From old rockers to young blacks, BBC seeks wider radio audience

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The Independent Online

The BBC announced plans yesterday for five new digital radio services, which could yet be called Radios 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10.

The BBC announced plans yesterday for five new digital radio services, which could yet be called Radios 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10.

The services, which will go on air next year, will cater for ageing rock fans, black and Asian youth, and sports fans. And for aficionados of the spoken word there will be a new service that will draw on some of the best-loved dramas and comedies from the archives,as well as unabridged book readings.

Underlying the new stations is a determination by the BBC to do more for ethnic minorities. Allied to this is the growing realisation that the BBC archives contain a wealth of material, not least early performances by classic rock bands.

Jenny Abramsky, director of BBC Radio, said the names of the news stations had not yet been decided. In addition to the five stations - three brand new, two enhanced versions of Radio 5 Live and a current BBC Asian service - the World Service will be available on digital radio from next year.

The plans are significant, but depend on manufacturers bringing down the price of portable digital radios. So far they are rarely seen, and cost several hundred pounds.

Ms Abramsky said she was confident new versions would be on the market next year. The new BBC services were also aimed at people listening online, on satellite TV sets and on WAP mobile phones.

The channels are: a new urban black music radio station; a service featuring classic album tracks and archive material for the post-Beatles generation; a speech service with drama and comedy and material for children; an enhanced Radio 5 Live with extra sports; and a national BBC Asiannetwork.

The BBC expects to launch the first of these by spring of next year. Each of the others will follow with a launch every three months. All the stations depend on approval from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

Champions of digital radio say the technology can already be heard on TV sets via satellite and over the internet so should work on mobile phones. Experts say digital radio in all its forms will reach 30 per cent of the population by 2006.

Ms Abramsky said: "We want to champion UK-produced black music the way The Dreem Teem are doing on Radio 1 on Sundays."

Development of the black station will be headed by Andy Parfitt, head of Radio 1. Jim Moir, Radio 2's controller, will look after the album track station and Helen Boaden, head of Radio 4, the speech service.

The services will cost £15m a year with a further £5m a year for the associated online services. The cash came from the last licence fee settlement rather than from budget savings, Ms Abramsky said.

"For the next 10 years the vast majority of listening will still be through AM and FM sets, but radio is going to be consumed in umpteen different ways in the same way television is."

Although the services will cost just a fraction of the present network to produce, Ms Abramsky said they would not be "second-class citizens" compared with the existing network of Radios 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Live and the World Service. Costs would be reduced through using existing resources such as the archives. She added: "We're going to make considerable use of talent already within the BBC. I think what we're going to do is high quality."

The proposed new channels

Classic rock

Rock from the archives. This will raid BBC archives for performances by, and interviews with, legendary groups and solo artists, including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, David Bowie and the Doors. It will, the BBC promises, not feature techno, rap or dance forms.

Asian network

A national BBC Asian network, which will build on an existing service operated by BBC Leicester. As a national digital station, it will serve Asian communities throughout the country with speech and music. It will also have newsgathering capability.

Live sports+

This is an enhancement of the existing Radio 5 Live. Transformed to a digital service, it will bring added value by extending the range of sports offered. Wimbledon coverage, for example, would offer commentary from more than one court.

Spoken word

A service built on Radio 4's tradition - with the emphasis on family listening - offering drama, comedy and readings. It will include children's programming, but there will not be a separate digital children's service. A mix of original programming and archive material.

Urban black music

A black music, news and speech service aimed at young people, focused on contemporary urban music. It will support new black performers and champion black music made in Britain. Live events and club nights, and discussion of social issues, will be featured.