The U.K. government's Department of Culture, Media and Sport has established a taskforce to assist in the nationwide transition from analog to digital radio.

The Digital Radio Working Group will comprise key stakeholders including Ofcom, Britain's communications industries' independent regulator; the BBC; and representatives from commercial radio and consumer groups.

"Digital radio offers more choice to consumers and the British radio industry is leading the world in the transition to digital. There would be great advantages for both consumers and business to completing that transition, but there are also a number of obstacles," comments culture secretary James Purnell in a statement.

Purnell adds, "I have asked the group to develop a consensus about whether, how and when those obstacles could be overcome."

The face of the U.K.'s digital radio sector is undergoing rapid change. Britain currently has 18 national digital radio stations, a figure that will rise to 26 from July 2008 when the 4 Digital Group starts broadcasting on its "multiplex" license.

The working group plans to meet regularly in 2008, and will report back late in the year.

Ofcom, meanwhile, is backing the protection of a minimum amount of local radio programming, as one of several bottom-line statements contained in its "Future of Radio" report, published today.

Ofcom proposes all FM local radio stations provide at least ten hours of locally-made programming each weekday (including breakfast), and at least four hours on Saturdays and Sundays.

Smaller stations may be able to share a large proportion of this programming (outside breakfast) with other nearby stations, Ofcom notes. Outside of locally-made programming requirements, it says stations may choose to broadcast network programming for a maximum of three hours a day during weekdays at day time and more at weekends.

Ofcom is also recommending to the British government a simplification of current ownership rules applying to radio, which it claims would allow for further consolidation within the industry while protecting plurality within local commercial radio.

RadioCentre, the body that represents U.K. commercial radio, says it "broadly welcomed" Ofcom's announcement. Andrew Harrison, chief executive of RadioCentre, added, "We look forward to understanding the full detail in due course".

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