Monday 16 December 2013 11.29 GMT
The radio industry will have to wait for digital switchover after communications minister Ed Vaizey said on Monday that much had to be done before broadcasters could contemplate following television into an all-digital future.
Vaizey used a speech at the BBC's Broadcasting House in central London to announce a range of new measures to boost the fortunes ofdigital radio, including a new national multiplex – which will mean a host of new national digital stations – and improved digital audio broadcasting (DAB) coverage.
As expected, Vaizey did not announce a switchover date, with digital take-up slower than expected, accounting for just over a third of all radio listening.
The commercial radio trade body, the Radio Centre, had been pushing for a 2018 switchover date – when all national and most of the larger stations become digital only – but it remains to be seen if that will be achievable. Television completed its digital switchover last year.
Commercial radio companies are split between the (mostly) bigger groups keen to commit to switching, and many smaller stations who fear the move will imperil their future if they are left behind on FM, or struggle to adapt to the demands of DAB.
Vaizey said: "I absolutely believe that the future of radio in this country is digital. We cannot go backwards.
"The radio listener will get a much better service, and better functionality. There will be far more choice, with many more stations. The UK is at the forefront of developments in digital radio. This package of measures is intended to cement this and herald in a digital age, as and when the consumer is ready."
In other initiatives, a new digital "tick" mark will be used on approved digital radio sets, and the DVLA will include information about digital radio in all vehicle tax reminders, with the availability of digital radio in cars a key hurdle for switchover.
Ford Ennals, the chief executive of digital radio switchover body, Digital Radio UK, said: "We welcome the minister's confirmation of a digital future for radio in the UK and today's announcements about government investment in DAB coverage and the ability to launch new national stations on DAB, which benefit listeners and enable the switchover criteria to be met.
"We will continue to plan for a radio switchover and the achievement of the criteria, and look forward to the future confirmation of a switchover date which will give industry the certainty it needs. We also welcome government's announcement of the digital radio 'tick' mark, which means that consumers can make informed purchase decisions."
The BBC's director of radio, Helen Boaden, added: "We welcome today's announcement of the expansion of DAB coverage for BBC local stations over the next few years. By the end of 2015 our national network will also benefit from the addition of 162 new transmitters."