Manchester radio revolution

Manchester’s thriving digital radio scene was celebrated at a special event attended by the city’s leading figures from BBC, commercial and community radio, which took place at Texture Bar in central Manchester on the evening on Thursday 8 December.

The event, named Doing the DAB, heard that in the last year forty new digital stations have launched in Manchester, including many new-to-air local start-up stations, taking the number of digital stations now available in the Manchester area to seventy six, more than double the number available last year.

The driving force behind the expansion has been the success of the Manchester Ofcom small-scale DAB multiplex, operated by Niocast Digital.  The multiplex, also known as a mini-mux, was launched in September 2015 and is one of ten across the UK that forms part of an extended trial by Ofcom and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

By January the Manchester mini-mux expects to carry twenty one digital stations, the most of any of the ten trial areas. Currently broadcasting on Niocast Digital’s Manchester mini-mux are new start-up stations including Max 80s, The Steve Penk Wind-Up Channel, MCR Live, Love 80s, Antenna Radio, Timeless Radio, Great Manchester Radio and Manchester Cathedral Radio, and Niocast Digital Operations Director, David Duffy, announced that two further stations are set to launch in January 2017.

In September, Ofcom published a report deeming the small-scale DAB trials as ‘highly-successful’ and is now working with Government to develop a framework for a permanent licensing regime.

The event heard from a number of broadcasters who run stations on the Manchester mini-mux including Chris Stevens, founder of Chris Country; John Ryan, Chairman at Gaydio  and founder of Max 80s; Julian Guest, Director of Unity Radio; and BBC Radio Manchester presenter, Mike Shaft who pioneered Manchester Cathedral Radio.

Manchester’s main local DAB radio multiplex carries eleven services including BBC Radio Manchester, Bauer ‘s Key 103, 2 and 3 and Global’s Capital Manchester and Heart North West.

The multiplex, operated by CE Digital, is at full capacity and Jason Bryant, Executive Chairman of Nation Broadcasting, called for Ofcom to advertise a second Manchester-wide multiplex.

Speaking at the event, Mr Bryant said: “Manchester is one of the leading radio cities in the UK but is restricted by the lack of capacity available for new stations to launch. The existing local DAB multiplex is full as is the Manchester mini-mux so there is nowhere to go. London has three local DAB multiplexes and there is definitely demand for a second local DAB multiplex in Manchester.”

With content for BBC 6 Music and Radio 5 Live as well as BBC Radio Manchester being produced in Manchester and broadcast on DAB, Manchester is a significant BBC hub for digital radio in the UK, and Kate Squire, Managing Editor of BBC Radio Manchester, described the impact digital radio is having in Manchester.

Ford Ennals, CEO of Digital Radio UK, said that radio in Manchester represents the UK’s digital future: “Manchester is a role model for the future of UK radio boasting a wide choice of diverse national and local digital stations and a grass roots radio revolution presenting low barriers to entry for new radio start-ups. We applaud the DCMS and Ofcom small-scale DAB initiative and look forward to seeing the legislative framework for its roll out across the UK.”

Doing the DAB was hosted by Radio Academy, Digital Radio UK, Radio Today and VQ.