Jowell heard it wrong on digital radio

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Leading figures in the radio industry have questioned claims made by Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell that digital radios will be available in the shops for under £100 before Christmas.

Ms Jowell made the claims in a speech at the Radio Academy Festival last month.

However, the heads of the Digital Radio Development Bureau (DRDB) and the Commercial Radio Companies Association (CRCA) think the feat will not be achieved until next year.

The issue is important in the industry because many radio companies, even small firms like Jazz FM and the Wireless Group, have forked out for digital radio assets. Yet it is estimated that there are currently only 40,000 digital sets and 100,000 listeners in the UK. Sets retail at around £300 each, and cost is still seen as one of the main barriers to take-up.

Paul Brown, chief executive of the CRCA, questioned Ms Jowell's statement. "We are not the condom on the driving force of progress. We certainly think there will be radio sets of less than £100 but not by Christmas. Or if there are, then not in high enough numbers," he said.

Terry Scicluna, chief executive of the DRDB, said: "Digital radio prices are falling all the time. There has been a lot of rhetoric about under-£100 radios and I think there will be one next year."

However, both men are upbeat on the prospects for digital radio, unlike the City which is generally down on digital radio broadcasting companies. But Ben Tolley, radio expert at corporate finance house LongAcre Partners, is positive. "The time is rapidly approaching when digital radio will become a reality," he said.

Ms Jowell's Department for Culture, Media and Sport declined to comment.

Meanwhile, the DRDB is to launch an advertising campaign on commercial radio stations to promote the benefits of digital radio. The adverts will be aired in October and all the commercial radio stations have agreed to run the ads, said Mr Scicluna.

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