DAB in the UK is Responsible for Dozens of Innovative New Formats
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DAB in the UK is Responsible for Dozens of Innovative New Formats

Imagine a format aimed at kids, one at tradesman and another playing only UK artists. These are a few of the new formats available to UK radio listeners due the proliferation and adoption of DAB radio.


DAB was first introduced in the United Kingdom in 1995 and today DAB radio listening accounts for 42% of the total radio listening according to RAJAR audience figures Q1 2020. Radio listeners have over 450 stations to choose from on DAB including a total of 55 offerings from the BBC and over 400 commercial national and local services.


Beyond finding your favorite FM station on DAB, the commercial networks have created multiple brand extensions for DAB, for instance, KISS, a national Dance CHR, has Kisstory, an Old School Dance channel. Today, Kisstory is the second most popular and leading digital commercial station with 1.5 million listeners on DAB. Global, the UK’s leading commercial broadcaster, has created dozens of new channels too, including a number of sub channels for the nation’s leading commercial network – Heart. Heart 70s, Heart 80s, Heart 90s and Heart Dance are a few Global’s stations heard exclusively on DAB.


Not to be outdone by the commercial players, the BBC has also conceived DAB only formats and a number of Pop-Up channels that come and go. Examples of past Pop-ups include an Olympics’ station, a Eurovision Song Competition channel and a Beatles channel which was launched to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Abbey Road Album.


Yet, it’s the outliers, serving previously unimaginable niches with their low-cost operating models that have created the most innovative and interesting DAB formats.  And these new listening experiences are generating more interest and listening to radio.


Here’s a few examples:


  • Fun Kids delivers music, stories and entertaining features and is the UK’s only dedicated radio station for children under 10 and their families. funkidslive.com
  • BOOM Radio launched in February delivering music, news and well-known presenters targeting 60+. The initial audience reaction to Boom has been overwhelmingly positive, resulting in the station quickly expanding to full national coverage after only three weeks on-air. boomradio.co.uk
  • FIX Radio, The Builder’s station, recently became profitable after three years. The station delivers a mix of music, comedy, building expert shows and competitions aimed at the country’s tradesmen. fixradio.co.uk
  • Podcast Radio launched a year ago with a block programming podcast format, complete with news breaks and Pod Jocks creating a seamless listening experience. Gene Baxter, co-host of the KROQ Los Angeles Kevin and Bean morning show for 30 years, now lives in London and is one the station’s Pod Jocks. The station plays sample podcasts and uses the trust people have in radio to help them choose podcasts. thepodcastradio.co.uk
  • Gaydio, the Beat of Gay UK, plays the world’s hottest Dance music for the LGBT community. gaydio.co.uk
  • Sabras Radio, plays Hit Asian Music presented in Hindi and English. The station is also known for its “open-door policy” welcoming listeners from the street to join the presenters in their London studio. sabrasradio.com
  • Union Jack, the UK’s original JACK-FM has launched a several sub brand formats. Union JACK claims to be the only station in the world playing only British music, with a little comedy and general nonsense. unionjack.co.uk


If you have an underachieving station under your watch, looking beyond the traditional format options could be the key to success. The UK DAB operators have proved new formats targeting previously unserved niches can result in loyal, passionate fan bases resulting in new monetization possibilities.


Ken Benson is a multi-award-winning contemporary radio and music television programmer. Today, Ken is a co-founder and partner of P1 Media Group, providing insights and strategies to leading media companies around the world. He can be reached at ken@p1mediagroup.com