Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Radio 2 ‘golden oldies’ spin-off station on hold amid rivals’ complaints

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The BBC’s plans to launch a Radio 2 “golden oldies” spin-off station have hit the buffers after commercial rivals complained to the media regulator.

In February, the BBC announced that Radio 2 planned to target older listeners with a new online channel, which would feature music from the 50s to the 70s, as well as “some of the people who shaped the cultural landscape at the time”.

Radio 2 remains the UK’s biggest station with 13.2 million weekly listeners, despite a decline in audience since Ken Bruce’s departure last year. In recent years, along with Bruce, Graham Norton, Chris Evans, Vanessa Feltz and Simon Mayo have left the station, while DJs such as Vernon Kay, Scott Mills and Zoë Ball have joined the fold.

Bruce left Radio 2 in March 2023, saying the BBC had not offered him a new contract and he wanted a challenge. With the help of his regular PopMaster quiz, he has boosted the audience for his new mid-morning slot on Greatest Hits Radio by 73% in the last 12 months.

The BBC had hoped to launch its new online station – which is not automatically subject to the same level of scrutiny as analogue or digital stations – on BBC Sounds as soon as this month. An internal BBC investigation found it would not have a significant negative effect on its competitors.

But Ofcom has told the corporation to carry out a full public interest test after raising concerns that a launch on Sounds could damage online stations aimed at boomers, such as Boom Radio and Absolute Radio’s digital channels.

Ofcom has ruled that two other planned spin-offs from Radio 1 and Radio 3 are not likely to have a significant adverse impact on competition, so they can launch on BBC Sounds. The Radio 1 spin-off will focus on music from the 2000s and 2010s, to fulfil an appetite from young audiences for “recent nostalgia”, while the Radio 3 spin-off will play calming classical music, to help listeners “unwind, destress and escape the pressures of daily life”.

Phil Riley, co-founder of Boom Radio, had warned the BBC Radio 2 spin-off could put the station out of business.

“[The BBC] says the new station would offer ‘best-loved presenters playing oldies from the 50s, 60s and 70s’, but that is exactly what Boom has done since it was created to address Radio 2’s disfranchised audience,” he said.

“As a small independent business, there’s little slack to withstand this threat. We’re pleased to have succeeded in this first round of arguments.”

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