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Are we going to get BBC local radio on Freeview in England?

If you have Freeview in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland you have always had two extra BBC radio stations. Do tests in the West Midlands perhaps mean that we will we soon get local radio in England? I hope so.

Some people will be happy to hear BBC local radio in digital sound for the first time.  Photograph: Shutterstock
Some people will be happy to hear BBC local radio in digital sound for the first time. Photograph: Shutterstock
published on UK Free TV

The BBC standard definition Freeview multiplex operates at a bitrate of 24.1Mbps. That is actually enough to carry over 380 digital radio stations (in monaural 64kbps).

Given that some of this capacity is used for the "national" services for Wales (Radio Wales, Radio Cymru), Scotland (Radio Scotland and Radio nan Gaidheal)) and Northern Ireland (Radio Ulster abnd Radio Foyle) it seems a bit of a shame that Freeview users in England do not get their local radio stations. According to a516digital: BBC local radio spotted testing on Freeview in West Midlands there are tests going on.

I thought it might be useful to think about how this might work in practice.

The BBC can't really sub-region the TV regions to get them down to "county size". This would require doubling (or more) the number of expensive stat-mux points, and making changes to the already-complex Freeview broadcasting arrangements.

So, it seems to me the obvious track is to add the appropriate several stations to each TV region. This could be done with existing equipment and no changes to the broadcast system.

You would end up with something like this:

CAMBRIDGE PSB1

732 BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
754 BBC Radio Northampton
766 BBC Three Counties Radio (duplicated)

CHANNEL ISLANDS PSB1

740 BBC Guernsey
743 BBC Radio Jersey

EAST PSB1

738 BBC Essex
753 BBC Radio Norfolk
762 BBC Radio Suffolk (not on DAB yet)

EAST MIDLANDS PSB1

736 BBC Radio Derby (not on DAB yet)
747 BBC Radio Leicester
755 BBC Radio Nottingham

EAST YORKSHIRE AND LINCOLNSHIRE PSB1

742 BBC Radio Humberside
748 BBC Lincolnshire (not on DAB yet)

LONDON PSB1

738 BBC Essex (duplicate - Don)
749 BBC London 94.9
763 BBC Surrey
766 BBC Three Counties Radio (duplicated)

NORTH EAST AND CUMBRIA PSB1

735 BBC Radio Cumbria (not on DAB yet)
752 BBC Newcastle
765 BBC Tees

NORTH WEST PSB1

745 BBC Radio Lancashire
750 BBC Radio Manchester
751 BBC Radio Merseyside

SOUTH PSB1

730 BBC Radio Berkshire
759 BBC Radio Solent
764 BBC Sussex (duplicated)

SOUTH (OXFORD) PSB1

756 BBC Oxford

SOUTH EAST PSB1

744 BBC Radio Kent
764 BBC Sussex (duplicated)

SOUTH WEST PSB1

733 BBC Radio Cornwall
737 BBC Radio Devon

WEST PSB1

731 BBC Radio Bristol
739 BBC Radio Gloucestershire (duplicate Anthony)
760 BBC Somerset (not on DAB yet)
767 BBC Wiltshire

WEST MIDLANDS PSB1

768 BBC WM
734 BBC Coventry and Warwickshire
739 BBC Radio Gloucestershire
741 BBC Hereford and Worcester
758 BBC Radio Shropshire
761 BBC Radio Stoke

YORKSHIRE PSB1

746 BBC Radio Leeds
757 BBC Radio Sheffield
769 BBC Radio York (not on DAB yet)

An additional thought - now Sky won't charge the BBC for EPG listings anymore - and not that Sky had much in the way of radio EPG listings - but it might be possible for the local radio (England) services to make their way onto Sky and Freesat.

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Comments
Sunday, 2 March 2014
Briantist
sentiment_very_satisfiedOwner

3:15 PM

David: Yes... As per the link above...

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Briantist's 38,844 posts GB
M
Mark
sentiment_satisfiedSilver

3:22 PM

Interesting article, thanks for this.

I think there would have to be more duplications than those shown above, for example:

South Gloucestershire (Stroud, Lydney, Cirencester) is in the West region so BBC Gloucestershire would need to be on West PSB1

South Somerset (Chard & Crewkerne) & West Dorset (Weymouth, Bridport, Lyme Regis) are in the South West region so BBC Somerset & BBC Solent (for Dorset) would need to be on South West PSB1

The Salisbury area is in the South region so BBC Wiltshire would need to be on South PSB1

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Mark's 181 posts GB
D
Don
3:51 PM

Hi Brian, after reading the article on a516digital I came to the same conclusion that BBC local radio could be distributed by adding multiple local radio streams to a TV region. Might I add that BBC Essex BBC - Essex - Home should be added to your list to be distributed in duplicate by the London as well as the Cambridge TV regions (from Crystal Palace and Sudbury transmitters). (CM120YE)

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Don's 4 posts GB
Briantist
sentiment_very_satisfiedOwner

4:47 PM

Mark: I suspect that if they want to get total coverage then there would be the need to have some additional duplicates, much as you indicate. I was trying to "keep things simple".

