The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) yesterday held a seminar for interested parties to discuss government plans that would require all new cars to be fitted with digital radios from 2013 and allow all cars presently on the road to be capable of receiving digital broadcasts from 2015.
While the timetable appears tight, that is in part because the car manufacturers – apart from one or two notable exceptions such as Jaguar - have so far made little effort to fit radios conforming to the main digital standard, DAB (digital audio broadcasting), to their vehicles, even though cheap portable DAB radios for the home have been available for years. One reason must be that drivers are probably fairly happy with FM reception for most UK stations, although DAB is the only way to get around the problem of crackly medium-wave reception of the BBC's popular Radio Five Live on the move. Another problem for the car manufacturers is that the UK is the only big European market where DAB has really taken off, so any DAB audio options they develop with their suppliers will still only be fitted to a minority of the cars they make. The problem is compounded by uncertainty over the question of whether DAB will be overtaken by other more efficient digital standards, and, if so, when. Nevertheless, given enough will, it shouldn't be to difficult to get DAB-capable radios into most cars by 2013.
Achieving DAB reception for today's existing cars is probably going to be slightly more problematical. Pure, for example, offers an after-market DAB adapter, the Highway, which provides good reception and access to the full range of DAB stations, but is rather fiddly to set up; like a portable sat-nav, the Highway is attached to the windscreen via a bracket with a sucker on it and plugs into a standard 12V socket. DAB stations are retransmitted in FM so that a standard car radio can be tuned to receive them.
In any case, it seems likely that most motorists will be unable to receive digital broadcasts in their cars for some years to come – including, ironically, the Highways Agency's excellent DAB Traffic Radio information channel, which must, perhaps, be the only specialised radio station in the world to broadcast on a platform that cannot be accessed by the bulk of its target audience.