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BBC plans to launch four new spin-off radio stations criticised by commercial radio sector

The BBC‘s announcement of its plans to launch four new radio stations has attracted criticism from the commercial radio sector.

The four stations, which will air via DAB+ and BBC Sounds, will be the first BBC stations launched digitally since 1Xtra, 6Music and the Asian Network in 2002.

The stations, which are currently unnamed, are intented to give listeners “more choice and value from the licence fee”. The BBC added that they will “delve deeper into specific genres and periods of music with context, curation and storytelling done in a way only the BBC can do”.

There will be a Radio 1 spin-off, which will play music from the 2000s and 2010s to capture the recent wave of nostalgia for these time periods. “Lesser-heard gems” will be spotlighted from high-profile artists. The station will also act as a hub for developing new talent on- and off-air.

A Radio 2 spin-off is also in the works, which will focus on the 50s, 60s, and 70s. It will feature “a distinctive take on pop nostalgia” and will highlight “some of the people who shaped the cultural landscape at the time” as well as some of the station’s current presenters.

General view of Broadcasting House, the BBC headquarters in central London. Credit: Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Radio 2 spin-off is also intended to “bring heritage artist catalogues and stories to life in a much deeper and more richly textured manner than the main mixed-genre Radio 2 schedule can allow”.

Radio 3 will also acquire a new station dedicated honing in on classical music, targeted towards those wanting to “unwind, de-stress and escape the pressures of daily life”. It will also play more contemporary compositions alongside older classics, and would champion living composers.

This new spin-off would also support BBC Proms content, along with content from the BBC orchestras, choirs, and Introducing acts.

Finally, the BBC is planning to expand on the existing Radio 1 Dance station by launching it on DAB+ with added content. It is currently available on BBC Sounds. The new and improved Radio 1 Dance will reportedly spotlight programmes that develop young talent.

There will be a public consultation about the launch of the four stations, including a Public Interest Test (PIT), which should happen in the coming weeks.

Lorna Clarke, director of BBC Music, said of the launch: “Our stations have captured the history of music in the UK during the past six decades for our audiences, and we now want to give them more choice from the BBC as listening habits are changing.

“Our extensions for Radio 1, Radio 2 and Radio 3 will allow listeners to deep-dive into more pop and classical genres and periods of music they love the most, uniquely created by the BBC.”

The move has attracted criticism from the commercial radio sector. Stations such as Absolute, Smooth, Virgin and Heart currently have stations focusing on specific genres or decades.

Commercial representatives Radio Centre called for Ofcom to reject the proposals, saying: “The BBC are, yet again, attempting to compete directly with commercial radio stations, interfering with the market and failing to provide distinct public value. UK audiences are very well catered for with more choice than ever, especially for music spin-off stations.”

In a statement to RadioToday, Boom Radio co-founder Phil Riley added: “We are puzzled by this potential move by the BBC. Given the recent trend which has seen BBC Radio 2 losing older listeners in their thousands, it smacks somewhat of panic.

“It also remains to be seen if the BBC will pass Ofcom’s competition assessment test to ensure that this adds value and doesn’t have an adverse impact on competitors or the market.”

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