This is certainly an issue with some county areas that straddle the TV regions such as Gloucestershire, Somerset, Dorset and Wiltshire.

I suspect that the BBC Three Counties Radio which covers Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire is also going to need to be on Oxford as well as Cambridge and London.

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Briantist's 38,844 posts GB
K
KMJ,Derby
sentiment_satisfiedGold

5:03 PM

Briantist: BBC1 West could be added to the ITV West mux on the Ridge Hill transmitter, together with Radio Gloucester. Possibly six local radio stations is rather optimistic for every West Midlands area Freeview transmitter , maybe requiring The Wrekin and Ridge Hill to be sub-regions with regards to local radio coverage.

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KMJ,Derby's 1,811 posts GB
Briantist
sentiment_very_satisfiedOwner

5:04 PM

Don: Yes, I've been pondering my maps of BBC regions at BBC nations and regions - overview map | ukfree.tv - 11 years of independent, free digital TV advice and I agree: BBC Radio Essex will need to be on the PSB1 London multiplex.

As I said in the article above, it's not possible to split the regions without excessive cost, so BBC Essex would be broadcast to Crystal Palace (and relays), as well as Sudbury and Tacolneston and their respective relays.

Just to explain a bit more.

Each "region" on Freeview requires a piece of very expensive - and critical - bit of computer equipment: the multiplexer.

Into the multiplexes you pour high-bitrate uncompressed video and audio streams, and out the other end comes a constant flow of bits containing the "lossy" compressed services encoded for broadcast.

The whole ability of a broadcaster to provide N services with 100% (not 99.9999%) reliability depends on this piece of equipment.

It's easy for the "commercial" multiplexes: they have the same set of services nationwide. That's one box per multiplex, located in one place.

For the PSB multiplexes, because of the BBC regions (on PSB1), ITV/STV/C4/C5 regions on PSB2, and the mix of regions on PSB3, each and every region requires a multiplier.

So, it's bad enough, for the BBC (or their contracted service provided Arqiva) to support 18 regions for PSB1. At least when the bits are out of the door (so to speak) they just get relayed on, bit-for-bit.

To be able to split, say, BBC East into a Sudbury and a separate Tacolneston service would double the costs, double the monitoring and support costs.

Or... just live a bit of overlap for the local radio services and the costs of adding in a few local radio station is just a bit of reconfiguration of existing equipment.

This is quite interesting: http://downloads.bbc.co.u….pdf

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Briantist's 38,844 posts GB
Briantist
sentiment_very_satisfiedOwner

5:08 PM

KMJ,Derby: Thanks. As I have just written above, the costs of splitting a TV region outweigh the costs of leaving the infrastructure alone and have a few extra low bitrate radio services.

From what I recall, the dual service on the Ridge Hill transmitter is a full replication of PSB2 for the West region.

It's not an otherwise empty multiplex with just ITV for the West in it.

I don't think the Freeview EPG system could cope with a version of BBC One being on the wrong multiplex.

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Briantist's 38,844 posts GB
A
Anthony
sentiment_satisfiedBronze

5:19 PM
Accrington

Briantist: this is an interesting concept, and something Freeview could benefit greatly from in a big way. From winter hill all three bbc local radio stations lancs merseyside and merseyside would have big audiences on the omnidirectional beam mode. Lancaster Haslingden and Pendle Forest transmitters and smaller sub-relays can carry just BBC Radio Lancashire on its own.

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Anthony's 70 posts GB
Briantist
sentiment_very_satisfiedOwner

5:32 PM

Anthony: Thanks.

As I've been saying, it's not technically possible to split the Freeview BBC regions without causing excessive expense.

Even when the BBC was well-funded I don't think that the cost of new equipment - not to mention the testing and possible consumer problems - would really justify breaking up the regions.

Remember that the services are multiplexes: they are high-speed flows of bits which contain lots of different services: video streams, audio streams, EPG data, MHEG-5 services all chopped up into fixed sized transport packet of 188 bytes (4 header, 184 payload).

It actually quite a complex task to break-out from these: and very expensive. That's why all the transmitter sites just do a bit-for-bit relay of the services.

You may recall the the Freeview transmitter name field used to often list the wrong name (all of Wales got "Wenvoe") in the past.

If you're interested in the technial side: see MPEG-2 Transmission .

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Briantist's 38,844 posts GB
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