Inside Business: Why digital radio is such good news

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The Independent Online
IF YOU are one of those people who is constantly frustrated when radio DJs fail to announce the name of a tune you would like to hear again, then help could soon be at hand, writes Roger Trapp.

Digital radio can broadcast information as well as much sharper sound. So, when a digital radio receiver is hooked up to a personal computer, the listener is able to see a ticker-tape message describing what is being played. But the technology is not yet available to produce the competitively priced portable sets that are crucial to the radio audience. Which is where RadioScape comes in.

A British company set up two years ago, RadioScape is establishing itself at the heart of the digital revolution with what managing director Peter Florence describes as an "intimate knowledge of what's required".

First, it is developing products such as signal testers for the organisations that are building networks. Second, it is designing the software that will enable the development of low-cost digital radios.

But since digital radio is about much more than sending CD-quality sound across the airwaves, RadioScape sees far greater opportunities. Indeed, it is already working with the BBC on specifications for transmitting data.

Digital radio allows two types of data to be transmitted - material related to the programme being broadcast, such as the name of a song that is playing; and information such as news. Since radio stations take up varying amounts of space in the spectrum, depending on whether they are broadcasting music or voice, there are peaks and troughs in the capacity to distribute information.

So when a music station broadcasts news on the hour, space could be freed up to deliver to listeners linked to computers the latest editions of the local newspaper.

In fact, it is the possibility of exploring the sort of opportunities provided in this way that attracted Mr Florence and the company's co-founder Gavin Ferris to digital audio broadcasting in the first place.

Mr Florence says: "Whenever there's a change in technology, there are opportunities for new companies to do exciting things."

Fortunately, financiers are starting to agree. Atlas Venture, the international venture capital fund, led a financing that has helped the company expand to 15 people. And while still small, RadioScape is ahead of its plans, and attracting interest from the US and the Far East as well as from Europe.