Digital radios rule the airwaves as new models outsell analogue sets

Radio has not been so cool since the 1980s when Mike Read was king of the airwaves and Stock, Aitken and Waterman had their first No 1 hit.

Radio has not been so cool since the 1980s when Mike Read was king of the airwaves and Stock, Aitken and Waterman had their first No 1 hit.

A renaissance has been sparked by the growing demand for digital radio sets. Figures released yesterday by Dixons, the leading electrical goods chain, show that sales of digital audio broadcast (DAB) radios outstripped traditional sets for the first time in January. DAB sets are now outselling analogue radios at a rate of two to one, the retailer said.

Listeners have become aware - through advertising campaigns and by word of mouth - that digital radios are easy to use and offer high-quality sound and content that cannot be found elsewhere. Dixons expects demand for digital sets to rise by more than 50 per cent over the next year.

Unlike most new technologies, which are initially seized on by the young before filtering through to the rest of the population, digital radios are being bought mostly by the middle-aged. A survey of 1,000 shoppers who bought a digital radio from the chain in the past three months showed that two-thirds were in their forties. By the end of 2004, there were 1.3 million DAB radio sets in British homes, according to the Digital Radio Development Bureau.

The bureau predicts that by the end of 2005, this figure will have risen to 2.4 million and by 2008 to 8.3 million. The digital radio market, worth around £90m last year, is expected to rise to around £500m by 2008.

Nick Wood, the managing director of Dixons, said: "A century after Marconi's invention, the message is that radio is still a massively popular format. It's thanks to the new generation of digital radios which are one of our best-selling products."

Ralph Bernard, chief executive of the UK's largest commercial radio group, GWR, and chairman of the bureau, said that a "unique co-operation" between the BBC and the commercial sector had helped Britain to lead the world in digital radio. The BBC, which has launched five digital-only stations, is at the forefront of promoting digital radio.

Mr Bernard said: "The principal reason people say they're getting so much more enjoyment is because of the choice of radio stations and far better clarity. You get a substantial improvement at a cost that's frankly reasonable."

Three years ago, digital radios cost around £700, but sets are now available for about £50. New models such as The Bug, designed by Wayne Hemingway who created the fashion label Red Or Dead, offer advanced features such as the ability to pause and rewind live radio.

Colin Crawford, vice-president of Pure Digital - the leading manufacturer of DAB radios believes the new technology has tapped into the British love of radio.

"There's a middle England that's passionate about radio. If you go above a certain age, people have an emotional link to the radio, which they don't have to television. People who listen to DAB listen for longer, partly because they have found stations they didn't have before, partly because it's a better listening experience."

THE POPULAR STATIONS

1Xtra 288,000 listeners a week. Plays new black music, including hip hop, R&B and garage.

Asian Network 535,000 listeners a week. Music, news and sport aimed at Britain's Asian community.

BBC7 391,000 listeners a week. Classic comedy from Yes Minister to Alan Partridge, as well as drama and the Big Toe Radio Show for kids.

Planet Rock 261,000 listeners a week. Classic rock for the Ford Mondeo driver who would rather be riding a Harley.

Oneword radio 112,000 listeners a week. Book serialisations, drama, comedy, discussion and children's programmes.

Saga's Primetime Radio 174,000 listeners a week. Melodic tunes from the 1940s to 2005 for the over-50s.

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