Pick 'n' Mix Radio Under Development at BBC

05 July 2006

The annual Radio Festival, memorably described as the UK radio industry's equivalent of a 48-hour endoscopy, is again under way in the UK university city of Cambridge. Its keynote speaker on Monday was BBC director general Mark Thompson, delivering the Guardian Media Group Lecture.

A showman with a newsroom background, Thompson grabbed his audience by the throat when he unveiled plans for the publicly-owned corporation's latest gizmo - a virtual reality BBC radio station customizable to personal tastes by each and every listener.

Provisionally branded MyBBCRadio, it will harness peer to peer internet technology to "provide thousands, ultimately millions, of individual radio services created by the audience themselves, all of them based on the extraordinary wealth of existing BBC content, but as relevant to individual users as the playlists they assemble for their iPods".

The new baby springs from the loins of the BBC's existing internet RadioPlayer, which enables listeners to recall any programme from the past seven days. It also draws on podcasting experiments that allow programmes to be downloaded to portable media devices.

Both technologies are proving increasingly popular with listeners, between them triggering a seachange in radio listening habits.

But Thompson's message received a mixed reception from those who hew their living from the commercial coalface without benefit of enforced public funding.

Angered at being constantly out-rated in audience terms by an expense-no-object BBC, the commercial sector is lobbying the government to restrict the amount received by the BBC from the public purse [WAMN: 02-Jun-06].

In pugnacious defensive mode, Thompson accused commercial radio stations of blaming the BBC for their own problems: "Over the past few years, BBC radio has taken a different creative path from most of commercial radio, focusing on talent and intelligent, exciting speech on its music networks just as much as on Radio 4 and Five Live," he claimed.

"Radios 1 and 2 have been successful not because they've become more like their competitors but because they've become less like them . . . If you've got a problem with a popular BBC, you're picking a fight with the British public," Thompson warned.

However, the director general rounded-off his act by waving an olive branch in the direction of his ad-funded foes.

"Endless friction with the commercial sector isn't good for business: it's not good for the BBC . . . it is essential that the BBC builds a better relationship and a higher level of confidence with the reasonable majority in the commercial sector," Thompson conceded.

Data sourced from MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff