Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Wednesday 12/12/2001Happy birthday, radio! The story isn't quite as mythologised, but today is the centenary of Marconi's first transatlantic transmission.

Wednesday 12/12/2001

Happy birthday, radio! The story isn't quite as mythologised, but today is the centenary of Marconi's first transatlantic transmission. I'm a complete wireless nut in any case -- my treatise on the aesthetics and semiotics of aerials is coming along nicely -- and I find it unbearably romantic to imagine the storm-lashed coasts, the howling gales, the figures bent over arcane devices struggling to catch a distant whisper... I do that sort of thing myself from time to time, and so far I haven't been committed.

But never mind the romance. Today also sees the launch of a strictly limited edition of DAB radios from Videologic, in commemoration of the anniversary. They're nice enough, but only cost £99. And there are only 300. And they sell out in around five minutes from the few stores that stock them. Is there a demand for digital radios? Certainly is. Do we want to pay £300, the current price of a decent DAB receiver? Absolutely not.

All the signs are that next year, DAB will be ready for the rest of us. New chipsets and new ideas are on their way. Everyone wants a portable, Walkman-style DAB radio, for example, but the power consumption of the chips is too high to run such a thing on ordinary batteries. The next generation will be better at this, while companies like Panasonic are designing cellphones with DAB built-in. People expect to charge mobile phones, they don't expect to charge transistor radios, so this is a good way of overcoming one psychological barrier.

Meanwhile, Aunty Beeb is pushing ahead with three new digital-only radio channels. Together with the existing networks and the World Service, these will bring our nationwide public service network count to nine.

It's a good time to be a complete wireless nut.

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