When I was a lad, we had a TV set which could also receive radio broadcasts. I subsequently became convinced that there were special pictures to accompany radio programmes. I can still remember the disappointment when the screen remained obstinately blank, denying me that longed-for image of, say, Dan Archer or William Hardcastle.
Had I been born in 2001 instead of 1961, I might have seen my dreams realised - literally - since by then, radio stations may indeed be able to broadcast pictures thanks to digital audio broadcasting (DAB).
The higher bandwidth of DAB will not only allow the BBC to shovel nine national stations onto the airwaves (including - as if we needed them - two versions of Radio 5 Live), but will enable it to accompany these with helpful information.
Don't know the phone number of You and Yours? Up it will pop on a little display. Your significant other is convinced you're listening to the Spice Girls when you know it's All Saints? The display will show you who's right.
Didn't hear whether the recipe called for garlic or garnish? Never mind, the fact sheet will appear at the end of the programme.
Of course, you can't yet listen to DAB unless you shell out £1,000 for a receiver or send off to Germany for a DAB tuner for your PC. But commercial sets are in the offing. Last week, Grundig, Pioneer, Clarion, Blaupunkt and Kenwood announced the first in-car DAB sets, which will ship in the summer. Bosch showed a portable DAB receiver at CeBit and there are prototype midi and hi-fi receivers.
Cynics will argue that broadcasting radio with text and pictures is a bit like putting an outboard motor on a bicycle. Why bother, they will ask, when TV and the internet do the job better?
But a digital service from one of the most respected content providers in the world, with no subscription or phone charges, receivable in the home, office, car or on a portable device, could have considerable appeal.
Text and pictures to your PC. Instant news feeds to your PDA. Handy sports updates to your car. Combine the DAB services with GSM and you would even have a return path to enable interactive broadcasting.
No doubt the BBC will think carefully about charging. But it is committed to providing DAB free-to-air for the foreseeable future, using licence fee revenues to support the free radio stations.
DAB would be an intriguing free alternative to the internet and online services. Perhaps PC and PDA makers should consider offering integrated DAB tuners as an option for forward-thinking buyers.
I just hope the pictures don't destroy the magic. When I finally did see an image of William Hardcastle, I was dead disappointed, as the distinguished-sounding gent with the rich brown voice turned out to be an overweight baldie. As for Dan Archer, he didn't exist at all.
Paul Bray is a freelance IT journalist.
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