Addressing the Go Digital Conference in London, Vaizey unveiled a range of measures aimed at improving access to digital radio, including up to £21m of new investment from the BBC, government and commercial radio to improve digital radio coverage and government funding for Ofcom to develop ways for smaller radio stations to go digital, but he stopped short of announcing a switchover date.
“I absolutely believe that the future of radio in this country is digital. We cannot go backwards,” said Vaizey.
“The radio listener will get a much better service, and better functionality. There will be far more choice, with many more stations.
“This package of measures is intended to cement this and herald in a digital age, as and when the consumer is ready.”
The delay in pinpointing a switchover date was welcomed by a coalition of 81 national, regional and local commercial radio stations which was formed last month to highlight industry reservations over a government-enforced switchover.
According to the coalition, which comprises 14 separate commercial radio operators including Celador Entertainment, Quidem, UKRD and UTV Media, a radio switchover is not comparable to the TV digital switchover because it is not part of an internationally coordinated programme.
Paul Smith CBE, chairman of Celador Entertainment, said: “The government’s decision not to commit to switchover is very good news for listeners.
“We have always felt that broadcasters are best placed to understand the needs of their audiences and that platform investment decisions should rest with individual radio stations.”
Meanwhile, car audio products brand Halfords has announced that the company will cease selling analogue-only radios in 2014 and said customers are looking for more clarity on the digital switchover.
“Our customers tell us that they want more certainly on when the switchover will happen. Haldords is committed to a digital future and I am pleased to announce that we are planning for our audio offer to be 100 per cent digital by 2015.”
While Rajar Q3 2013 figures show that just 23 per cent of radio listening in the UK is done using DAB digital radio, the figure represented a 13 per cent year-on-year increase and showed that 51 per cent of the UK population tune into digital radio on a weekly basis.