The £99 radio with no hiss and no distortion turns into the must-have gift with no supplies

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The Independent Online

A digital radio has achieved the status that delights and dismays manufacturers – the must-have but elusive Christmas present.

A digital radio has achieved the status that delights and dismays manufacturers – the must-have but elusive Christmas present.

In past years, parents have trailed round shops searching for the "essential" gift featured at the top of media lists and demanded by their children. Attempts to secure one often led to a last-minute dash to a faraway toy shop that had just received a supply.

But this year the equivalent of Buzz Lightyear or the Thunderbirds Tracy Island is not a children's plaything but a grown-up gadget costing £99. Unusually for a product that has caused a consumer scramble, the Pure Evoke-1 is not a new invention but a new version of a portable radio.

The first shipment of the retro-styled product, said to have been only about 200, sold within a couple of hours of stores opening. Demand has been high ever since – helped by a prolonged promotional campaign by radio stations.

A saleswoman at Peter Jones in Sloane Square, London, said yesterday it was still trying to fulfil orders placed in the summer. "We aren't taking any more orders from customers," she said.

"We probably won't have any to sell until after Christmas. We were taking orders back in July and August, but we're still fulfilling those."

The product was a success because it was well priced and the first stand-alone digital radio, Mandy Brown of the Digital Radio Development Bureau said yesterday. "Digital radios used to cost £400 or more, and you had to plug something into your PC or your car. This costs only £99, and you just plug in and listen."

Its maker, the Leeds-based company Imagination Technologies, has been surprised by how well it has sold. "We expect that by the end of the year we will have sold 40,000," said David Harold of the Pure division at Imagination Technologies. "So far about half of those are actually in the hands of customers. The trouble was that the retailers didn't place enough orders early on, and it takes about 12 weeks to go from an order through manufacture in China to delivery."

The retailers and the company were all caught out by the fact that until now, radios have hardly been a hot ticket among hi-tech fans.

"Most homes have three or four radios already, and any model that sold 10,000 in a year would count as a big hit with shops," Mr Harold said. "So they didn't expect this."

Digital radio, like digital television, encodes the signal into bits – as a CD does for music – and sends it on radio waves. Radio stations can send more data, including text and pictures, and broadcast more stations in a bandwidth than in analogue forms with no hiss or distortion.

Many companies including Capital, Virgin, Talksport and Classic FM now broadcast on digital radio, as do some BBC stations, and own the broadcast facilities. They provide a "bank" of free airtime to advertise it, and its products. The Pure Evoke-1 benefited from this most by being the first below £100 to go on sale.

For those unable to secure their coveted Christmas present, there is some solace. A number of new digital radios will enter the market early next year, including a handheld model, a battery version, a car radio and a hi-fi tuner. But Imagination Technologies will still be happy. It designs silicon chips which will be in every one.

"I can honestly say that Britain leads the world in this," Mr Harold said. "Nobody else is even close."