Can anyone tune into Radio Four?

Perhaps the BBC no longer approve of me as a listener, as well as disliking my views as a contributor. I have found it increasingly difficult to pick up Radio 4 on FM at home. I have to put the radio in a contorted position and turn the volume up full to get some sound out of the machine. Yes that’s with new batteries, and at a time when other channels would blow my ears off at full volume.

Friends with digital radios are not finding them very good at delivering a good signal either , and they of course prevent you hearing the cricket on 198.

Are the BBC deliberately wrecking the FM signal to force people to try digital? Is digital compression now so compressed that nothing is going to work? Why does Radio 4 on my car radio regularly get interrupted with interference? I usually find modern technology is better than old, and I look forward to the future being better than the present. When it comes to digital radio it seems to be bad followed by worse. The BBC is making itself unpopular by threatening all owners of older radios with the sack or forcing them to buy an expensive new radio they do not need or want. Now they seem to be compounding their felony by degrading the transmission of FM.

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33 Comments

  1. Peter Mc
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    On the upside, you won’t need to get mad at the Today programme anymore.

  2. LondonStatto
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    digital radios […] prevent you hearing the cricket on 198.

    But not on Five Live Sports Extra, which also has the benefit of not being interrupted by the Shipping Forecast.

  3. Stephen B
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    Not really the point of the article I know but…isn’t the cricket available on the DAB station of Five Live Sports Extra?

  4. Philip
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    TMS is on Five Live Sports Extra on digital radio!

  5. Acorn
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    Check for transmitter work, I presume you are on the Oxford transmitter. DAB radio is pretty good but we adopted an early system before the system was fully cooked. So buy a DAB radio JR, then buy shares in battery manufacturers.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/reception/transmitters/today.shtml

  6. alan jutson
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    Yes progress has a cost.

    Most car manufacturers are still installing the old technology radios in their current production vehicles.

    They (the existing non digital radios) will be useless in 5 years time when the signal is switched off.

    Perhaps we will have a scrappage scheme for old radios.

    Agree that FM seems now to have a poorer signal quality and strength. So enjoy FM while you can.

  7. Javelin
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 7:27 am | Permalink
  8. Kenneth Morton
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    Mr Redwood

    How about trying internet radio.

    Assuming you have access to broadband, for about £70 an internet radio will give you a choice of some ten thousand radio stations world wide. Reception is excellent .

    Never short of our money to spend, the BBC provides virtually all of its services over the internet, including Radio 4 on long wave and FM.

    Please do buy a set but not on House of Commons expenses!

  9. Guy Herbert
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    I find the best reception on FM Radio 4/World Service wanders around the frequencies depending on the time of day or night. Worse, where I live in central London there is continual swooping whooping interference from pirate urban music stations during the day. I’m 3 minutes walk from Broadcasting House, so you would hope the BBC might care.

  10. jean baker
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    John,

    The interference you’re suffering is widespread, but biased/misleading ‘news’ is always exempt, proving your logic is correct.

    The aim seems to be enforced diversion – ‘digital’ being a vastly profitable enterprise for elected providers.

  11. Simon_c
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    Personally, I’ve never got an FM radio to work well at home, only in the car.
    And at home, I never have any problem with the DAB radio the other half won in a competition a couple of years ago.
    I’ve not noticed any drop in the FM quality on my normal commute…

    Standard IT response #1: “Have you turned it off and on again”
    Standard IT response #2: “Must be user error ” 🙂

  12. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    How frustrating for you – you probably missed the hilarious discussion (confrontation) between Joe Ashton and Quentin Letts.

  13. oldrightie
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    FM frequency channel sales were to fill a black hole in Jim’s economic failure. Now the peanuts they will offer for the mess he’s got us in will have already been spent on entertainment costs at Chequers. Still The PR budget can be scapped if we are all unable to tune in!

  14. Julian
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    From what I understand DAB is not the best digital radio technology system but the UK has gone with it anyway. DAB reception is not better than FM and is not tuned instantly like FM is. Hopefully it will improve but for now its a backward step and it does’nt work in Europe of course.

  15. Charlie Dee
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    My experience exactly! Especially Radio 3.

    And what about the Open Golf not being broadcast in High Definition?

    Wimbledon was, for a whole fortnight.

    Presumably those grossly overpaid, left-leaning BBC executives who spend their summers in their Tuscan villas playing tennis with their grossly overpaid, left leaning chums from the Guardian have a stereotypical view of golfers as right wing fanatics. Hence no High Definition for them!

    Or is it simply that these BBC plonkers have decided to fund their vast pension pots at the expense of golf fans?

