Public broadcaster RTHK will formally pull the plug on Hong Kong’s final digital radio services next month, after the government decided in March to completely shut down the service.

The broadcaster’s Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) services will be terminated at midnight on September 3. Its analogue radio service will remain.

It came after Chinese broadcaster Phoenix shut down its URadio DAB service last year, along with the closure of Hong Kong’s DBC and the Metro Broadcast Corporation’s digital services.

RTHK digital audio broadcasting
Website of a RTHK digital audio broadcasting channel. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

The Donald Tsang administration in 2010 introduced a DAB policy in order to “address the then-local market interest in the development of the services and to cope with the trend of broadcasting technology development in the world.”

DAB services provide higher audio quality, more stations, and have allowed other jurisdictions to free up analogue radio wavelengths.

The government granted licences in March 2011 to three commercial operators: URadio, DBC and Metro, whilst five DAB channels were granted to RTHK.

digital audio broadcasting RTHK
A promotional event for RTHK’s digital audio broadcasting services in 2012. Photo: RTHK.

Former DBC chief executive Stephen Loh had said that the government failed to help drivers to install digital radio in their vehicles.

He also said tunnels, public housing estates and MTR trains were not entirely covered by the digital radio signal. The poor coverage meant that broadcasters struggled to compete.

On March 28 this year, the government decided DAB services would be finally axed within six months, after considering a review of the failed policy.

“We have all along been maintaining this approach. The same approach is used in reaching the decision for discontinuance of the DAB services in Hong Kong,” a spokesman for the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau said in a March press release.

digital audio broadcasting RTHK
Then-chief secretary Carrie Lam at RTHK’s “2012 Digital Audio Broadcasting New Era” launch ceremony. Photo: GovHK.

“However, the retreat of the three commercial DAB operators in a short period of time due to difficulties in their operation and the lack of a critical mass of audience demonstrated the exhaustion of interest in the services,” the release stated.

“On the future of the DAB services provided by RTHK, the Review pointed out that in the absence of participation of commercial operators, it would not be realistic from a policy perspective to rely solely on RTHK to operate alone on the DAB platform, or to task RTHK to develop a critical mass of audience on its own.”

The government review also said that the rapid development of the internet and mobile applications have replaced traditional audio broadcasting services to an extent.

Although it is difficult to apply for a government licence to officially operate a radio station, there have been more than a dozen online radio channels launched in Hong Kong. Licences are not required to operate an online station.

“The wider environment is not conducive to a revival of the DAB market,” the press release said.

Also on Friday, RTHK announced that it was ending its 24-hour BBC World Service relay, to replace it with a Mandarin news service.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.