The U.K.'s coalition government has today (July 8) signaled its support for digital radio and the DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) system.

As Billboard.biz reported yesterday (July 7), culture minister Ed Vaizey is still aiming for digital switchover, which would see the analog FM and AM signals switched off.

But Vaizey has made clear that the previous Labour government's 2015 target date for switchover will not be imposed on the public, although it remains an aspiration.

Vaizey was interviewed on BBC Radio 4's "Today" program this morning and he is due to give a speech later, in which he will say that "digital radio is a huge opportunity for radio listeners and the radio industry alike."

"But we can't impose this on an unwilling public, no matter how persuasive the business case, or how clearly we know that analogue is already providing a barrier to growth and creativity," he will go on to say in the speech. "So listeners need to be persuaded that the content on offer is compelling, that the quality is high and that digital radios, at home or in the car, are affordable and have listening quality that is at least as good as FM."

The switchover date will be decided when more than half of radio listening hours are via digital platforms. In Q1 2010, audience research body RAJAR said 24% of all radio listening was digital. RAJAR said that within that 24%, DAB accounted for 15.1% of listening, digital TV was at 4% and the Internet accounted for 2.9%, while the remaining 2% was digital listening from an unspecified platform.

Listening via digital platforms has grown year on year - DAB was up from 12.7% of all listening in Q1 2009 - but there is still a long way to go to hit 50% of listening.

The commercial radio sector would largely welcome an early switchover, so it can avoid paying licenses for both FM and digital frequencies.

At present, the BBC is leading the way with digital-only services, including modern rock and alternative station BBC 6 Music. Planet Rock is a commercial service that is a digital-only, airing via DAB, digital TV and the Internet.

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