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Freesat Radio

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Andrew Bowden Andrew Bowden | 11:31 UK time, Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Some point in the 1990s the BBC ran a series of on air promotions, telling viewers what this brave new world of digital was all about. A series of TV and radio stars told us that soon all programmes would be made in widescreen, and that we'd be able to see as well as hear radio.

Anyone who has listened to the radio via their Virgin Media or Freeview box will already be seeing their radio and on Tuesday 30 September, we launched our first radio service on the Freesat platform too.

At the minute, the Freesat version appears pretty simple, consisting of a station logo and LiveText - programme related information which is updated as you listen.

It's small - a maximum of 128 characters at any one time - but LiveText is perhaps one of the most challenging feeds that our technical team have to deal with.

The reason for that is the sheer amount of updates that are received. Each station updates its text roughly every 30 seconds - for some stations it's even more frequent.

Of course there's more than one station doing this at once - the same backend system is updating 17 different stations at once on Freesat, with the data coming from two different systems. Naturally each station publishes at a slightly different time, meaning that there is an update somewhere every few seconds.

Once published, the text has to get on air as quickly as possible as the data is time sensitive. The text could be related to a particular song that's playing, or short report that's being broadcast. The LiveText needs to get on screen whilst it's still relevant to what people are listening too! Keeping the time from publish to appearing on air low, is an important metric for all our services, but is most prominent on radio.

Still, once it's all done, it's a great service, providing a variety of background information, news headlines, weather and track information for many of the music stations. But if you'd rather not look at all the stuff we've put all that effort into, don't worry because we always provide an option for you. All our radio services on Freeview, Virgin Media and Freesat offer a screensaver option too!


The following comments were originally posted on the BBCi Labs blog

At 08:47am on 10 Oct 2008, Terman1630 wrote:

Surely you should be pressing manufacturers to make a dedicated Freesat radio tuner, rather than expecting people to use their TV as a radio?

At 11:02am on 10 Oct 2008, Andrew Bowden wrote:

One option is to connect the set top box into a hi-fi amplifier, and I know some people do this to avoid having the television on, and to take advantage of the hi-fi speakers.

It would be interesting to see how much demand there would be for a pure Freesat (or indeed Freeview) radio device. Personally I have a DAB set for radio, but coverage of DAB is not yet universal, and of course the radio station range is different on satellite. What do other people think?

At 12:30pm on 10 Oct 2008, kaihendry wrote:

I just want the highest quality radio possible, from as cheap a device as possible.

I have trouble with my FM radio as a get a poor signal in my house. And Internet radio streaming sounds tinny.

Where do I go from here?

At 10:46am on 11 Oct 2008, 00_neoFrenchyFrench wrote:

While we're at it, could we also expect a higher bitrate?

At 09:22am on 13 Oct 2008, Andrew Bowden wrote:

The bitrates are something that's outside the control of the red button team. However, kaihendry you might want to keep an eye on the BBC Radio Labs blog if you don't already, as there's a big project going on over there to change the the BBC's radio stations online.

There's more on

At 09:13am on 15 Oct 2008, Sue_Aitch wrote:

I remember the ads with a man signing whilst the voice over intoned, "I'll be able to see Radio."

BBC Red Button on Freeview Radio EPG Channels 700-709 is particularly helpful, not least because viewers can select What's On Today - the equivalent service to good ol' Ceefax on BBC One page 658 and pages 641.

What's needed now is for the BBC to publish Textphone or RNID Typetalk Numbers for people with hearing and/or speech impairments to call, as not everyone has access to the web.

At 11:28am on 03 Nov 2008, dallardice wrote:

Late comment I know, but any chance of getting this text information to the Sky platform?

At 11:27am on 04 Nov 2008, Andrew Bowden wrote:

Sue - they were signing? I never realised. I remember the person moving their hands but didn't twig at the time. I scoured a few places trying to find a copy of that trailer, hoping to embed a copy, but no joy. I know I have it on an old VHS tape at home somewhere

dallardice - it's not currently possible to do the radio text on Sky I'm afraid. Hopefully in the future we will be able to, but I can't promise anything.

At 4:26pm on 09 Nov 2008, MLeng92 wrote:

Hi Andrew. You're doing a great job so far, but can I ask what other features you plan to launch on Freesat's interactive service? And when? Thanks.

At 1:30pm on 14 Nov 2008, Andrew Bowden wrote:

Hi MLeng92 - we're currently in the midst of a review of our next steps for Freesat and I can't say too much because nothing is determined.

However we are still working on the platform - at the moment, there's an enhancement for the Sport Multiscreen being built (which is also being built for our Sport Multiscreen on Sky, Virgin and Freeview too) and that will launch in the New Year.

At 2:34pm on 17 Nov 2008, MLeng92 wrote:

Thanks for the quick feedback. Just wondering if you'll have Eurovision karaoke ready for next May :D

At 4:51pm on 21 Nov 2008, Andrew Bowden wrote:

At this stage I can't tell you full stop whether it will be there as that won't be determined until January next year.

However if there is (and I presume there will be), I'm afraid it's highly unlikely to be on Freesat for 2009.

Sorry for the bad news.

At 1:58pm on 26 Nov 2008, Sue_Aitch wrote:

Hi Andrew: Re Message 8.

Terry Riley, ex-Editor of See Hear, might well remember who the actor was on the clip.


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