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Interview with Peter Blampied, Country Sales Manager, Roberts Radio

Tell us a little about yourself and the company Roberts Radio
I have worked in the Digital Radio business for almost 7 years of the last 10 years, first for the brand Pure and now for the brand Roberts.  As a result, I have been working in this category during the switch from analogue radio to digital radio in the markets of UK, Australia, Switzerland, Nordics, Netherlands, Germany and now France.  Roberts is a famous UK brand and has been supplying radios in the UK since 1932.  Roberts was one of the very first brands to launch a digital radio and also one of the first to launch a connected radio.  As a result Roberts is the #1 UK brand.  Roberts has the distinction of two Royal warrants through the supply of radios for many years to the households of the Queen and of the Prince of Wales.  Roberts is often known as ‘the radio of the Queen’.

What is a Digital Radio and how is that different to a traditional AM/FM radio?
AM/FM radio is the traditional analogue method of broadcasting used all over the world.  AM (amplitude modulation) was the preferred solution for longer distances and FM (frequency modulation) allowed the development of high quality stereo transmission but over shorter distances.  In the analogue world every radio station must have a unique frequency.  Since the laws of physics prohibit us from manufacturing more frequencies, there soon arrives a limit.  Radio waves and frequencies are in high demand for other applications such as satellite/ military/ police communications, radar, TV and of course WiFi and mobile phones.  By switching to Digital transmission methods, it is possible for multiple radio stations to be present on one frequency (multiplex), therefore it is possible to support many more radio stations on far fewer frequencies.  This efficiency gain is critical in a modern world that demands high speed mobile communications (3G/4G/5G).  TV has already switched to digital transmission in many countries and now it is the turn of Radio.  For the consumer it will mean a much greater choice of radio stations is available.  The technology chosen to underpin digital radio is DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) and this has been further updated to DAB+ which offers additional broadcasting benefits, greater transmission efficiency and so gives the best technology experience for the consumer.

Why do radio’s all sound so different?
Every brand will approach the design of a radio based on parameters such as;  the size of the radio - in general the larger the size the more air and so the larger the sound;  the case materials – in general a wood case radio has a natural resonance not possible with plastic or metal designs and so a warmer sound;  the quality of components – some components have much better audio performance than others so audio is closer to the original sound;  the tuning – every final product is tuned to be faithful to the style of the brand.  Even with just these four factors it is possible to produce a very wide variety of models that sound quite different! 

What makes a radio, a Roberts Radio?
Since 1932 Roberts has developed many designs and has been able to evolve an iconic styling that is obvious in both its Revival and Heritage range.  Roberts has also used the latest technology and components to add useful features and as a result is the #1 brand for connected ‘smart’ radios that offer FM radio, Digital DAB+ radio and Internet WiFi radio in the same product.  The radio made more intelligent.  For Roberts the sound quality for voice has always been a big factor.  When our customers use a radio it is for listening to the news, the DJ, theatre, drama as well as music and so the quality of reproduction of the voice has always been very important for Roberts.  In modern speakers a focus on a strong bass for music often means that the spoken voice sounds wrong.  Roberts delivers enough bass for music but always delivers great speech.  It should also be no surprise that many Roberts designs use a wood case for natural resonance.  Our customers tell us that they adore their Roberts!
There is a lot going on in France with Digital Radio, what has changed?
In 2019, the French Government through the CSA has announced a new strategy for France.  ‘Arcs’ and ‘Nodes’.  Over the course of the next two years 2019-2020 the ‘nodes’ which are the major cities in France and the ‘arcs’ which are the major roads will receive new digital radio transmission coverage.  France has already passed 20% DAB+ coverage with the cities of Marseille, Paris, Lille, Lyon and Strasbourg.  That has brought a change in the law so that after December 2019 it will become illegal to sell a radio in France that does not have a DAB+ receiver inside.  The opportunity for Digital radio in France is real.

How big is that opportunity for new Digital Radio’s in France?
In the UK where radio is a popular medium and there has been a wide DAB coverage, around 10M new digital radios have been sold over the last 6-7 years.  France has a similar population of radio lovers and within 2 years will have a DAB+ coverage that would be significant enough to generate real interest and demand.  So, in the next 6-7 years perhaps the opportunity is also for 10M new digital radios to be sold.  Typically the value of a DAB+ receiver is at least 3x the value of an old AM/FM receiver and so this makes France a very significant new opportunity.

In your opinion what should retailers consider when choosing their Digital radio range?
Of course, each retailer will know its own primary customer base and their buying styles.  However, Digital radio is a new category and represents a new opportunity to offer a strong range of products and so profit from this opportunity.  There is evidence from other markets that consumers will first purchase a product of quality, so that they can fully benefit from the better sound.  The second and third purchase in the home will be more specific for a room (kitchen, bathroom, bedroom etc..).  Retailers should consider that radio is most often used as an alarm in a bedroom, first thing in the morning in the kitchen, as an evening companion in a living room and then as a whole home and outdoors portable device.  Many consumers now listen to streaming music with smartphones and tablets and so having a bluetooth feature will allow your new radio also to be a speaker.  Radio can sometimes have a better signal in one room than another, and so those people that really love their radio may be interested in having a WiFi feature so that they have no problem with signal at home.  A good – better – best approach is also a good way to present a range to help consumers to choose.  Finally design is important.  If you are upgrading to Digital radio why not buy a nice design?  So the ideal would be a range that includes several alarm clock radios with bluetooth and several portable radios with bluetooth and several portable radios with both bluetooth & WiFi.  Naturally Roberts has a best product for every range!

What happens next?
We expect to see new announcements by the CSA through the coming two years of new cities and new radio stations being launched.  With the change in law we expect that retailers will use 2019 to clear stocks of older products and replace the space on shelves with new Digital radio models.  Roberts will continue to launch new innovative premium radio models that bring great design, traditional materials and that deliver best sound quality. Roberts hopes to be the best of the chosen brands in retail.  For sure, it’s going to be a super year for radio!