Digital radio coming to the masses

With cheaper digital-radio receivers on the way, you could soon be listening to The Archers in CD-quality sound.

Digital radio -- that's Chris Tarrant delivered over the airwaves in CD quality -- may begin making serious inroads into the mainstream market, thanks to new developments that should make the technology cheaper.

Digital radio receivers currently start at around £800, making them too expensive for mainstream use, but Japanese electronics giants, including JVC, Kenwood, Panasonic and Hitachi, are currently working on second generation chips that will cut that cost significantly.

"Receivers can only come down in price. Bear in mind that the first CD players were relatively more expensive than the digital receivers on the market today," said a spokesman for BBC Digital Radio who welcomed the development news.

Digital radio differs from Internet radio only in its transmission, being broadcast over radio waves rather than over the Web. The BBC is investing heavily in digital radio, believing that until free broadband access in the home becomes a reality, Internet radio is not a practical method for broadcasting digital quality sound.

Virgin Radio, which already broadcasts over the Internet, is set to begin transmission in November with Digital One, recently awarded the first commercial digital radio multiplex. John Ousby, director of Ginger Online, whose parent company Ginger Media Group owns Virgin Radio, believes that "although by necessity it will be taken up by early adopters, digital radio is very important for the future".

In addition to providing near-CD-quality sound, digital radio will be offer listeners a far greater choice of stations. Digital One is introducing six stations with completely new content according to a spokesman.