BBC’s Digital Signal

New Beeb networks show the CBC how it's done


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amidst all the hand-wringingabout making the CBC more relevant, especially to younger Canadians, it’s worth turning to the mother of all public broadcasters, the BBC.While the BBC, like the CBC, has recently and temporarily shelved its dedicated youth network due to a lack of funds, the Beeb has made two impressive additions to its already massive broadcasting arsenal.

Earlier this month, BBC Radio launched its new 6 Music station, www.bbc.co.uk/6music. 6 Music bills itself as “the music of your life” and comes across as a classic rock station for aging hipsters. Joy Division and the Ramones are slotted in alongside Travis, U Roy, the Sadies and Kelis.

The hosts are not the typically deathly serious BBC types, but instead either old NME journalists or former rockers themselves. Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson presents a metal show, while Madness singer Suggs spins ska and more every afternoon.

The second new channel coming from the BBC is the forthcoming 1Xtra (www.bbc.co.uk/1xtra), a dedicated “black music” network that launches in the summer and seems infinitely more open-minded than our Flow station will ever be, spinning hiphop and R&B as well as UK garage, African music, dancehall and roots reggae.

Both new stations have impressive lineups and are considerably more relevant and cutting-edge than many of the BBC’s other broadcasts, to say nothing of what’s on CBC Radio. Even more noteworthy, though, is how this is all being done.

6 Music is not broadcast on a regular analog AM/FM dial, but digitally. While digital radio has long been promised as the future of radio broadcasting, allowing for CD-quality reception (check www.digitalradio.ca for dozens of links on digital radio in Canada), its existence has been largely limited to the channels at the end of your digital cable receiver, due to licensing issues and the fact that only a handful of audiophiles currently own digital receivers.

6 Music and 1Xtra are only available via specially configured, rarely seen digital radios, digital television or online. Obviously, the number of people potentially listening to broadcasts through their computers or televisions is tiny compared to the number who would listen to stations available on clock radios, but the initiative, like the channels themselves, is all about looking forward.

With our own public broadcaster the object of increasing scrutiny and debate, that’s a concept we should hear more about. mattg@nowtoronto.com

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