The BBC is to replace Radio 7 with a new digital sister station for Radio 4 called Radio 4 Extra in April, Tim Davie, the corporation’s director of audio and music, announced today.
This comes as part of a plan to more closely align some digital-only networks with their analogue “sister stations” to help exploit the strength of established brands and programmes.
Focusing on comedy, entertainment and drama, “the vast majority of 4 Extra will remain archive,” Davie explained, although the station – which will enjoy a similar budget to its predecessor – will also utilise relevant contemporary Radio 4 content to provide added value to its listeners.
Two of Radio 4’s most popular entertainment formats, The Now Show and The News Quiz, will broadcast “extra” versions on the station, offering an additional 15 minutes of “beefed-up” programming, interviews and behind-the-scenes features for ardent fans.
Desert Island Discs will also form a key part of the new “cross-promotional” output. Although the main show will remain untouched on Radio 4, two spin-off shows will be available to Radio 4 Extra listeners.
The Archive Collection, curated by presenter Kirsty Young, will offer “classic” episodes of the show from its 69-year history and include an introduction and contextual analysis from Young.
The Desert Island Discs Selection will be broadcast in the ten weeks a year when the series is off air on Radio 4, offering extended programmes from the past year in the “extra” format.
In addition, a new website will allow listeners to search an archive by song and personality since 1942. It will also allow the download and streaming of most programmes in their entirety from the past ten years, around 500 shows in total.
Radio 4 Extra will broadcast a Comedy Club with Arthur Smith Monday to Thursday and offer a Family Hour on Sundays, a number of new family drama commissions, and sci-fi radio plays, including new dramatisations of the Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood.
Davie was keen to scotch rumours that The Archers would soon receive “day before” premieres on Radio 4 Extra in the same way that E4 shows the next episode of Hollyoaks immediately after the previous day’s show airs on Channel 4. However, he did concede “I’m not saying never to premieres.”
Describing the BBC’s current radio plan as “a step forward rather than a radical change of strategy”, Davie also announced more independence for once-threatened Radio 6 Music, as well as the return of popular comedy DJ combo Adam and Joe to the network in the spring.
And he confirmed that within the next two years BBC radio will launch a new “product” that is designed to become a cross-industry one-stop shop for radio listeners and related content.
Despite this raft of digital innovations, Davie was keen to stress the importance of all radio listeners to the corporation, and to reassure them there were no plans to reduce the quality of the analogue experience.
“This is not the BBC forcing people onto DAB,” Davie explained. “If anyone says purely DAB is the future, they’re mistaken.”