BBC keeps its options open over the future of Radio 4

THE BBC acted quickly yesterday to dampen speculation that it had abandoned its controversial idea of confining Radio 4 to its FM frequency and using the long wave frequency for a 24-hour news channel. Liz Forgan, managing director of BBC Radio, emphasised that no decision had been made. There had been no change since the announcement at the beginning of the year that the plan was being reconsidered.

A report in yesterday's London Evening Standard suggested that the all-news station was going to replace Radio 5, allowing Radio 4 to stay both on FM - where two-thirds of its audience listens to it - and on long wave. But this is only one of the options being considered by Phil Harding, a former producer of Today, who is due to report in September.

Another possibility is that the all- news station will go on FM and Radio 4 will be heard only on long wave. A proposal by Richard Branson that the BBC should exchange its Radio 4 FM frequency for his Virgin 1215 AM frequency was described as 'quite unacceptable' by Lord Chalfont, chairman of the Radio Authority, yesterday.

Mr Branson's adult rock service is reaching more than 3 million listeners a week after its first month, but the airline tycoon would prefer a stereo frequency to attract still more.

Lord Chalfont said the Radio Authority would strongly resist the idea. 'If we had been advertising INR2 (the second national radio frequency offered for sale) as an FM frequency it would have cost him a great deal more than he paid for the AM frequency.'

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