By Patrick Avenell

SYDNEY: The forces pushing digital radio’s launch in Australia have announced 1 May 2009 as the switch-on date for the new format.

In a joint press release, Commercial Radio Australia (CRA) and ABC Radio has announced this date, traditionally a holiday for workers and communists, will see the five mainland capital cities switch over to the new format. No mention has been made of when the circa 8.7 million Australian not living in one of these cities will first experience digital radio.

Talking about this decision is Commercial Radio Australia CEO Joan Warner.

“We have maintained from the outset that the digital radio rollout in Australia would be on a national basis, with the first five markets in the mainland capital cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth to be launched simultaneously,” said Warner.

Although there was originally talk of switching over to digital radio in early 2009, Warner has indicated that the timeline issues arose as a result of intensive and collaborative work being done on a second draft of the Digital Radio Channel Plans developed by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. These plans have been delayed until December 2008.

Digital radio represents a great unknown in the Australian market, as the proliferation of online music stores, peer-to-peer file sharing and the pervasion of cheap MP3 players has continued to provide strong competition to traditional radio formats. Whereas digital radio has experience moderate success in the United States, this was mostly before this portable music explosion and, importantly, the format was used to circumvent the FCC standards placed on analogue radio – standards that are much stricter than in Australia.

CRA digital technical advisory committee chair, Des DeCean, was unavailable for comment today, however, it is understood that these issues will be addressed at a launch event in Sydney tomorrow. The CRA has further indicated that this event will see the unveiling of the new brand and logo for Australia’s digital radio services.