How do FM radios work

DAB + compulsory: New radios for the car and at home must receive digital reception

From today's perspective, VHF technology ("ultra-short wave") from the 1950s is ineffective, expensive and technically out of date. Therefore, the digital radio (DAB +) should gradually replace the classic VHF transmission. The legislature is taking an important step and has that Sales of new devices largely restricted to digital radios. The technology will be mandatory for cars and home devices with displays from December 21, 2020. This is what the current Telecommunications Act says.

In our opinion, that is a good thing. According to our experience, automobile manufacturers on the German market have so far demanded far exaggerated surcharges when a consumer wants a DAB + radio in his new car.

Across Germany, DAB + coverage for reception with an indoor antenna is currently 86 percent in the house and 96 percent for reception with an outdoor or roof antenna. This means: you cannot receive DAB + at every location. But: All DAB + devices also support VHF, so this reception method remains an alternative in regions with poor digital coverage. DAB + broadcasts are also already available in many other European countries.

Incidentally, the medium wave has already been switched off. The last German medium wave stations were discontinued at the end of 2015, many are now broadcast digitally.

What are the advantages of digital radio?

Digital radio offers significantly more programs, interference-free reception and improved playback quality.

The number of programs varies greatly from state to state. While up to 80 DAB + programs will be broadcast in Bavaria at the end of 2020, there are only around 37 stations in Lower Saxony.

Further advantages are:

  • Additional information about the program such as texts, images or other data. A suitably equipped digital radio provided and if the broadcaster offers it, you can, for example, display the name of the track being played, the cover of the album, weather maps, news headlines or the telephone number for the radio quiz.
  • Robust reception without noise. The well-known problem of noise at the red traffic light, while the reception is noise-free a few centimeters further, has been eliminated.
  • Station search no longer required. The radio searches for the station itself and also shows the name of the station and additional information.
  • Broadcasting of DAB + in single-frequency operation. The radio program is always broadcast on the same frequency from each transmission tower. This was not possible with analog technology. Channels broadcast nationwide can thus be received from Munich to Flensburg at the same station location, so that even with mobile reception in the car, a station search is no longer necessary.
  • Extended traffic information. DAB + can transmit significantly larger amounts of data at a much higher speed. This helps appropriately equipped navigation systems, so that much more detailed traffic reports or alternative routes are possible. The capacity of conventional navigation systems, on the other hand, is very limited. If there are too many traffic reports, they only transmit the most important ones, as with traditional radio traffic reports.
  • Combination devices can do even more. There are also so-called combination devices, i.e. radios that, in addition to DAB + and FM reception, also receive Internet radio and can also play your favorite music collection via USB stick.

Pay particular attention to DAB + in the car

If your current car radio breaks and you want to replace it, it is advisable to take a look at a digital radio. Analogue VHF radios are not future-proof in the long run and you can no longer receive radio everywhere abroad. VHF, for example, has been switched off in Norway since the end of 2017 and will soon be switched off in other countries, for example in Switzerland between 2021 and 2025.

Home FM radios that do not have a display can continue to be sold as new devices. However, the question arises here as to whether this does not cause unnecessary costs and unnecessary electronic waste. Anyone who buys a pure VHF radio set can no longer use it after a conceivable shutdown of the analogue VHF transmission.

Receivable DAB + stations

In addition to currently around 25 national broadcasters, numerous regional programs can be received, especially those of the state broadcasters. The reception situation with these transmitters varies depending on the location. For example, other stations can be received in the vicinity of other federal states. The radio stations provide a detailed reception forecast on a shared portal.

This content was created by the joint editorial team in cooperation with the Rhineland-Palatinate consumer center for the network of consumer centers in Germany.