Channel 4 ready to launch radio service to rival BBC

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The Independent Online

Richard & Judy, Lost, Big Brother and the Channel 4 News have been turned into radio shows as part of a bid by Channel 4 to become a national radio broadcaster to rival the BBC.

The company has also hired Jim Moir, the former BBC Radio 2 chief, to help boost its attempt to break into radio.

The chief executive Andy Duncan announced in January that Channel 4 would head a consortium bidding to run a new digital radio platform, which is being sold by the media regulator Ofcom this autumn.

If it wins control of the new DAB multiplex, Channel 4 wants to extend its reputation for creating innovative and diverse television by building a portfolio of radio stations.

Yesterday, Mr Duncan took the first step in this strategy by launching the website, where listeners can sample some of the shows it will broadcast if its bid is successful.

Channel 4 News, produced by ITN, has gone into competition with Radio 4's Today programme with The Morning Report, a 30-minute news bulletin, available from 7am each day.

A new weekly series provides fans of Lost with a forum to discuss conspiracy theories about the show and hear sneak previews of the next episode.

Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan will present a monthly programme based on their television book club.

4Thought will give a platform to the likes of Christopher Hitchens, George Galloway, Arthur Scargill and Tony Benn.

Other shows will feature the latest gossip from Big Brother, racing tips and stand-up comedy. The team behind the youth channel E4 will present a new programme on world music, as well as covering summer music festivals.

While Channel 4 hopes to provide a public service alternative to the BBC, it also believes there is a huge gap to be filled in the commercial radio market, providing fresh material that appeals to 16 to 34-year-olds.

Channel 4 appears confident of winning the multiplex. Mr Duncan refused to divulge how much Channel 4 is spending on the bid, but said the radio service would be expected to be profitable in the medium to long term.

He said Channel 4 radio would provide "a much needed shot in the arm for commercial radio".

Ofcom will reach a decision on who will run the new multiplex by spring next year. If Channel 4 is successful, its full radio service will be up and running by 2008.