Credit crunch puts kibosh on C4 radio dream
A view from Steve Barrett

Credit crunch puts kibosh on C4 radio dream

Andy Duncan's Channel 4 radio dream is over, dashed on the rocks of the economic and financial crunch and, ultimately, a lack of commitment to the venture from all the individuals that really matter at the broadcaster.

C4 chairman Luke Johnson was never a fan, but the writing was on the wall for the digital radio initiative when the Channel 4 Radio speech station was mothballed, for that was the big driver behind the whole venture. It was part of a dream to take on the BBC and the reason seasoned BBC Radio 5 Live executive Bob Shennan was hired this year. But lately, Shennan must have been sitting at C4 wondering what was going on. Producing E4 Radio was not quite what he signed up to. And, tellingly, C4 never actually signed transmission contracts with Arqiva.

National sales director Simon Daglish, who is still on gardening leave from Global Radio and hadn't even started at C4, will also be bemused by the latest turn of events. Shennan and Daglish are likely to be among 15 job losses following C4's decision to pull the plug on the ill-fated venture last Friday and save £10m in 2009, one week after a digital radio summit where Nathalie Schwarz and Global Radio chief executive Ashley Tabor attempted to hammer out a deal to combine the companies' two digital multiplexes into one entity. Schwarz's future at C4 may also be in doubt.

It's easy to be wise in hindsight and no doubt former GCap Media chief executive Ralph Bernard will afford himself a wry smile after constantly predicting there isn't the demand in the marketplace for two digital multiplexes. But the latest turn of events is still regrettable and, as a radio man through and through, I'm sure Bernard will share that regret.

The C4 venture was ambitious, but it was born of a genuine desire to put digital radio on the map and create something in the commercial sector to rival the BBC's dominance in speech radio through Radio 4 and 5 Live. After Global's shrinking back from digital radio earlier this year, the fare emitting from the near eight million DAB radio sets in the UK is looking distinctly second rate.

Steve Barrett is editor of Media Week