Giving Digital the Finger?

Technology’s not the problem. We are.

Does anyone remember Norman Collier?

He was a comedian and regular on the TV in the mid ‘70s to early ‘80s – and I’m reminded of him every time I listen to DAB Radio on the move.

In a nutshell, his act consisted of several variations on the theme of his voice being cut out – either due to comedically timed microphone ‘faults’, or him winding an imaginary car window up and down so the viewer would miss his most obscene expletives. Believe it or not, back then it was hard to resist an occasional grin – sometimes an unexpected belly laugh – but now when it happens with DAB it’s not funny at all.

My son and I recently drove from Newcastle to Liverpool listening to Absolute Radio on DAB Radio (in state-of-the-art-Mono!). For almost the whole journey - even through Tebay and Shap - a quiz on the Simpsons was being trailed and we really wanted to hear it. As we rolled into Bootle on the last leg of our journey, they finally announced the first question - and the signal died. Silence.

Aaaaarghh!!!

In the olden analogue days, you would have limped on for miles as the signal got progressively worse – enduring any amount of interference, or electing to pull over to catch a particularly good bit of radio before the signal ran out. I’ve done that a few times.

And yes, I like the super-compressed sound of football commentary and angry phone-ins you only get on AM. There’s no taxi driver alive who sounds better in crystal clear digital audio while he rants about Brexit or Chelsea’s defence - and 5 Live’s ‘Sports Report’ music just isn’t the same when you can hear the notes.

But the rush to digital brings with it other emperor’s new clothes – and frankly, it’s time somebody did something about them.

Just listen to any BBC Radio Station’s speech-based output pretty much any hour of the day, and you’ll hear Skype-type interviews being conducted in such poor quality they’re often incomprehensible. And yet, because they’re ‘digital’ the hapless presenter in the studio presses on regardless of the dreadful racket – rather than saying ‘We’ll call you back on a land line’. That would be analogue capitulation, and Auntie’s not prehistoric. But honestly, I really think we should expect more.

So, am I some jaded old Luddite bent on resisting the Digital Age, looking back with rose-tinted headphones? No, I genuinely love the technology and what it promises - but I think it would be nice if they made it work properly before we’re made to welcome it with open arms (and ears).

And anyway, analogue’s cool! – look at all the young folk buying vinyl these days. Just wait ‘til the hipsters discover grandad’s transistor radio…

Paul Carter