France started using digital audio broadcasting (DAB) in June 2014, centred on Paris, Nice and Marseille. Since July 2017, the focus has been on upgrading to DAB+ for benefits that include lower transmission costs, reduced spectrum usage and a more robust reception quality. That’s again concentrated on the same areas initially, with further phases extending the coverage.
So DAB radio is certainly available in France. But, for British visitors or expats living there, the question is can they listen to UK stations?
DAB Stations Available
At the launch of DAB in France, the four main commercial radio groups decided not to bid and so the initial take-up was decidedly slow. Coverage has since improved and certain French stations broadcast in DAB format as well as analogue. However, there are few English language broadcasts by French radio stations and accessing UK stations is difficult.
Reception depends on the strength of the signal and your distance from the transmitter, and that applies whether listening in FM, AM or DAB formats. Consequently, it may be possible to pick up some UK stations from the north of France but reception quality may be questionable.
The increasing popularity of digital radio has prompted the BBC to broadcast several English language programmes that should be available. BBC World Service is also available via digital radio. A DAB radio bought in the UK will, however, need to be retuned to find the available stations and will have to be compatible with the local format (DAB or DAB+).
Alternative Ways to Access UK Radio
If you can’t access the stations you want via a DAB radio, which is highly likely, there are alternatives. If you have a Freeview or NowTV box, you should be able to access lots of radio stations. Other alternatives are to get them via cable or satellite, although this depends on your provider. BBC World Service is broadcast via satellite, as are its national UK stations, although the signal focus of the latter is naturally on the British Isles.
You can buy dedicated internet radios that let you listen to radio from all over the world as long as you have an internet connection. This means you’ll be able to easily listen to UK stations while living or travelling in France, provided you have broadband.
You can also access UK radio stations directly from a PC, tablet or mobile phone (just search ‘internet radio’ to find a provider). You can also download various radio apps that give access to multiple stations and have other functions such as playlists. Certain stations have geographic focus and may block some broadcasts, such as live sport, due to rights issues.
Some radio apps are free to use while others have a monthly fee. Listening to radio via Wi-Fi typically uses about 55 MB per hour so be aware of charges if your data usage isn’t unlimited. See an overview of how much data radio apps use here.
For more information, check out this article on how to listen to UK radio abroad, and see WorldDAB’s page on DAB radio in France here. If you’re interested in using an internet radio to listen to UK stations abroad, we’ve reviewed the top models here.