  16. Beacon
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    No such problems here in the home counties, certainly not whist driving. At home I just use Sky to tune in, the internet is less reliable.

    There again, most of the time it gets switched off as I’m no longer able to listen to some of the rubbish put on it.

    I think after 40 yrs of listening to radio 4 it’s just habit now. Thank heavens for the mute button.

  17. Brian E.
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    If we want a “green” environment, the change to DAB is one of the worst possible decisions which could be made. All existing radios will become useless, not only the simple portable radios, but bigger units which include CD players and tape desks together with bedside radio alarm clocks & car radios. These will all need to be scrapped (hazardous waste?) and no doubt Taiwan and China will be very pleased to supply the new DAB units. They are also “power hungry” and between them will no doubt use more power than will be saved if we all stopped leaving our TVs on standby as being urged by the government. All this in the week that Milliband announced the new power saving measures we will need to meet our carbon targets! As usual, one hand in government doesn’t seem to know what the other is doing!
    By and large, the quality of DAB is falling, as higher compression is introduced to cram more channels in the same space. We were promised CD quality originally, but they have steadily reduced the quality of the audio streams and it is now unlikely to be of acceptable quality to music enthusiasts..
    And all mainly because the Government hopes to sell off the radio spectrum for other commercial purposes as it did with the old Band I TV channels.
    It is worth looking at http://www.digitalradiotech.co.uk/ to get the anti-DAB view.

  18. MartinW
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    You are quite right. In some parts of the country, the signal strength is rather poor for Radio 4 and 3 FM, and it can be very low for R3. When I have encountered this, I have on a few occasions checked to see how Radios 1 and 2 fare (I never tune in to these stations otherwise). Well, it is no surprise that the signal strength is always found to be immense for R1 and R2 by comparison. It is clearly deliberate policy by the BBC.
    For me, Long Wave gives the most reliable signal for R4 in the house, though I would like it to be a stronger signal.

  19. Martin
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Well John on my DAB radio I have far more radio stations than I do on FM. The extras you will be pleased to hear are commercial stations!

    Regarding sound quality I reckon that for basic radio DAB is better than FM. Music enthusiasts with more expensive set ups will doubtless prefer FM due to the sound quality. Essentially there is a trade off between sound quality and number of stations. In Denmark (on the same DAB system as we have) there are less stations but higher quality audio.

    Regarding your Radio 4 problems this might be down to transmitter work or interference from domestic appliances either in your own or a nearby property which have developed a fault. Another issue can be outside FM aerials which have been damaged by the wind or even aerial cables which might have become frayed. Also keeping other electrical equipment a few feet away from FM radios does no harm.

    There is of course the other somewhat embarrassing scenario that the radio has been tuned to a weaker FM transmitter than normal. This scenario does have an upside – it is easier and cheapest to fix!

  20. Freeborn John
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    A lot of fuss is made about compression on digital radio, but the audio quality of BBC Radio 4 on digital is a lot better than on FM. However, as with all digital technologies, the signal is either working or not working, and i do find (in Bracknell) that even with the antenna raised to maximum, i have to move the digital radio around to find a spot where the reception works.

    Internet radio has perfect reception and allows you to listen to your favourite BBC Radio 4 programs at a time of your choosing. It also allows you to listen to some overseas equivalents of Radio 4, such as National Public Radio (NPR) from the USA or ABC radio from Australia.

  21. Baldwin
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    FM is performing well here, but so it should given that we have a local transmitter visible from our bedroom window.

    I am unimpressed by DAB and the recent recommendation to discontinue FM is ridiculous. However the reports’s author also screwed up NTL, so what do you expect?

    I hope Tory policy is to kick the proposal into the long grass.

    On the other hand, we would like digital TV but our local Lambourn transmitter, also visible from the house, won’t be converted until 2012. Apparently local repeater transmitters have low priority.

    In the meantime, the analogue signal has deteriorated noticeably of the past year and there are vertical bars on BBC2.

  22. Richard Holloway
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    If the Government does intend to switch off the analogue radio signal and go completely digital in 2015 have they considered the thousands of ships around the UK that rely on their radios to get the shipping forecast?

    Or do they intend to broadcast DAB out into the seas? Somehow I doubt it. DAB coverage at the moment is patchy at best and to broadcast it out into the seas would be very expensive.

    It seems the Government wants to ‘go digital’ just so they can seem like they’re ‘down with the kids’.

