The UK government wants to continue to improve the digital radio service (DAB), and reach coverage and listening criteria before switching off analogue AM and FM.

That might come as a relief to listeners in some regions for whom the switch to digital means many new DAB stations broadcasting in AM-like mono instead of FM-like stereo, due to bandwidth restrictions.

Government and broadcasters plan new local DAB transmitters and a second national commercial multiplex in 2014 which will allow for new national stations.

Commuinications minister Ed Vaizey told a digital radion conference the country was not ready for a radio switchover and that consumer listening and DAB coverage criteria would need to be met in order for switchover dates to be set. He said funding was in place for Ofcom to develop a route to digital for small local stations.

Vaizey said: “I absolutely believe that the future of radio in this country is digital. We cannot go backwards. The radio listener will get a much better service, and better functionality. There will be far more choice, with many more stations. The UK is at the forefront of developments in digital radio. This package of measures is intended to cement this and herald in a digital age, as and when the consumer is ready.”

Helen Boaden, BBC Director of Radio, said: “We welcome today’s announcement of the expansion of DAB coverage for BBC local stations over the next few years. By the end of 2015 our national network will also benefit from the addition of 162 new transmitters.” 

The government conditions for setting a date for digital radio switchover are: digital listening share to reach 50% of all listening hours, when local commercial and national DAB coverage reaches FM equivalent and significant progress on conversion of cars to digital radio.

Digital listening now accounts for 35.6% of radio users, up 14% year on year. SMMT/CAP data shows 41.6% of new car registrations now have digital radio as standard.