Community Digital Radio

Digital radio was launched in Australia in 2009 and 37+ digital community radio stations are currently broadcasting across five capital cities - Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.

Digital radio is future facing and a vital element in Australia’s multi-platform media environment. Community digital radio augments FM/AM radio broadcast & online streaming. 

Community digital stations share guiding principles with FM & AM community radio stations. You can expect to hear a similarly diverse mix of specialist talks, educational content, music and Indigenous, print-handicapped, youth, seniors, religious, ethnic language and multicultural services.

What are the benefits of digital radio?

The key benefits are improved sound quality and more station choice. Digital radio, like AM/FM is also free-to-air, so there are no streaming costs. Running digital radio services off mobile devices also has less battery drain than streaming services. Some digital radio receivers can also provide pause and rewind functions, as well as on-screen information like artist and track titles and program schedules. Finding stations is also easier as stations are identified by name rather than frequency.

Where can I buy a digital radio?

Many retailers in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney are stocking Digital Radio (DAB+) receivers. Many models are also available online starting from around $30. 

How does digital radio broadcasting (DAB+) work?

Digital radio broadcasting (DAB+) as a transmission platform differs to AM and FM radio. DAB+ utilises an audio compression encoding system called AAC+ to transmit data (a digital program stream). Digital radio receivers are able to receive and decode the digital program stream which you can then hear and, on compatible receivers, also see program and station related information displayed on small screens.

Is internet radio the same as digital radio?

No, it’s not. Internet radio uses a stream of data accessed through a connection to the internet via a computer or an internet capable radio. Digital radio is terrestrially broadcast from a transmission site and received by digital radios. Digital radio is a free to receive broadcast platform and does not require an internet connection but does require a digital radio receiver.

Why is digital radio only available in mainland capital cities?

The Government’s policy had been to introduce digital radio in stages. The first stage applies to metropolitan-wide broadcasting services in the mainland capital cities of Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. 

When will analogue radio services be switched off?

The Government has not confirmed a date for the switch-off of analogue radio services.

Can I start a digital radio station?

Digital radio broadcast licences are only available to existing, eligible broadcast licensees: in this initial stage of digital radio roll-out in Australia this applies to metropolitan-wide community broadcasting services in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.

When can my station start broadcasting in digital?

If your station is not a metropolitan-wide service based in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth or Sydney, it is currently not possible to broadcast a digital radio service.

A range of factors will need to be addressed by the Government (spectrum availability, legislation and funding) before non-metro stations are able to broadcast digital radio services. The CBAA will continue to work with government, regulators and industry stakeholders to develop community digital radio services for all community radio broadcasters.

How do digital community broadcast licensees access digital radio transmission?

As digital radio is broadcast from a multiplex transmitter where multiple station signals are broadcast simultaneously in a stream of data, individual stations do not need to operate their own transmitters. Instead, a station’s signal is digitised at the station and then sent to the multiplex transmitter site via a dedicated network link. Federal legislation allows community broadcasters to transmit digital radio services by accessing a portion of a multiplex transmitter. The multiplex transmitters used by community broadcasters are operated by commercial radio stations. In accordance with the legislation, eligible community licensees can access up to two-ninths of the multiplex capacity. As there are varying numbers of community licensees sharing this capacity in each city, the exact amount of capacity available to each station varies from city to city.

I’ve been told that the original funding was a one off and isn’t necessary to keep community radio stations on air?

Funding for community radio stations’ participation in digital radio broadcasting was first allocated in 2009. At the time, planning wasn’t yet complete and the full cost of the roll out wasn't known. A ‘base funding’ amount was allocated based on estimated costs.

As planning continued, and the full cost became known, it was clear that the base funding was not adequate to provide community radio stations affordable access to digital radio broadcasting. Community broadcasters access digital broadcasting infrastructure on a commercial basis, so they were (and continue to be) required to meet these increased costs.

In 2013, the outgoing Labor Government addressed this with a $1.4 million boost per year, allocating funds over the forward estimates. There was an understanding this would be subsequently made ongoing and this is affirmed by the recent Labor commitment to funding the ongoing shortfall.

Labor’s decision to only budget for the forward estimates, and the Coalition Government’s decision not to address this issue in the 2016 Budget mean that current funding does not cover the recurring costs of maintaining existing community radio services on digital radio.

Community radio has enjoyed cross-partisan support ever since a Coalition Government signed the first community radio licences in 1975. This continues today, with all parties expressing support for the public benefit of community broadcasting.

The Labor Party has committed to reinstating the $1.4 million for community digital broadcasting if elected. The Greens, the Nick Xenophon Team and others have also committed their support.

In the spirit of continued cross-partisan support, we eagerly await an announcement by the Coalition that they too would reinstate funding to maintain existing community broadcasters on digital radio if elected.  

What is the funding for digital radio used for?

Federal government funding supports the community broadcasting sector's digital radio platform infrastructure costs for encoding, data linking, multiplexing and transmission.

In accordance with the legislation, multiplexing transmission arrangements for community digital radio services are shared with commercial broadcasters. Community radio stations access the multiplex through a leasing agreement and access costs are subject to ACCC pricing principals.

Other costs include station support and training, infrastructure planning and project management, administration and legals. There is also support for planning and preliminary implementation of the extension of digital radio, including access for community broadcasters, beyond the existing digital broadcast areas.

Stations cover all expenses for digital content production and studio costs. In addition, as from 2016-17, stations are to cover the expense of a digital radio service fee which will contribute to platform infrastructure and transmission costs. Stations are covering a growing share of the costs themselves.

Government funding for platform and infrastructure costs ensures that community digital radio services are available free-to-air and on a basis which is affordable to stations.