  23. no one
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Radio 4? Radio middle class more like

    Listening to the today programme grates me so much, it really does take a lot of filtering to strip out the cosy middle class attitudes so prevalent, and their condescending attitudes if they happen to get anyone with a working class accent or job on the show

    Just a minute can be fun, but is a pale imitation of itself since Kenneth Williams died (am I really getting this old)

    I find talksport late night radio is very good

    as is planet rock

    Yea in the home DAB with a decent antenna is the only way to go, or listen via internet, or indeed the radio transmission via freeview is better quality than DAB (you can get a cheap freeview box and hook it up to an amplifier and speakers, you don’t need a TV)

  24. Mike Stallard
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    My FM seems OK for Radio 4.
    I have just been listening to the Homophobe Conservative Pole who made a tactless remark about Gay Men round about the same time as you mimed the Welsh National Anthem.
    People have such long memories for that kind of thing, don’t they?
    If only they could also remember the history of the Labour Party. President Anthony Blair is to be appointed, by the Will of the British People, to be the First Citizen of the European Union. And, his Lady Wife, Cherie, to be First Lady, courtesy of Lady Kinnoch and her consort, Lord Neil who so successfully stamped out corruption for so many years in the European union.

  25. Alan Wheatley
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    FM coverage is not consistent throughout the country, a factor not unique to FM, and certainly not to R4. When twenty years ago I lived at Arborfield, a few miles away from Wokingham, I had difficulty reliably obtaining a good FM signal, despite having a very good aerial on the roof. It all depends on how far away you are from the transmitter and the lie of the land in between.

    It also depends on atmospheric conditions, as these can affect how well the radio wave travels. Sometimes, when propagation is very good, there is an additional problem of interference from other stations. I believe, on these occasions, the transmitter power is reduced to minimise interference. While being a desirable technique overall, it can result in poorer reception for some. Such abnormal conditions do not last for long.

    In my experience the BBC do provide a good service giving reception advice. You should be able to find a link on their web site, and also the means to make a complaint about poor reception if you so wish.

  26. Alan Phillips
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    If you’ve a digital tv, just switch it onto 704 and the jobs done, do what I do, get some cordless headfones and you can go anywhere in the house..

  27. FatBigot
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    In London and much of the south east Radio 4 long wave programmes are also broadcast on 720 medium wave.

  28. StevenL
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

    You’ll be offered a slot on the next installment of “Grumpy Old Men” going on like this John!

  29. sm
    Posted July 19, 2009 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Using a freeview box for radio only , would still probably require a TV license as you would need to tune the box in and it may autotune the TV channels requiring a license.

    If you use the internet for the radio, i believe you would not need a license nor for non live tv.

    I suspect the BBC empire builders will be seeking new digital taxes & new revenue streams to fund itself.

    Where is the Public interest having £4bn by taken by force, by a tax from the public for a service many would choose not to pay for. How about a much smaller (divide by 10) Public service broadcaster with a narrower remit.

    Alternatively, the BBC should be allowed to go broke and a new public provider be setup with a much lower tax take.

    With all other taxes going up significantly..PERHAPS… BBC largesse should be somewhere near the bottom. Think of the top salaries & pension funds being paid for and who is paying them. Competition is but only a worst nightmare for them , its reality for the rest for us.

    Salaries need to be capped and attached to appropriate external or civil service grades in the public service. Perhaps they should be a set maximum of the median salary.

  30. sm
    Posted July 19, 2009 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Using a freeview box for radio only , would still probably require a TV license as you would need to tune the box in and it may autotune the TV channels requiring a license.

    If you use the internet for the radio, i believe you would not need a license nor for non live tv.

    I suspect the BBC empire builders will be seeking new digital taxes & new revenue streams to fund itself.

    Where is the Public interest having £4bn by taken by force, by a tax from the public for a service many would choose not to pay for. How about a much smaller (divide by 10) Public service broadcaster with a narrower remit.

    Alternatively, the BBC should be allowed to go broke and a new public provider be setup with a much lower tax take.

    With all other taxes going up significantly..PERHAPS… BBC largesse should be somewhere near the bottom. Think of the top salaries & pension funds being paid for and who is paying them. Competition is but only a worst nightmare for them , its reality for the rest for us.

    Salaries need to be capped and attached to appropriate external or civil service grades in the public service. Perhaps they should be a set maximun/multiple of the median salary.

  31. Ross Warren
    Posted July 20, 2009 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    The troposphere is the problem; in fact a lot of people suffer occasional poor signals for dab and even satellite transmissions. Its almost always worse in “good” weather.
    The term atmospheric ducting exactly describes the problem. Basically the signal gets bounced around in the atmosphere and less gets through resulting in poor or even non existent signals.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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