New Digital BBC Stations Proposed
Nigel Cropper

The BBC has said that new digital radio stations will be launched as an extension to radio 1, radio 2 and radio 3. They will be available on BBC Sounds. The three stations will be (1) for recent popular music, post-2000, (2) for older popular music, 1950s-1970s, and (3) for a wide range of classical music and some serious spoken word content plus mindfulness, wellbeing and sleep space (their words).

Nigel Cropper has supplied the following comments on the proposal.

(....thanks for permission to reprint them here - ND.)

..........It's a bonkers idea, on several counts.

1. The BBC is supposed to be strapped for cash and is making big cuts all over the place, so, while it's good to see it investing money in radio, I'm not sure this is a good way to do it or a good use of its resources.

2. If these are going to be purposed as DAB channels, I assume they will suffer the same problems with lower bitrates and relatively poor sound quality that affects its existing channels.

3. Audience reach on DAB is still very low, so I assume most of their prospective listeners will be listening on BBC Sounds, but because the programming is made for DAB, it will have the same bitrate and will compare poorly with streaming services like Spotify.

4. It won't attract listeners to Spotify et al, who like to curate their own playlists. I suppose it may attract listeners from commercial stations, in which case the launch of these channels is merely a cynical tactic in an entirely unnecessary ratings war.

5. I have left my biggest objection until last: the creation of targeted channels is further narrowcasting, the exact opposite of the Reithian ideal of BBC broadcasting: to inform, educate and entertain. I have long thought it was a bad idea to alter the original Home, Light and Third Programmes to create specifically targeted channels.

I was looking at the BBC Genome recently for a programme billing from 1962. Fortuitously, the particular programme I wanted went out on the Home Service on one of the days for which there was a scan of Radio Times. I had not realised just how much music was broadcast on that channel: I remember it mainly as a speech channel, as Radio 4 is now, but in fact it was an eclectic mix of all sorts of things: news, documentaries, magazine programmes (like Home This Afternoon), comedy (The Goon Show went out on the Home Service), drama (lots of drama), but all sorts of music: classical, dance bands, light music, though not much pop, even in 1962.

The Light Programme offered a similar mix, with less speech and less classical music. The Third Programme (and Network Three, which was effectively a different channel on the same wavelength) was definitely more elitist: more earnest talk shows, discussions etc. and mostly classical music (but jazz too). The point was that if you listened to either of the main channels (the Third did not broadcast all day), you could within a couple of hours hear a wide range of material - enough to widen horizons, introduce people to things they would not necessarily have switched on specifically to hear.

It is that serendipitous voyage of discovery that is threatened by narrowcasting. Just as algorithms on social media are driving people into echo chambers of like-mindedness, narrowcasting is restricting choices and denying people the opportunity to discover new delights beyond their comfort zone. Maybe that's deliberate, as a means of controlling the populace. Whether it is an Orwellian conspiracy or not, I see this initiative as unhelpful and taking the BBC in the wrong direction.



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