Gaelic channel set to push BBC radio off Freeview

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The Independent Online

Homes across Scotland with access to Freeview could see the portfolio of BBC's radio stations removed under plans to put the Gaelic channel Alba on to the digital terrestrial platform.

The BBC Trust has kicked off a review to decide whether to make space for the Gaelic channel on Freeview by dropping the BBC's radio stations during the channel's broadcast hours. This would see radio stations 1, 2, 3 and 4, as well as 5Live, Radio Scotland and the World Service dropping off the digital channel during Alba's broadcast.

Alba was something of a surprise package when it launched in Scotland in September last year to what 2001 census figures suggested was the lowest ever Gaelic-speaking audience of just 58,650. In its first week of broadcast the channel, which broadcasts between 5pm and 11pm on Sky and Freesat, pulled in 600,000 listeners.

That figure subsequently dropped to 400,000 last December and now stands at around 220,000 a week, a figure that is said to be boosted by the channel showing Scottish Premier games. Yet the stationwill undoubtedly benefit from a wider Freeview appearance.

When the trust gave the service the go-ahead last year, it insisted on a review taking place before digital switchover happens in central and northern Scotland in 2010. As well as examining how to find space for Alba on Freeview, the trust will ask for views on the channel's performance since it was launched in September last year.

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