BBC offers talk radio for the iPod generation

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The iPod has already won over a generation of music and gadget lovers. Now the BBC is targeting a new army of the device's devotees who are more familiar with the tones of John Humphrys and Kate Adie.

The iPod has already won over a generation of music and gadget lovers. Now the BBC is targeting a new army of the device's devotees who are more familiar with the tones of John Humphrys and Kate Adie.

From this week, radio shows ranging from Today to From Our Own Correspondent can be obtained from the corporation's website and stored in the machine's memory. The practice, podcasting, is part of a trial by the BBC to gauge the appetite for listening to radio programmes on demand via an iPod or other MP3 player.

Podcasting allows people to download broadcasts from websites onto MP3 players and listen at their own convenience. It began at grassroots level in August last year as an audio version of internet "blogging", with enthusiasts recording and distributing their own shows.

The BBC has just concluded a trial offering MP3 downloads of Melvyn Bragg's Radio4 programme In Our Time, Radio Five Live's discussion show Fighting Talk and selected documentaries from the digital urban music station 1Xtra. The broadcasts were downloaded to MP3 players a total of 270,000 times in four months.

The success of the experiment has prompted the BBC to extend the trial to include extracts from 20 radio programmes, including the Today 8.10am interview, this year's Reith Lectures, Radio4's In Business, Five Live's Sportsweek, World Service documentaries and the weekly Gaelic Letter from BBC Radio Nan Gaidheal. These programmes will be available for download in an MP3 format until the end of the year, when the BBC will judge how widely used the service is and how much it costs, to help determine its future strategy.

Simon Nelson, controller of BBC radio and music interactive, said: "In Our Time and Fighting Talk did brilliantly well, but we want to test whether their success was down to novelty. I don't think that's true, but we want to test a wider range of genres and programmes across different networks and parts of the country.

"MP3 players are becoming increasingly available, particularly among audiences who don't traditionally listen to speech radio programmes. We want to make these programmes available to people who may find them of interest and educational.''

He added: "We like to think that in many aspects of taking radio digital and on-demand we are world leaders. If you look at a phenomenon like podcasting, there's no doubt we are riding on the efforts of grassroots activity that's grown up on the internet."

In August 2004, Adam Curry, a former MTV presenter, came up with the idea of transferring internet radio broadcasts from computer to iPod and set about developing software called iPodder that would allow him to achieve his ambition. A Google search for "podcast" now brings up more than four million results. Virgin Radio recently became the first UK station to offer a podcast of a daily show, making the links from its Pete & Geoff Breakfast Show available for MP3 download.

Music is a difficult area for podcasting because of copyright issues over the tracks played. The BBC is currently developing software that would allow people to download music radio shows to MP3 players for a limited period, but it has yet to reach agreement with rights holders. An internet music industry magazine, Record of the Day, is about to become one of the first UK websites to offer music podcasts. It has been able to crack the copyright issue by limiting its podcasts to five tracks a week, mainly from unknown artists to whom the record companies want to attract attention. Paul Scaife, publisher of Record of the Day, said: "Initially we will feature five tracks a week, with a DJ reading out reviews and a couple of interviews. It's great if the public listen to it and like it, but we are really aimed at the industry - people who can turn the tracks into hits."

Shows to download

*Today (Radio 4, daily) - 8.10am interview

* In Business (Radio 4, weekly)

* From Our Own Correspondent (Radio 4, weekly/twice weekly)

* In Our Time (Radio 4, weekly)

* Reith Lectures (Radio 4, run of six)

* Sportsweek (Radio Five Live, weekly)

* Fighting Talk (Radio Five Live, weekly)

* Rumour Mill (Radio Five Live, weekly)

* Mark Kermode film review slot (Radio Five Live, weekly)

* Radio 1 speech highlights - to be confirmed

* Go Digital (World Service, weekly)

* Documentary archive (World Service, twice weekly)

* TX documentaries (1Xtra, weekly)

* Gaelic Letter (BBC Radio Nan Gaidheal, weekly)

* TX Unlimited (1Xtra)