Lend them your ears

Rock, hip-hop, Sinatra or the spoken word? Ian Burrell tunes into 12 of the best niche digital-only stations
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The Independent Online

Expect: New Order, Blur, British Sea Power

BBC6 Music

Audience: 311,000

Expect: New Order, Blur, British Sea Power

A great station for the music cognoscenti, it has the feel of an indie record shop where they know every record ever made, who produced it, who played on it, what label it was on and who designed the sleeve. That's maybe why some women say it's "too blokey". Star DJs include Steve Lamacq and Bruce Dickinson. Liz Kershaw and Jane Gazzo try to correct any imbalance. The best thing is Dream Ticket, where you imagine you're at some of the greatest gigs ever.

Primetime Radio

Audience: 162,000

Expect: Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra, The Hollies

Owned by Roger de Haan, who founded Saga Radio, Primetime is aimed at 50- to 69-year-olds, which means music from six decades. With 8,000 tunes you're unlikely to hear the same song twice, even if, like the average Primetime listener, you tune in for 10.8 hours a week (more than any other digital station). "Melodic" is the keyword, meaning that alongside Connie Francis and Buddy Holly you'll get relatively recent tunes from Queen and, bizarrely, Boyzone.

BBC 1XTRA

Audience: 351,000

Expect: Wiley, Nas, Faith Evans

The BBC's "new black music station". Has the underground flavour of a pirate station but with a crystal-clear signal that doesn't depend on a tower block aerial that also broadcasts to Heathrow airport. If you want to find out which hip-hop and grime tunes are running things "on road" then listen here. Not just aimed at a black audience but all lovers of those music genres sometimes called "urban", 1Xtra is close to the streets, whether in New York or Bow, London E3.

Capital Disney

Audience: 22,000

Expect: Kelly Osbourne, Natalie Imbruglia

The audio equivalent of gunge-soaked Saturday morning telly, this station (part of the GCap empire) is aimed at 8- to 14-year-olds and has shows called Hometime. It's bosses know that much of its audience will be listening online, and so it has links to such internet delights as virtualfoodfight.com and Mr Methane's Farting Bonanza. Special features are designed to help kids with their revision. The pop musical diet is also designed to be inoffensive to young mums.

Smash Hits

Audience: 711,000

Expect: McFly, Gwen Stefani, Lemar

While her younger brother might be flinging flans to the sound of Capital Disney, the Smash Hits listener will be tuning in to "sh! radio", as Emap is branding it. Like its sister stations Q and Mojo, Smash Hits is allied to the magazine of the same name, meaning it plays "non-stop chart hits". The station claims to take listeners "closer to the stars" (Blue, Busted, etc) and offers " a window into their lives". The demographic is 18-34, but it is really for teens.

BBC7

Audience: 556,000

Expect: The Goons, Tony Hancock

In audience terms this is the big success of the BBC's digital audio adventure, although BBC7 is probably taking listeners from Radio 4. A refuge from shock jocks, motormouths, repetitive beats, monsters of rock and depressing current affairs. Come here for quality drama and classic comedy. But it's not all vintage - you'll also find contemporary comedy, such as an interview with the team behind The League of Gentlemen, or an episode of the inspired show The Mighty Boosh.

Oneword Radio

Audience: 121,000

Expect: Jenny Agutter, John Sessions, Alec Guinness

A rival to BBC7, Oneword has a more literary feel, specialising in book-readings by leading actors such as Miranda Richardson. Its featured authors range from PG Wodehouse to Nick Hornby. It is good on children's books too. Oneword also has a show which highlights reviews of the latest films. It breaks its schedule down into categories that include biography, crime, comedy and bestsellers. The station also mines the speech-radio archives.

Planet Rock

Audience: 286,000

Expect: The Rolling Stones, Thin Lizzy, The Kinks

Old rockers are invited to reminisce about their favourite rock moments. "It might be listening to 'Born to be Wild' in your Cortina MkII," suggests its website. Although it's a commercial station, Planet Rock shows its commitment with Rock Bloks, 30 ad-free minutes of classic axe work. Owned by Gcap, the station boasts a number of established "rock jocks", including Nicky Horne. Planet Rock's 35+ audience still thinks of itself with a curly perm. No 1 artist: Metallica.

Virgin Radio Classic Rock

Audience: 160,000

Expect: Dire Straits, The Cars, AC/DC

If you're the type of guy who bought Best Air Guitar Album in the World... Ever Vol III, then this station is for you. It's manna from heaven for fortysomething men who used to wear too-tight trousers while playing an imaginary power-chord to Van Halen's "Jump". And, for that matter, for those female headbangers with a soft spot for the likes of David Coverdale and Jon Bon Jovi. Its presenters include Richard Skinner, who launched Virgin Radio back in 1993.

The Storm

Audience: 85,000

Expect: U2, Pearl Jam, Linkin Park

Trying to be a bit younger than Classic Rock and Planet Rock, this station is attempting to link music to "an active lifestyle" - by which it means skating and surfing. But maybe a young British rock fan's idea of an active lifestyle means walking to the bus-stop rather than hunting a wave. This station (which is only available in London, the West Midlands and the West Country) also has a show called Live:Mission, in which listeners text in their reviews of live gigs.

BBC Asian Network

Audience: 443,000 (including its analogue audience)

Expect: Punjabi MC, Bollywood soundtracks

Mixes music with current affairs, religious shows, drama and coverage of Amir Khan's latest bout. Boasts star DJs including Radio 1's Bobby Friction, but it faces competition in London and the Midlands from commercial station Yarr (part of the Sunrise group). Asian Network also features more established Bhangra artists including Alaap and Apna Sangeet. Saturday afternoons belong to presenter Sanjeet Saund and her interviews with sports stars.

The Hits

Audience: 833,000

Expect: Robbie Williams, Kylie, Madonna

Another Emap station, this is aimed at people who are "sociable, metropolitan and confident". Its formula of middle-of-the-road hits with the sing-a-long factor puts it in direct competition with big commercial hitters such as Heart. It's certainly building an audience, though. It targets a clientele of 15- 34-year-olds who are "young, switched on and have high disposable incomes". Well, this is a commercial station. Basically, it's non-stop recent pop hits.

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