I welcome competition for BBC Radio 4 because it's good for our industry

Like millions of people across the UK, I love a bit of Radio 4 in the morning.

A serious rival designed to shake up speech radio will need time and funds to build its audience, says Jack Baine
A serious rival designed to shake up speech radio will need time and funds to build its audience, says Jack Baine

For as long as I can remember, Today has been the go-to programme for news, with Martha, Nick, Justin and Mishal on hand to dissect the day's biggest stories.

But that could be about to change – and it's about time.

Some commentators have always argued that the rough and tumble of the '8.10' interview on Today has been required listening if you want to hear from top politicians, opinion-formers and general movers and shakers, but the tectonic plates of news are shifting and threatening the established order.

There's no doubt that the BBC is the 'big beast' of news, with hundreds of reporters on countless programmes reaching millions of listeners and viewers, especially when it comes to radio.

Radio 4 alone has 10 million listeners each week, and an educated, more prosperous audience with spending power.

So it's no wonder that businesses and brands are keen to reach them. BBC Radio 5 Live, LBC and talkRADIO are big players, but Radio 4 has always been seen as the outlet with clout.

Some commentators would argue it's never had any real competition – until now.

Step forward Times Radio.

The digital station is being launched this spring, promising to "lure listeners away from BBC Radio 4 and 5 Live" with quality presenters and debate.

No news yet on who will be fronting its programmes, or detail on the shows themselves, but you can be pretty certain there will be plenty of analysis from Times journalists and columnists.

Securing the services of credible, high-profile presenters will be top of the to-do list for the station's programme director, the excellent Tim Levell, a hugely experienced former BBC editor.

To have any chance of success he needs big names to give Times Radio the profile it will need.

Being the dominant force in any market can breed complacency, so any form of competition is a good thing.

And it means more choice for consumers which, in turn, is good for the PR and communications industry.

There are a limited number of speech radio outlets where PR professionals can place stories, so a serious rival designed to shake things up should be applauded.

One word of caution, though: anyone remember Channel 4's radio division, which launched in 2007, but closed in 2008?

It was a series of stations intended to take on the might of the BBC, and others, with services designed to target Radio 4 listeners and attract a youth audience with E4 Radio.

It failed because Channel 4 had to make savings across the board, so funding appeared to be the ultimate issue.

New radio stations – like Times Radio – need time to build up audiences, so let's hope they're in it for the long run.

Jack Baine is a senior broadcast consultant at Good Broadcast

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