The U.K. government is reportedly preparing to confirm plans to switch off the analog radio network.

The previous Labour government had a target date of 2015, which looked increasingly hard to achieve given the slow take up of DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) sets by consumers.

Audience research body RAJAR said that by Q1 2010 more than one third of the population (17.7 million adults) lived in a household with access to a DAB set. However, it also showed that DAB accounted for only 15.1% of all listening in Q1 2010, based on a measure of total listening hours across the U.K.

According to the Daily Telegraph, culture minister Ed Vaizey will outline a timeframe for switchover to digital in a speech to the Consumer Electronics Conference tomorrow (July 8).

The paper may well be ready to marshal opposition to switchover from readers who are happy with their FM sets. The Telegraph reported that Lord Fowler, outgoing chairman of the House of Lords Communications Committee, warned that pressing ahead with digital switchover would be deeply unpopular.

Alison Wenham, CEO and chairman of AIM, told the indies trade body AGM last week that switching to DAB was potentially a "huge waste of money" and a "very British failure waiting to happen." There have been doubts expressed about the DAB technology and broadcast quality compared to DAB+, which has been adopted in Australia and some European territories.

DAB service BBC 6 Music was saved by the BBC Trust this week, which announced on Monday (July 5) it did not accept management proposals to shut the modern rock and alternative station. The U.K. music industry - including Wenham - had been vocal in its opposition to closure and support for the station by listeners also helped convince the Trust (governing body of the publicly funded broadcaster) to halt the closure plan.

The Trust said that management should instead draw up an "overarching strategy for digital radio."

Tim Davie, director of BBC Audio and Music, told Radio 4's "Media Show" today (July 7) that "the license fee payers have spoken," acknowledging that listeners made clear that 6 Music should stay during the public consultation on the closure.

However, he had previously backed the BBC plan to slim down its portfolio of radio stations to five core networks, with the aim to drive digital take-up with complementary services for its main brands. Davie talked today of Radio 4 Extra, which would involve a rebranding of the speech channel BBC7 with closer ties to Radio 4.

"We're going to have to make our digital offer more compelling," said Davie.

Davie previously rejected the idea of 6 Music becoming Radio 2 Extra - but that was when the plan for 6 Music was closure. The BBC management may well revisit the idea of making 6 Music a DAB extension to AC network Radio 2, especially as the Trust said this week it would consider any proposal for "a different shape" for the music stations.

BBC 6 Music, which has a weekly audience just over 1 million according to RAJAR, is also available online and via digital TV.

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