Magazine article The Spectator

Digital Watch

Magazine article The Spectator

Digital Watch

Article excerpt

Did the BBC's creation of its Radio Four-type digital radio network BBC 7 force the commercial digital station Oneword to close? The report last week investigating the corporation's move into digital radio seemed to think so. Tim Gardam, a former BBC and Channel 4 executive, whose report it was, said that the BBC 'was basically unconcerned about the potential effect of BBC7 on Oneword'. The Oneword 'assumption that it would be allowed to pursue this market alone was scuppered' once BBC7 was launched. He thought the station's collapse might have been avoided if the BBC had been willing to share its renowned archive with it.

It is a pity that Oneword, the digital radio station that resembled Radio Four, closed. It was a high-quality network that broadcast drama and book readings. Not for the first time has the BBC used licence-fee-payers' money to damage rivals or, as was the case more than 30 years ago with commercial radio, to try to pre-empt them. It might be that Oneword would have failed regardless of BBC7. When I first heard it, I felt it was something of a risky venture. After I criticised the need for digital radio, Oneword sent me a radio so that I could listen to it. The set was cunningly tuned into Oneword only and resisted all attempts to retune to any other station despite my following the instructions. Ho ho! Even Oneword's boss admitted that this was rather childish. Oh well, I thought, there really isn't much on any other digital station I would wish to hear anyway. Everything I need as a listener is on BBC Radios Two to Five. I'm hardly going to listen to the Asian Network or 1Xtra, which is aimed at young black audiences.

Oneword had its faults. When I first heard it, the station had no news and current affairs, though it didn't rule out introducing these components later. News is, though, expensive, whichever way you do it: buying in or in-house. Extracts of book readings were too long. Nowadays it's difficult to devote two hours at a time to listening to an episode. Otherwise, Oneword had potential. It's possible that it might have been set up too soon since the existing analogue switchoff is said to be more than eight years away and sales of digital radios have been sluggish while their price remains high. Even if prices fall, as they're expected to do, is there really the demand? …

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