It was 1995 when the BBC started digital broadcasts, testing the EUREKA DAB system. But listeners had to wait a further three years before they could buy the digital radios to hear the transmissions, and fork out a few hundred quid into the bargain. The first model on the market, the Arcam Alpha 10 DRT, would have set you back £800.In the summer of 1999 the Corporation issued its first Digital Radio Bulletin. I can’t track down a copy of that issue, but here’s the second edition from August.
The BBC’s national and local stations were all guaranteed a slot on the digital dial (well OK there wasn’t a dial as such), with the local licences for Greater London and Glasgow starting in the September, swiftly followed by South Yorkshire, Tyne & Wear and Cardiff/Newport before the end of the year. The first national commercial licence had already gone to Digital One, and was due to launch that October (in the event it was 15 November). The local licences for Birmingham and Manchester were awarded to CE Digital, a group formed by Capital Radio and Emap Radio, with eight services for each one. “We would like to squeeze on more stations but the quality would suffer”, said Tracy Mullins, spokesperson for the Radio Authority.
In the third bulletin from November 1999 there’s news of a joint BBC/Digital One marketing campaign. Glyn Jones, the BBC’s project director, said: “Both Digital One and the BBC recognise that this is a time for co-operation to help deliver the substantial benefits of digital radio to UK consumers. Working together on a range of marketing initiatives will help each of us attract more attention and have greater impact.” There’s also news on Radio 5 Live Sports Plus and that Mark Byford, chief executive of the World Service, had his digital car radio stolen.
January 2000, and in this issue there are plans from the BBC for an “album and archive station”, plus services “devoted to the UK’s black music scene, a part-hours service for the Asian community, and another archive-based station – this one for the BBC’s extensive hoard of radio plays, comedy programmes and readings”. Page three announces that the “first portable digital radio will be available early in 2000” with news that Roberts Radio are to launch a new receiver. For those with deep pockets you could buy the TAG McLaren Audio Cleopatra at just £4000 plus £900 for the digital option.