The return of five radio stations in the evenings on Freeview in Scotland

Director, BBC Distribution

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In May 2011 I wrote my first blog post, covering the launch of BBC ALBA on Freeview in Scotland (in June 2011). I shared the difficult choice we’d had to make to prioritise BBC ALBA over BBC Radio services.  I’m really pleased to announce that we’re now able to restore five further radio services to full-time carriage on Freeview in Scotland, bringing the total to eight out of 13.

The original decision

BBC ALBA launched on satellite in September 2008 but not on Freeview.   It had always been the aim to launch on Freeview, but we had to find an affordable way to do it.  To make space, the BBC Trust gave approval for BBC ALBA to broadcast in Scotland in the evening in the place of 13 BBC Radio services.  We launched BBC ALBA on Freeview at the conclusion of digital switchover in Scotland in June 2011.

The BBC Trust also challenged BBC Management to look at affordable technical solutions that would allow some radio services to be retained around the clock.  The first part of this happened alongside the launch of BBC ALBA as we were able to retain three services.  We prioritised stations unavailable on FM and, because we couldn’t restore all seven stations without FM coverage, we gave priority to the stations that were the most listened to on digital television in Scotland: BBC Radio 5 live, BBC Radio 1Xtra and BBC Radio 6 Music.

Restoration

We’re making a set of technical changes in Scotland which gives us some limited additional capacity to restore radio services. We’ve had to take a call on the best way of using this capacity, including which stations and in what quality.

We started by following the guiding principle of the original decision: to restore stations without FM coverage.  Prioritising the stations primarily aimed at a UK audience (i.e. excluding the BBC World Service) gives: BBC Radio 4 Extra, BBC Radio 5 live sports extra and BBC Asian Network.

As the national radio station for Scotland, restoring BBC Radio Scotland is naturally a high priority.  Furthermore, digital platforms take the MW version of the station with its coverage of sport in the evenings. 

In common with BBC Radio Scotland, the absence of BBC Radio 4 has been noted regularly in listener correspondence over the last two and a half years.

Consequently we’ve strived to restore all five stations noted above. In order to restore as many stations as five, they will be in mono rather than in stereo.  This does mean that there will be a drop in audio quality in the evenings compared with other times of the day. But we feel that maximising the number of stations is preferable to restoring fewer at higher quality.  We bore in mind that the stations we were seeking to restore are not purely music radio stations, and so, whilst not perfect, mono was a valid option.

For those wondering where the capacity has come from, our Red Button text service is running in less capacity now than in 2011 thanks to an increase in efficiency and we’re reducing the audio bit rate of our TV channels from 256kbit/s to 192kbit/s on Freeview in Scotland; 192kbit/s is on a par with other public service broadcasters’ main channels.

So as you can see, this good news is not without its trade-offs. But we have considered them very carefully and believe we have struck the right balance.

Summary

The following radio stations are now available around the clock on Freeview in Scotland:

  • BBC Radio Scotland
  • BBC Radio 1Xtra
  • BBC Radio 4
  • BBC Radio 4 Extra
  • BBC Radio 5 live
  • BBC Radio 5 live sports extra
  • BBC Radio 6 Music
  • BBC Asian Network

 

Five radio stations continue to be unavailable on Freeview in Scotland while BBC ALBA is on-air in the evening:

  • BBC Radio 1
  • BBC Radio 2
  • BBC Radio 3
  • BBC Radio nan Gàidheal
  • BBC World Service

 

The first four of these are available very widely across Scotland on FM and all are available on DAB, satellite and cable television and online.  BBC World Service is also available on BBC Radio 4 FM overnight.

I hope this improvement comes as good news to you.  I am sorry if we have not been able to restore all of your favourite stations but I hope this blog helps to explain why we have prioritised the services we have.  We will continue to look for opportunities to restore further radio stations as technical advancements allow.

Alix Pryde is Director, BBC Distribution

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