Listen2Digital's new stations in full

Sounds familiar, sounds brand new, sounds good for plurality

By James Cridland
Posted 9 February 2015, 9.07am est

The Listen2Digital bid to run the second digital multiplex is now published in full on the Ofcom website. I've taken a look at the stations they're promising.

(I've also done the same with Sound Digital).

This is harder than the same exercise with the opposing bid: because, unlike that one, this is a collection of existing services from a wide range of broadcasters, or confidential services. The latter are only confidential for us: Ofcom have all the details.

Sounds familiar

Gem - which actually stands for the Great East Midlands - is Orion's Heart-like service, which they'll take national; indeed, it was born out of an old Heart franchise. Heart's existence won't be taken into account by Ofcom, since it isn't a national DAB station, and Magic is a much older service. Gem doesn't excite me much, but then, I live in an area covered by Heart, and am not a late-thirties female.

Other "sounds like" services include Nation, which sounds a little like Bauer's Absolute (though is already on-air in South Wales); and the confidential "Modern Rock" sounds a little like Xfm.

Sounds brand new

However this bid does stress, with a crafty bubble chart, how much the new stations they're working on will fill holes left by current broadcasters.

As the first example, Fun Kids is a station aimed at kids, which I occasionally listen to as a safe listen with my toddler. It's clearly a service which is be unique; the BBC have entirely given up on childrens' programming, and Fun Kids is a good and well-produced listen, currently available in London on DAB.

Gaydio does similar for the LGBT community - a national radio station from a service only available on two local DAB multiplexes currently. Arguably this is the type of programming that can drive DAB takeup from these communities.

Another example is Wireless, the first proper attempt by commercial radio to focus on older audiences, run by Age UK. This takes cues from Norway's popular P1+ service, which is aimed at listeners otherwise unserved by younger-sounding radio stations. It's a London DAB service currently.

A station about finance, Share Radio, is another radio station that's in London only, but has aspirations for a national footprint. I've listened occasionally and it, once more, fills a hole that other stations are currently not filling. It's also a bit wider appeal than a business service, to me: we all have bank accounts and credit cards, after all.

The UK has no broadcast country radio station at all, and putting Chris Country on is, again, an additional choice for radio. Chris Country is already a programme provider for other stations in the UK.

Speech is covered well in this bid.

It's now been revealed that the confidential Sport Radio is from Kelvin Mackenzie, a man with cash and a man with clear understanding of how good speech radio works. It doesn't contain any mention of commentary, but additional competition in this area sounds like a good idea.

I've already written about RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland's most listened-to radio station, which is part of the lineup on this multiplex. Again, it fills a hole to a ready-made market of Irish expats, but also will contain significantly high quality output.

Then there's an intriguing "food, lifestyle, information and entertainment" channel: given there's nothing like this at the moment, it's difficult to quite grasp what this'll sound like. The fact that USP are involved here means that there are bright people making some good decisions here; there's probably a larger brand hiding inside the brown envelope.

All the above are clear "things that don't exist on the radio at the moment" services. The bid is less detailed about them than the Sound Digital bid, but given many are smaller existing stations making the leap to national coverage, it's easier to understand what the plans are.

Sounds confidential

Then there are the confidential elements.

A confidential "contemporary hits" service is probably the one the bidders want to talk about but can't. "A real alternative to BBC Radio 1" is entirely possible if you look around at other countries and multi-country radio brands. Some of these operators are rich and acquisition-hungry.

A jazz service - one would guess it's Jazz FM again - makes an appearance: again, something unavailable on the radio outside London.

Then there's the usual clutch of religious and ethnic stations; and finally Upload Radio.

Upload Radio is a fascinating punt. It's a wide-ranging access channel which could contain output from podcasters and other independent broadcasters, even people like you and me, as well as larger services. It could be the best, or worst, radio station you've ever heard. I suspect it could be quite a talent spotting contest; and certainly opens up the airwaves to something new.

I think this is the secret of this bid. Some of the ideas - presumably because of confidentiality - are difficult to understand; yet they are clearly new ideas and formats that fill a genuine and demonstrable hole. As such, this is by far the more interesting bid; similar additional speech content to the SoundDigital bid, from a variety of different providers, and music services unavailable elsewhere.


While the SoundDigital bid makes great play of stimulating DAB+ sales, then fails to actually attract a single DAB+ station, the Listen2Digital bid has four.

If you're wanting to get DAB+ going, then putting four services on (in stereo, incidentally) is the way of doing it. Some of the most unique services - Gaydio, RTÉ and ChrisCountry - are there, too: arguably kickstarting DAB+ transmissions in a good way. It's also worthwhile knowing that Fun Kids has already broadcast in DAB+ in the UK, and has knowledge and understanding of how this new technique works.


This bid also clears quite a bit of space in the crowded London multiplex market which has been full for a while. Six of the services are currently in London; and it's a good assumption that the majority of them would move to just using national DAB. This has a welcome knock-on effect of freeing up local spectrum in London, which can be used by other services to gain access. This is something that is probably unimportant to Ofcom, but could offer significant additional choice to Londoners and the industry.

In conclusion

There are, of course, still questions about this bid. The "how will you cope with risks" section of the bid is confidential, so we don't know. The Arqiva/UTV/Bauer bid has made much of their 'safe pair of hands'. Only Ofcom will know how Listen2Digital stack up.

We also don't know all the programming details - a byproduct of involving lots of programme providers. Some detail is light.

However, it is a much more exciting bid than the other. A wide range of new programmes to listen to from already-existing broadcasters, yet new and fresh ideas for digital radio.

The Listen2Digital bid is not a callous cost-saving exercise, nor a boring rearrangement of existing services. It isn't from a set of companies who already control almost all of digital radio. Listen2Digital is a genuine breath of fresh air and is a clear winner for listener choice. If Ofcom care about listeners, Listen2Digital deserves to win.

James Cridland — James runs, and is a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business. He also publishes a free daily newsletter about podcasting, Podnews, and a weekly radio trends newsletter.


6 years, 3 months ago

Interesting stuff - but surely Saga Radio, part of the original DAB line-up when it was first launched, was "the first proper attempt by commercial radio to focus on older audiences"?

6 years, 2 months ago

Saga owned Primetime Radio was certainly the first on DAB.

6 years, 2 months ago

You're, of course, absolutely right.

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