A surge in digital listeners has brought about a “new golden age” of radio which could trigger the beginning of the end of FM listening as early as this year.
The renaissance has been fuelled by an increase in people accessing radio digitally, through devices such as tablets and smartphones, with the balance shifting so quickly that analysts predict digital listeners will become the majority within a year.
The Government has said that once that milestone is reached it will undertake a review which could result in the FM signal being switched off.
Norway became the first country in the world to end FM radio when it cut the signal in January,
“Even five years ago this situation was unthinkable,” said Ford Ennals, chief executive of Digital Radio UK, the company overseeing the nationwide digital switchover.
“People predicted radio would fall away — it’s extraordinary when you think about the fragmentation of the media,” he told the Financial Times.
During the last three months of 2016 170 new local and national digital stations were launched, bringing the total number in the UK to 339.
Despite its current success, digital radio will have to adapt to shifting listening habits as younger listeners replace older ones.
Data suggests that just over half of people between the ages of 15 and 24 listen to live radio, compared with 88 per cent of people over the age of 55.
BBC Radio 1, which is principally focused at a younger audience, lost 1 million listeners last year.
Bob Shennen, director of Radio at the BBC, said: “Young people are just not listening for as long,” but added the medium was “very good at reaffirming its core values.”
The BBC currently enjoys a dominant share of the total listening hours in the UK, accounting for 53 per cent, with Radio 2 alone accounting for 17 per cent.