Channel 4 has succeeded in its bid to launch a nationwide digital radio service to rival the BBC, after beating rival bidder National Grid Wireless to win a licence from Ofcom.
The broadcaster will now launch 10 brand new national radio stations in the UK on DAB digital radio, reaching the vast majority of the population by the end of next year, with rolling news, speech, arts programming and niche music stations.
Ofcom has spent the last three months weighing up two bids for the commercial digital radio multiplex, as National Grid Wireless squared up against Channel 4.
National Grid Wireless emphasised its expertise in running broadcast technology – it owns a sizeable chunk of the UK’s television and radio transmitters, and played a key role in the development of Freeview. It was to be a “neutral host”, renting out space on the multiplex and not running any stations itself.
Channel 4, meanwhile, was looking to make its mark on radio and provide a commercial public service alternative to the BBC, putting to an end what it called “the 80-year dominance of speech radio”.
The licence was a hotly-contested one, with both bids offering a broad range of different stations, including a rolling news channel on each side. Both companies also pledged millions of pounds for marketing campaigns to persuade more people to buy digital radio sets.
Channel 4 had run a bold PR offensive to coincide with its application to Ofcom, and will now launch three stations of its own. Channel 4 Radio is being dubbed as a rival to Radio 4, aimed at a slightly younger audience. It will broadcast an early morning news and analysis programme, similar to Radio 4’s flagship Today programme.
Pure4 pledges to tap into modern culture, art and new music, while E4 will be a radio spin-off of the teen music and entertainment TV channel.
Other stations in the successful bid include rolling news station Sky News Radio – a collaboration between BSkyB and Chrysalis, the owner of London talk station LBC – and Talk Radio, a return to the days before TalkSport started talking about sport.
Space on the multiplex will also be set aside for podcasts from print media outlets including Penguin Books, the Financial Times and the NME.
National Grid Wireless’s unsuccessful 12-station bid was seen by many as the dark horse in the race. A lot of the broadcasters it had teamed up with were listed as confidential in its application to Ofcom, including the provider of its rolling news channel.
Channel 4 plans to launch eight of its 10 new stations next summer, with Channel 4 Radio launching six months later and Pure4 a further six months down the line.
Until then, Channel 4 Radio is still running as an online-only podcast download service, offering daily shows from Channel 4 News plus documentaries and arts programming. The broadcaster also owns a 51 per cent stake in the digital-only speech station, OneWord.
The Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards said: “Today’s licence award is an important development for radio listeners who will benefit from a greater variety of commercial national radio services. The award will give a real boost to the DAB platform, which we believe will form the cornerstone of radio provision in the future.”
The Channel 4 director of radio, Nathalie Schwarz, said she was delighted that Ofcom had recognised the strength of its bid.’From the start of this process we were confident that the strength of our consortium partners combined with our proposed line-up of distinctive radio stations and content offered a genuine extension of choice for UK listeners and the best chance to drive forward the take- up of digital radio in the UK,” she said.
‘This is a fantastic day for 4 Digital Group and an exciting one for the future of digital radio in the UK. We have worked very hard with all our consortium partners over the last year to reach this point – we will now work together to deliver our commitments and live up to our vision of securing the future of commercial digital radio in the UK.”