in our locality. DAB radio has been embraced by listeners and it’s now the biggest platform that people tune to.”

“The service isn’t just about channels that already exist - we will be bringing new services to air including country music, podcasts, dance music and nostalgia. Most of these stations have never been on broadcast radio on Tyneside before.”

Stations launching in Sheffield and Rotherham.

The Sheffield and Rotherham licence was awarded to Shefcast Digital, a consortium of  local community radio broadcasters Sheffield Live!, Link FM and Redroad FM.

Planned new services on the  multiplex include Forge Radio (student radio from the University of Sheffield Students’ Union); Radio ADP (music and talk radio for Sheffield with a focus on the African diaspora community); It’s Folk Radio (folk music channel from Sheffield); and Mondo Radio (a Sheffield-based underground electronica music station).

Chair of Shefcast Digital, Steve Buckley, said: “Small-scale DAB in Sheffield and Rotherham will increase listener choice, respond to local interests and bring a range and diversity of new local, community and specialist services. For the many loyal listeners to our FM community radio stations it will also mean their favourite channel is finally available on DAB.”

Sangita Basudev, Chief Executive of Sheffield Live!, added: “Since we started as the first licensed community radio station in Sheffield we have always supported the aspirations of others to develop the local and community radio landscape. Through our social enterprise support scheme we are now working with local internet radio stations such as Rother Radio and Gumbo FM to bring them onto DAB, as well as creating some new services of our own.”

Stations launching in Dudley and Stourbridge.

In Dudley & Stourbridge, a small-scale multiplex has been awarded to local company, DigiMux. Planned services include Radio India Dudley; Gorgeous FM, an LGBT+ station for Birmingham and the Black Country;  and the chill-out station Skylab Radio.

DigiMux technical director, Nigel Ball, said: “The small-scale Dudley & Stourbridge licence will allow stations that are currently online only to broadcast terrestrially for the first time.”

Dave Brownhill, a director of Waterfront Media, which runs the local community radio station Black Country Radio said “We are delighted that DigiMux Ltd have been granted this licence by Ofcom. As a partner in this initiative, it means that Black Country Radio, alongside our new offering Black Country Xtra, will be available on DAB across the Black Country in the coming months.”

Notes to editors

  1. Since February, Ofcom has awarded licences for multiplexes in 25 local areas around the UK. A multiplex is the means by which DAB digital radio stations are broadcast. Between them, these multiplexes are expected to transmit around 500 digital radio services to local listeners.
  2. Ofcom has today announced the award of a further six small-scale radio multiplex licences, marking the completion of the first round of licensing. The awards have been made to the following applicants:
    • Alnwick and Morpeth – UK DAB Networks Limited
    • Bradford  – Bradford Digital Media Limited
    • Exeter –  ExeDAB Limited
    • Isles of Scilly - Like DAB Limited
    • North Birmingham – Switch Radio
    • South Birmingham – South Birmingham Digital Radio Limited
  3. The full list of small-scale radio  multiplex licences that have been awarded by Ofcom in Round One is as follows: Alnwick & Morpeth (UK DAB Networks); Basingstoke (UK DAB Networks); Bradford (Bradford Digital Media); Cambridge (Cambridge Digital Radio); Cardiff (Cardiff DAB); Clevedon, Avonmouth & Filton (Severnside Digital Radio); Derry/ Londonderry (Foyle DAB); Glasgow (Nation Digital Investments); Dudley & Stourbridge (DigiMux); East Bristol, Mangotsfield & Keynsham (Bristol Digital Radio); Edinburgh (Edinburgh DAB); Inverclyde (UK DAB Networks); Exeter (ExeDAB); Isles of Scilly (Like DAB); King’s Lynn (North Norfolk Digital); Leeds (Leeds Digital Media); Newcastle & Gateshead (Tyneside Community Digital); North Birmingham (Switch Digital); Norwich (Future Digital Norfolk); Salisbury (Muxcast One); Sheffield & Rotherham (Shefcast Digital); South Birmingham (South Birmingham Digital Radio); Tynemouth & South Shields (Mux One); Welsh Valleys (GTFM South Wales); and Winchester (UK DAB Networks). All successful applicants have 18 months from the date of licence award in which to launch their multiplex.
  4. Applications for licences being advertised in Round Two (PDF, 5.6 MB) must be submitted to Ofcom by 5pm on September 1st. A list of licence areas that Ofcom plans to advertise in Round Three later this year is available.

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