Letters: DAB Radio

DAB radio no good in a crisis
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The Independent Online

Whatever the views of broadcasters, and the incentives they offer, DAB cannot be allowed to supplant FM and AM in the UK until it can match the reliability of the analogue services (Media, 20 May).

DAB currently has a very limited service range – about five miles in my area – before the signal breaks up, while FM has a range of more than 20 miles, and AM on medium and long wave can travel hundreds of miles.

The very short range of DAB presents two serious problems, the first in cars. A massive network of new transmitters is needed before DAB can match FM Radio 2 or local FM stations for traffic news and in-car entertainment. With each DAB transmitter covering about 80 square miles, we will need over 1,200 transmitter sites to cover the UK adequately.

The second problem is with emergency planning. When a complete region of the country is knocked out (eg, by storm/hurricane of 1987 intensity) the public has the right to know what is happening. With local radio and TV stations out of action due to fallen power lines, along with phone/internet services, and no electricity in homes, the portable radio is the main source of information.

DAB radios are useless in these circumstances. Not only incapable of picking up broadcasts from outside the stricken region, they are also extremely heavy on battery usage and cannot last for long. In contrast, FM signals stand a good chance of getting through, and AM signals, such as Radio 4 on long wave, will have no problem at all. This is when wind-up FM/AM radios become a lifeline.

DAB is currently being forced on the UK public without adequate thought or planning. The Government, Ofcom and broadcasters need to explain fully the pitfalls of the system, as well as its benefits, before they close down the exceedingly more reliable services.

Alex Morris

Wonersh, Surrey

The planned mass extinction of FM radio receivers seems like an awful waste. It's not just the much-loved tranny in the kitchen, bedrooms, bathroom, living room, kid's room that have to be chucked away. There's the clock radio, stereo systems, walkmans, discmen, and iPods, all adding up to around 100m redundant pieces of reliable tech. Plus about 30m in our cars, vans and lorries. There's another 40 million-odd in our mobile phones – Rajar figures show that 12 per cent of radio listening is on mobile phones, compared with only 15 per cent on actual DAB radios. So without even touching on DAB radio's shortcomings (lack of portability, poor signal, expense and appetite for batteries and electricity); what's the hurry? Let the transistor live out its long life in peace.

Jeff Wright


I cannot be the only reader whose blood boils when they hear of the proposed switch off of the analogue signal in just five years' time.

Digital radios use vastly more electricity and take time to be switched on. There remain many parts of the country where it is impossible to listen to some radio stations on a DAB radio, and listening digitally when crossing the country by car is entirely unsatisfactory.

I propose we fight back against the authorities at a time when we are told that true democracy is in the ascendancy.

Hallam Murray

London SW11

Colin Crawford (industry promoter for the digital radio switchover) is very wrong: he thinks the public are underwhelmed by DAB because his industry has failed to ram it hard enough down our throats.

The simple fact is that those involved have completely failed to explain the problem with FM that this change is supposed to solve. He makes baffling statements like: "We do need to get there very, very quickly now", while the rest of us are left thinking "What for?"

I have a lovely FM radio that I am attached to for the following reasons: it performs a very straightforward function very well, it is reliable and predictable in an ever-changing world, and it is uncomplicated enough that I have a grasp of its workings.

Whatever Mr Crawford believes to be its problem remains a mystery.

Kuno van der Post


Surveillance by local councils

The new Government's proposal to ban the use of Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) by councils risks throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Basic surveillance techniques were widely available and used before the implementation of section 8 of the Human Rights Act; and it is this Act that requires the use of such techniques to be subject to a scheme of authorisation and approval. Ripa defines the accepted systems of approval. In fact, there is no specific requirement to use Ripa prior to an act of surveillance, but a local authority would be subject to action under the provisions of the HRA if they did not do so.

Simply put, if councils are prevented from obtaining Ripa authorisation the Government must relieve them any of their duties relating to matters that require surveillance. This includes dealing with many forms of anti-social behaviour, gathering evidence for noise nuisance from domestic premises and detecting under-age sales of alcohol (an offence for which they have just proposed a doubling of penalties).

Ian Moseley

London E6

New life, or just a lot of hype?

