There has been a debate about switching off VHF in Germany for years. Deutschlandradio director Stefan Raue has now given the topic new fuel. The conversion of German radio stations from VHF to DAB has become an increasingly urgent issue due to the increase in energy prices. “In the long run, we will not be able to afford two terrestrial means of transmission. The signs are clearer than two or three years ago,” Raue told dpa. “FM is an energy-guzzling machine.”
Deutschlandradio has been gradually expanding its DAB network for years. At the end of 2021, the station family used 149 DAB stations, by the end of 2022 it should be 161. The director did not give a date for the UKW switch-off at Deutschlandradio.
“The topic has become even more urgent due to the current crises and the immense price increases,” said Raue. “More and more private providers see it that way, plus the advertising market hasn’t gotten any easier for them either. Politicians and radio providers must therefore consider together how support for the switch can be organised.
However, VHF receivers are still widespread. According to the “Audio Digitization Report 2021”, 88.9 percent of German households have an analog FM radio. 27 percent of the households had a DAB radio for digital reception and 16.8 percent had an internet radio. .
Nevertheless, the trend is towards DAB. Figures from the Hemix (Home Electronics Market Index) published on Tuesday show a stable level of more than 2.1 million DAB devices sold in 2021. This is the previous record and again a slight increase compared to 2020, when a little more than 1.83 million DAB receivers were sold.
What can be heard so digitally and maybe even only digitally? According to Digitalradio Büro Deutschland, more than 300 radio programs are now available via DAB in different regions; including well-known program brands such as RTL Radio, Antenne Bayern, the Absolut Group and special interest formats from the provider Teutocast. A good 100 of these will be broadcast exclusively in digital format. With Brillux Radio and Absolut Germany, further offers will start in 2022.
The second national program platform has been on the air since October 5, 2020. With a nationwide transmitter infrastructure covering more than 70 locations, the 16 new private radio programs reach around 63 million listeners, especially in metropolitan areas. This corresponds to a population share of 83 percent.
With Sportradio Deutschland and the women’s program Femotion, Teutocast has two DAB formats at the start. Most recently, the DFB Cup final between Leipzig and Freiburg was broadcast live and in full. Good for those who traveled nationwide by car.
“For the first time in Germany, nationwide radio broadcasting and thus also national target group radio is possible via DAB. With Sportradio Deutschland we manage to reach all sports fans in Germany not only via Internet stream but also via radio and to transport the entire passion from the world of sports. That has never existed in Germany before,” says Erwin Linnenbach, CEO of Teutocast.
There are different regional water levels when it comes to DAB. Berlin/Brandenburg is relatively far from. Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (RBB) operates two platforms for Berlin and Brandenburg. In the Berliner Ensemble, programs from other ARD stations can also be heard. Overall, the capital has the largest range of DAB programs in Germany with over 80 programs, including many special offers. But it is also true that FM reception plays the most important role in the state of Brandenburg with 63 percent.
And what about Raue’s comment on the “energy guzzler” VHF? Can we continue to double track? Insiders point out that, assuming nationwide FM broadcasting were possible and if you compare the costs with nationwide DAB broadcasting, national DAB broadcasting would cost around one tenth of FM broadcasting.
Above all, representatives of private radio broadcasters had repeatedly resisted such a step in favor of Internet radio and DAB, also because they feared a drop in the reach of their advertising-financed programs and high conversion costs.