'A great opportunity for the BBC to maintain its voice with the music industry': Inside the Beeb's huge music radio revamp

BBC Radio

For the last 50 plus years, the controllers at the BBC’s music radio stations, Radio 1 and Radio 2, have been two of the most powerful roles in the UK music business.

Well, things are about to go one louder. A major restructure of the BBC Radio & Music senior team is on its way, according to an internal memo from BBC director, radio & education James Purnell.

The memo, obtained by Music Week, announces plans to create two new controllers: one of BBC Pop Music and the other of BBC Sounds, the new app, launched last year, that is a top priority for BBC bosses as they attempt to move their huge audience into the streaming age.

The new controller of pop music would have all of the BBC music stations – Radio 1, 1Xtra, The Asian Network, Radio 2, 6 Music – plus cross-platform strand BBC Music and the Music TV commissioning heads reporting into him or her. That would effectively put them in charge of the BBC’s entire pop music output (Alan Davey, controller of Radio 3, Proms & performing groups, will remain the classical music lead). Purnell’s memo describes this as “a great opportunity for the pop music stations to work more closely together and for the BBC to maintain its effective voice with the music industry”. It would certainly create a serious power-broker for anyone in the music business looking to get their artists to reach most of the UK population.

So who could take on such a role? Radio 2 has been without a controller since the elevation of Bob Shennan, first to director, BBC Radio & Music and then to the new role of BBC group managing director earlier this year. Lewis Carnie was made head of Radio 2 in 2016, while Paul Rodgers became head of 6 Music. Both have been very successful, but highly-rated BBC Radio 1, 1Xtra and Asian Network controller Ben Cooper, who has already led his stations into the non-linear, digital age, is seen as the clear front-runner for the job, at least internally.

If Cooper was to take over, it would seem likely that the Beeb would follow the established Radio 2 pattern and not replace him with another controller.

Of course, there will be no shortage of candidates from outside of the BBC for such a plum role, with senior figures from commercial stations, other areas of the media or streaming services all likely to be interested. But as Purnell points out in his memo: “We have something none of our competitors do – the breadth of our creativity. The streamers don’t have radio stations – yet. We are local, national and global. We have a unique public purpose – to serve the public by informing, educating and entertaining. And we have some of the best marketing and product teams in the world.”

Those teams will soon have a new boss – and Purnell makes clear other managerial roles will be axed as part of the restructure. Watch this space for further developments – and, in the meantime, you can read Purnell’s full memo below…

 

Hi everyone,

I hope you had a good Easter.

With Bob Shennan moving on to managing director, I’ve been thinking about the shape of the senior team in Radio & Music.

We currently have a mix of controllers and heads in the pop music area, so I’m planning to create a new role – controller, BBC Pop Music – to bring our portfolio of pop stations and music output under one umbrella. The pop stations (Radio 1, 1Xtra, Asian Network, Radio 2, 6 Music), BBC Music and the Music TV commissioning heads will report into the new controller. This is a great opportunity for the pop music stations to work more closely together and for the BBC to maintain its effective voice with the music industry.

As you know, Tony Hall has made growing BBC Sounds one of the BBC’s top priorities. We have ambitious plans and have placed Sounds at the heart of everything we do in music, radio and podcasts.

We’ve made a great start with more than 2 million app downloads and brilliant new music mixes and podcasts like Forest 404, That Peter Crouch Podcast and Obsessed With Line of Duty. In just one year, our monthly downloads have gone up by 4m to 24m. 

But we are also launching into a competitive, relatively mature market. Gaining audiences is going to require determination and focus. 

We have something none of our competitors do – the breadth of our creativity. The streamers don’t have radio stations – yet. We are local, national and global. We have a unique public purpose – to serve the public by informing, educating and entertaining. And we have some of the best marketing and product teams in the world.

To succeed, we need to make Sounds more than the sum of those parts. We are therefore going to have a single person accountable for the service – a new controller of BBC Sounds. They will develop the strategy for Sounds, and oversee its delivery, coordinating our editorial, product development and marketing teams. The Controller will develop the editorial strategy for Sounds with the networks, who will do the majority of the commissioning.

This new post will serve the whole BBC. They will work with commissioners and producers from other divisions – as we have for example on Multi Story and The Hurricane Tapes. Our strategies for Sounds and smart speakers overlap in important ways, so I’ll also be asking the controller to oversee our editorial approach to Voice too.

Until the future structure is in place, everyone who used to be managed by Bob Shennan will report to me, and Ben Chapman’s Digital team will continue to report to the Launch Director of BBC Sounds. In future, the Voice team will report into the Controller of BBC Sounds.

Adverts for the controller of Pop and controller of Sounds are now live on Careers Hub. The roles are being advertised internally and externally. The closing date is 17 May and we expect to appoint in June. We expect to announce the new controller of Radio 4 in May. These changes will result in reductions in the number of senior manager roles.

Leaders of the affected teams will be in touch with more information, but do drop me a line if you have any questions.

Best wishes

James

* To read our recent feature on Radio 2's revamp, click here. To read our 2017 cover story on Radio 1 and Radio 2, click here. To subscribe to Music Week and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.

subscribe link free-trial link

follow us...