The Situation in Dorset
Following submissions by OFCOM, the broadcasting watchdog, the Government announced that existing analogue television channels in the “West Country” would go over to digital between April and September in 2009. However, as we in Dorset have to receive signals from at least three different transmitters depending on where we live, i.e. West Country (2009), Bristol (2010) and Meridian (Feb - March 2012), Dorset itself is being switched over in three different stages (years)! We now await the Meridian switchover with interest. What a mess! We also learnt some time ago that SwitchCo, a (then) new organisation, which had taken over the task of managing the switchover to digital for the government, had changed its name to Digital UK (see useful links for their contact details).
At switchover, we understand the intention was, and is, to increase the transmitter power of the digital (Freeview) transmitters, which will (we are told), ensure the signals reach everyone in the area who previously received analogue terrestrial TV. But the power is not going up to the final levels because of potential interference with other TV channels. However, OFCOM has indicated that the new digital terrestrial transmissions will be “more efficient”, thus needing less power to reach the parts that..…..!? Ofcom also stated that all local relay transmitters would be converted to digital. This is very significant and should mean coverage will be considerably improved, however, you should know that relays only transmit approx. half of the channels available from the main transmitters, and they no longer include ITV3 & ITV4! We believe this is likely to cause problems within communities, where even neighbours could receive either all or only half of the transmitted programmes, while everyone pays the same licence fee!? Is this fair?
However, as indications from the DorBAG survey were that over 20% of people had problems receiving analogue transmissions satisfactorily, we had not been at all clear whether they wouldbe able to receive digital at switchover. Hence, DorBAG has been working with the BBC & Ofcom on this area to see what could be done to rectify the reported analogue & digital TV reception problems. As a result, the BBC & Ofcom agreed to conduct surveys to establish the true situation. The comprehensive report on analogue TV reception was published and shows that many problems are/were down to old or poor aerial/cable installations, use of loft aerials (which halve the signal strength received), or aerials aligned to the wrong transmitter. The report includes a range of very useful examples and tips which we recommend are studied.
Following another Survey by DorBAG in the summer of 2010, a large number of residents in Weymouth and West Dorset complained about poor reception of Digital TV (Freeview). Following lobbying by DorBAG, Ofcom agreed to carry out a survey to investigate these complaints in November, 2010. We still await their report.
The BBC has stated that they had no plans to do anything to improve national FM radio. Their focus is now on the development of digital radio (DAB), even though final switchover to DAB will (if it happens in our life time), be some years later (date not announced but was recommended to be 2015 - a totally unrealistic figure!). We believe this will be delayed further. So there is no rush to buy DAB. In fact, there have been many concerns over the future of DAB as a number of advertisers have been pulling out due to the low numbers of listeners, the result of which is that some commercial broadcasters are also pulling out. This isn't surprising as, apart from the present financial climate, there are very few DAB transmitters across the country and, for example, few BBC Local radio channels are carried on DAB. In addition, according to our research, a large number of residents already have problems receiving FM, let alone DAB. We have raised this issue with the broadcasting authorities and received Ofcom’s response describing the coverage issues. DorBAG has been given several plans to re-introduce BBC Radio Dorset and each one has been cancelled. This despite the BBC acknowledging that Dorset has been "underserved" for years. See "Latest News - February 2011" for the sad history of go/no go/broken promises by the BBC.
It seems a good new external aerial for FM and DAB can make a big difference! But please note that not all channels are yet on DAB in Dorset – the BBC needs access to more multiplexes, and they have to be provided by commercial broadcasters, who aren't very keen to pay for them these days!
As you know, to receive DAB everywhere, you will need to buy new radio sets, including Hi-Fi, car radios and all the sets in the home - including bedside alarm radios! And, to ensure a good signal, we learn that as for FM, many of us, will need to have a new external terrestrial DAB aerial in order to get a decent signal (well for most places – and some might still have problems, even then). This means, if you are buying DAB, you should consider making sure it has an external aerial socket and that the seller will take it back if there is no reception in your area! Fortunately, as already discussed, switchover to DAB is still some way off, but we will eventually be forced (yet again!) to replace all our sets, or only be able to listen to those radio channels that are available on Freeview, or Freesat (a subscription free satellite service provided by BBC and ITV).
BBC Dorset Web Site (www.bbc.co.uk/dorset)
Some good news for surfers – the BBC finally got around to giving Dorset its own web site with news, weather, web cams etc., plus, you can listen to Radio Solent, or watch any of the three TV news channels that feed Dorset over the Internet. The BBC has announced it is going to add short local news items on the web site for Dorset. However, we have emphasised that all this, while a very welcome addition, is no substitute for dedicated news on radio and TV. Most people still watch the TV or listen to the radio for news, (not the internet, although we acknowledge this is the way things are going, but relying on terrestrial TV & radio news will continue to be the case for many years to come). So on TV, we still want the BBC to provide a dedicated terrestrial TV local news channel for Dorset which is transmitted right across Dorset, rather than simply adding material to BBC South, Points West or Spotlight for the obvious reasons outlined below. Hence, while the web site is welcome and useful for those with computers, it does not solve our present problems with radio or terrestrial TV.
Local programme content for Dorset:
A major demand from the respondents to the DorBAG survey was that 95% want proper coverage of local Dorset news/events on both radio and on television. Apart from the fact that most of West Dorset cannot receive 'local' news from BBC Radio Solent, this is the only BBC radio station for the whole county of Dorset. But it also covers Berkshire, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight - based in Southampton - so guess where the focus is? The slightly better news is that on 25th July, 2009, BBC Radio Solent added a dedicated Dorset programme, the "Big Dorset Brunch", each Saturday morning from 8:00am to 11:00am broadcast from the upgraded studios in Dorchester. So we now get a local radio programme for 3 hours per week, unlike counties such as Devon, Cornwall, Somerset etc. which all have their own full-time radio stations! We have a long way to go!
For terrestrial TV the situation is even worse. Dorset is supposed to get its local news, depending on where you live, from either BBC Spotlight from Plymouth, which primarily serves Devon and Cornwall, BBC South which covers an enormous area outside Dorset, or Points West from Bristol. In some parts of West Dorset, viewers can only get Welsh TV! It is no surprise therefore that Dorset hardly ever get a mention – that is for those who can receive it! And if you follow sport, it is practicably impossible to find out about your sport in the county. What is worse is that there is no consolodated Dorset county news that is transmitted across the county. Basically, if viewers are interested in Dorset news, well that’s just too bad as far as the BBC has been concerned! They claim it's a problem of money - but we all know that the costs to sort out Dorset are not significant when taken as a percentage of the BBC's budget. It is simply whether they WANT to do it, not if they can afford it! Our job is to convince them that it is top priority and must be resolved ASAP!
Simply put, we need dedicated programmes for Dorset for both Radio and Terrestrial Television, that truly cover and represent all of Dorset. And, of course, everyone in the county must be able to receive them simultaneusly, irrespective of their locality! It isn’t as though we are on some remote island! We’re in the heart of Southern England! This situation really is totally unacceptable in this, the twenty first century!
On the positive side, they have upgraded (and it needed it too!) the studio in Dorchester, although our spies suggest that some of this technology is not working as well as it should. BBC management have acknowledged that the present studio is not suitable, but they hesitate to fund a new one. The staff include two to update and run the BBC Dorset web site, one Radio Solent reporter and one video reporter (the latter provided by BBC Spotlight in Plymouth). One or two others are promised, but it is a moving target as people leave, and don't always seem to be replaced as fast as one might hope.
See DorBAG Latest to follow progress
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