Craig Venter has not created life de novo (front page, 21 May). He took an existing living cell and replaced one of its components with one he had created artificially. The cell was living before the procedure and the same, albeit altered cell, was still living after the procedure. The creation of an artificial genome is a huge step with major implications, but it is not the creation of life.

I will only accept that someone has created life when they build all of the components of a cell from base chemicals and combine them into a self-replicating organism without the use of any intermediates derived from existing living cells. This may be setting the bar very high, but it is what happened the only time life has been proven to have been created to date – approximately 4,000 million years ago on Earth.

What you report on is nothing more than hype whipped up by an egotistical scientist claiming far more than he has achieved.

Michael Smith


Extend the scope of VAT

Regarding the recent letters on a possible VAT increase (19 and 21 May), the solution is to increase its scope, not the rate.

VAT should apply at a single rate to almost all expenditure, including utilities and food (much of both is wasted), children's clothes (most have too many) and domestic transport, with minimal if any exceptions. The rate could then be set well below 17.5 per cent and thousands of bureaucrats in both sectors released into productive employment.

Low-income families could be protected through a higher minimum wage, tax-free personal allowance and certain social benefits.

John Birkett


Trials of a left-hander

In your article on left-handers, (18 May) there seems to be some confusion as to whether left-handers have problems writing because they either push or pull against the paper.

This confusion arises because there are two different ways left-handers hold a pen to write. Some adopt the method shown in your photograph of Barack Obama, with the left hand hooked round above the word being written, and the pen pulled along to the right of the writing. Others, like me, hold the pen in a mirror image of a right-hander's grip, and push the pen along.

Although I started school more than 50 years ago, I was never once forced into trying to write with my right hand. But in the late Sixties, when my parents and I met my teachers to discuss A-levels, my headmaster said that a major failing was my untidy handwriting.

"Well, he is left-handed", said my father.

"So am I," said the headmaster.

Paul Dormer


Mobile phones can be deadly

Mobile phones may not cause brain tumours (report, 18 May) but they can, and I've no doubt do, cause death – one of these days, I fear, mine. Every day when cycling in London I am brought to a sudden halt by pedestrians stepping from the pavement into my path, engrossed in telephonic conversation, sometimes too deeply to hear my bell when I foresee their drift before they do themselves.

Peter Forster

London N4

Cheques' effect on business

Nigel Scott exhibits his own prejudices in asking the Government to think again on the banks' proposal to replace cheques (12 May). He impugns the good name of the majority of sole tradesmen/women and clearly does not appreciate the business-threatening nature of the expression "the cheque is in the post", nor the associated costs to the Revenue and businesses of late payment while blaming banks and the postman.

Luba Hayward

Walsall, West Midlands

Lib Dem activists

As the reaction to Bruce Anderson's comments suggests (letters, 20 May), the average Lib Dem constituency activist tends to be rather earnest. Only the very best of us are the angry, totally unscrupulous fanatics he describes.

Cllr M Collinson


Perspectives on North Sea cod

Fish stocks still far from healthy

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) is pleased to see that the combined North Sea cod stock is beginning to show signs of improvement.

But your report and leading article of 15 May painted a more positive picture of the situation than is the scientific reality. MCS feels this could confuse consumers into believing that the stock has recovered to a healthy enough state where they can once again make North Sea cod their whitefish of choice, when in fact it is below safe biological limits and at risk of stock collapse.

Last year's scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) estimated the amount of reproductive adult cod from the combined North Sea stock to be 54,200 tonnes. This is slightly above one third of the "precautionary" reference point of 150,000t recommended by scientists as the level at which the stock should be kept, and well below the "limit" reference point, of 70,000t, under which there is a serious risk of stock collapse.

Just six years ago, the combined stock of adult North Sea cod was at a historical minimum, and in the context of long-term trends, it is still well below the 250,000t it reached in the 1970s.

MCS recommends that consumers choose cod from the Marine Stewardship Council certified fishery in the Northeast Arctic, where stocks are healthier and well managed. We would also strongly encourage consumers to diversify their seafood choices to other sustainable alternatives such as Alaskan pollock, line-caught coley, and line-caught Cornish pollack.

MCS is confident that if current measures remain in place, we will see further improvements of this stock, but for now we urge seafood lovers to look for sustainable alternatives.

Sam Fanshawe

Director, Marine Conservation Society,

Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire