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Ed Vaizey seems 'clueless'

So today was 'D day' in the radio industry, with "the announcement of the digital switchover", but Government minister Ed Vaizey appears "clueless", says radio DJ Edward Adoo.

Edward Adoo: presents Without Further Adoo on internet station Mi-Soul

Edward Adoo: presents Without Further Adoo on internet station Mi-Soul

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Many expected Ed Vaizey to delay the switchover until 2016 at the Go Digital conference, which took place earlier this morning and they were bang on the money. It wasn't all doom and gloom as there were a number of announcements mixed with positive stats on DAB growth: "DAB reaches 94% of homes" … "A million cars sold this year as standard with DAB".

And the Government and its partners will also help to increase digital radio coverage by funding "The next stage of the roll out of DAB; 7.5k of roads will get coverage; Ofcom will extend the terms of local licences to a common 2030 date", And "Ofcom will advertise a second digital radio multiplex - digital two".

I was pleased to also hear "Specified commercial radio music formats will be reviewed next year by Ofcom". Then I read the small print and examined the announcement - "Ofcom will review music formats to see if they can be relaxed." In terms of the incremental radio licences that were awarded 25 years ago, we have gone back in time. Most of the networks have disappeared, rebranded and are very similar in terms of content and music choice, not offering anything different to the general listener.

If Ofcom intend to relax music formats, that's bad news for independent music, specialist programmes and of course, the general listener. XFM and Kiss will probably lose their evening and weekend specialist output. It will turn commercial radio music stations into a gentrified jukebox.

A recent example was Global Radio's rebrand of Choice FM to Capital Xtra, which caused uproar to loyal listeners and community groups. As pointed out, many commercial radio networks are clearly not adhering to their promise of performance, with minority and specialist audiences not being catered for and shunted to listen to community radio and BBC stations.

Very disappointing, as Ed Vaizey clearly has not done his homework by comparing playlists or listened to the likes of Kiss, Heart or Capital FM recently. Vaizey seems clueless on how to approach the format issue and by giving the likes of Bauer and Global more freedom to tinker their formats, which would mean less specialist programming, more syndication, tightening on playlists and stricter formats introduced for on-air presenters.

We are slowly moving towards the US model adopted by Clear Channel. It would be a bad move, but in turn good for the BBC. Independent and community radio to take note; be more creative and offer something different to listeners.

It seems the bigger radio groups are pressuring the DCMS and Ofcom for more freedom. More power to the alternative players to be creative, take risks and less of the red tape.

However, as expected, no firm switchover date was given. Various critics remain pessimistic over DAB, citing expensive multiplex costs, availability and the lack of DAB sets in cars. Is this DAB at its peak? Success stories such as the growth of BBC Radio 6 Music, Jazz FM, Planet Rock should be acknowledged and they were during Ed Vaizey’s introduction: "Isn’t 6 Music doing well?".

For real music lovers, FM is dead. It has become a retirement plot for commercial radio executives just to shift advertising and play the same bland ten records continuously. Many of these stations have formats to adhere to but have fallen for the lowest common dominator, morphing into one brand, syndication and broadcasting outside of peak hours from one location.

DAB offers more choice, stability and takes the listener away from the bland with a plethora of stations run by people who love radio and want to take the medium on to the next level.

Will we see the demise of DAB and remember it for bring the new Betamax? Hopefully not. What we need is a timescale of how and when the switchover will take place. But this will not happen for at least another ten years.

So what should be done? First and foremost, the BBC, commercial and community radio should meet with Ed Vaizey, Ofcom and DCMS to discuss how they can work together to ensure the right steps will be taken in bringing listeners to the fold. It's essential to address listeners' views.

Advertisers and car manufacturers should also be involved in those discussions, so initiatives can be devised to spread the word and draw listeners in. It seems the most logical step, but yet again the crucial word in all of this is "money", which has prevented anything from being done other than a tacky campaign using cartoon soul artist to promote the uses of DAB. People may perceive that to be the future of DAB and that's the wrong thing to do, and it also shows the lack of creativity in targeting a younger audience.

Ed Vaizey said: "We’re putting in place the conditions to get us ready to set a date. More progress is needed; Government can’t simply wave a wand and make it happen. We need industry to bring the listeners along"

With all due respect to Ed Vaizey, he seems a bit flaky and can't indicate when the switchover will take place. The listener continually seems to be short-changed because no one knows what is really required to bring listeners along. It's about policy, content and ensuring British radio, especially commercial networks, are providing that.

Ford announced last night that it would be launching an internet radio app. Are we seeing a trend ongoing with brands and stations slowly moving away from DAB? Eleven years on and we are still squabbling over the digital switchover.

Let's hope there is a future for DAB and we will finally see it in full use before the next century.

Edward Adoo is a former presenter on NME Radio DJ, LBC and BBC Radio 5 Live Guest. He now works on internet station Mi-Soul for a daytime weekly show called 'Without Further Adoo' on Tuesday afternoons . Adoo is also a regular on London's bar and club scene playing an eclectic mix of dance, electronic and soul music with DJ residencies at The Welly, The Hospital and Barrio East.

This article was first published on mediaweek.co.uk

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