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Digital Radio set for 2009 stillbirth?

  • 18 May 2006
In 1995, a Fairfax journalist told me that I should not worry too much about the Internet. Ignore it, he reassured me, and it would go away. He added that those who were predicting that the Internet would completely reshape the media landscape, were living on another planet. As we now know, his prediction - in common with that of many others - could not have been further from the reality of what has occurred.

In 2006, I could envisage a commercial radio employee telling me the same thing about digital radio. Ignore it, and it will go away. In this case, he or she would be right, more or less.

Last month, Communications Minister Helen Coonan confirmed that she does not believe it should be introduced for some time. She nominated a launch date of January 2009. In reality, she is reflecting the desire of the commercial radio industry to see it delayed until it has passed its use-by date. They don't want anything to change.

However the industry knows that change is inevitable, and that it will destroy the oligopoly. Austereo has long been one of the most profitable players in the industry. Its CEO Michael Anderson admitted on Channel 9's Business Sunday at the weekend that radio as we know it "is coming to an end". He and other executives realise that it is in their best interest to delay the introduction of digital radio. They have lobbied the Minister for extra time.

Speaking at April's Australian Broadcasting Summit in Sydney, Senator Coonan announced a 2009 start: "This is a realistic estimation of the time needed to put into place a complex legislative and regulatory time frame for the new broadcasting technology."

But it's arguable that digital radio could begin almost immediately. Successful test transmissions have taken place in Sydney and Melbourne over the past two years. With the appropriate political will, the ABC would need much less time to prepare to commence ongoing digital radio transmissions. The required political will might have been manifest in a designated allocation in last week's Federal Budget, as it was with respect to other ABC activities. The ABC is already organised to offer extra services such as DIG music channels for niche interests such as jazz and country. Digital would also allow it to put special programming types such as Parliament and cricket and other sport on dedicated channels, rather