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BBC Asian Network: A short guide on its 2nd anniversary
20th October, 2004

In the two years since it has launched around the country, BBC Asian Network has become a part of British Asian sub-culture in the UK like no other media organisation in recent years. Whether that is a good thing, from the perspective of the BBC and its listeners, or a bad thing if you take the view of its competitors, will continue to be a subject of debate.

A week before its upcoming second anniversary, AiM explores its launch and criteria the station sets itself.

The beginning
The BBC Asian Network has its origins in specialist programmes for Asian audiences on local BBC stations in the Midlands in the 1970s. Over the next two decades the hours of programming increased substantially and frequency splitting permitted Radio Leicester and Radio WM (Birmingham) to provide separate Asian output on their transmitters.

In 1996, these strands were pulled together to form the BBC Asian Network as a regional station on its own right with its own editor, staff and advisory council. In 1998 the station established its own newsroom with a network of reporters in areas of Asian concentration.

On September 13th 2001, Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, approved the BBC’s proposals for five new national digital radio stations: 1Xtra, BBC 6 Music, BBC 7, BBC Asian Network and Five Live Sports Extra.

On 28th October 2002 Asian Network went from being a regional to a national radio station, retaining its midlands analogue license and gaining a national digital license.

The re-launch of the station resulted from the recognition that the BBC services were failing to attract Asian listeners. The corporation stated it would give "a full and fair view of the various Asian communities throughout the UK, reflecting back to themselves and to the wider community."

At launch the station provided employment opportunities to about ninety full-time and part-time staff, of whom 89% were of Asian ethnic origin.

A major marketing campaign on TV, radio trails and poster advertising followed to popularise the new service. Budget was initially set at £3 million per year, rising to £4.3m now. It is spending another million on the radio soap Silver Street.

The radio station now
Output: The content of the radio station is designed to be more orientated towards speech, differing from commercial rivals. A rough target is set to have 44% of its content as music, 19% news, 23% current affairs, 5% sport, 4% religion and now also drama. The DCMS review indicated it has fulfilled this objective.

The principal language of broadcast is English, though there are programmes in five Asian languages: Hindi-Urdu, Punjabi, Mirpuri, Bengali and Gujarati. A network of reporters in various UK cities collate news and features from the Asian community.

Audience: The programmes are aimed at Asians under 35 but also first, second and third generation Asians and all communities whose origins are the Indian subcontinent. 80% of its audience is Asian, 12% white, 5% black and 3% other.

Reach: 493,000 weekly listeners according to the last industry survey. It is available on DAB Digital Radio, online, digital cable television, digital satellite television and Freeview, and also on AM radio in the Midlands.

Music: The network playlist houses 48 tracks, updated weekly on a Thursday, the day on which the Asian music industry releases its new records. It is divided into three sections, A, B and C, which determine the frequency of play. The station has a specific remit to play more new music and help break new artists on to the scene.

News and current affairs: The network delivers hourly bulletins from 6am to 10pm daily, produced by its own newsroom but also calling on the resources of the entire BBC in newsgathering and reporting. Current affairs interviews and reports are carried by programmes such as Breakfast, Anjum Rafiq (at lunchtime) and Drive. Debate on current affairs is a feature of both Sonia Deol's show and Drive.

Competition: The station is in competition with Sunrise, Yarr, Club Asia and numerous smaller Asian and Asian language services. These include Radio XL in the West Midlands, Sabras in the East Midlands and Panjab Radio in the Bradford/Huddersfield area.

Additional data collated from the DCMS and Asian Network.

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