I can hear clearly now the train has gone

A young man gets on the train and I can see his ineffective white earphones from my seat.  I glance at the empty space beside me and, as I inaudibly sigh, the inevitable happens.  Yes, the music was loud but something intrigued me that I have not experienced in this situation before.  He was listening to the radio on his smartphone over his 3G connection on the train.  More precisely, he was one of the 6.7m listeners tuning in to Nick Grimshaw’s new Radio 1 breakfast show that week.  Now this is progress for digital radio and keeping younger listeners engaged with the medium.

What amused me during this episode was that every so often his 3G connection cut out on the train, as it does, and Nick Grimshaw went silent.  The young man sat there unperturbed and within 10, 20 seconds or so, the radio was back.  This went on at various intervals throughout the journey.  Now this cannot have been a satisfactory aural experience, but he was obviously a patient man.

In 2009, the Government set a target of 2015 for national radio to be solely broadcast on digital platforms.  For this to happen, digital radio needed to surpass 50% share of all radio listening.  According to the new RAJAR figures published today (31 January), this figure is 33% so we may need to look beyond 2015.  There has been a recent push to get DAB radios into new cars and the latest figures report that one third of all new cars registered in the UK during Q4 2012 had DAB digital radio fitted as standard.  This equates to around 150,000 cars registered, but not necessarily sold.  RAJAR figures from the same period estimate that 4.5m listeners tune in to DAB in a vehicle, which is the same as for the previous 3 months.

Now, why don’t we make it easier for digital radio to be listened to on trains?  Many services offer wi-fi, sometimes free, sometimes not to its customers.  But if every train, overground or underground, had strong, free wi-fi coverage then we could all listen to the radio without interruption on our mobile devices.  In fact, we could consume all forms of online media on our smartphones, tablets and laptops. We could also do quite a bit of work on e-mail and even video conferencing, which makes business and economical sense.

RAJAR estimates that 7m of us listen to the radio via online or mobile, a year-on-year rise of 32%.  It is currently the fastest growing platform for digital radio hours of listening (+43%).  With good free wi-fi on all trains I wouldn’t mind if the guy next to me was listening to the radio loudly, because I would be too.

John Carroll is Senior Director in Ipsos MediaCT and Chairman of the Media Research Group (follow John on Twitter @MediaCarroll)

  • Alan Moore

    Online radio is great, but you’re right that the 3G coverage is pretty patchy. Even in the very heart of London – cycling from SE1 to NW1 (not with headphones, by the way, but with my phone in my shirt pocket) – the 3G signal cuts out regularly.

    Perhaps widespread 4G will improve the situation without the need for WiFi.. anybody know? Does it have better range as well as speed?