The BBC has cemented its commitment to digital radio with a wave of new initiatives, including increased coverage, more exclusive content, and a major new promotional campaign, writes Michael Rosser.

The BBC has cemented its commitment to digital radio with a wave of new initiatives, including increased coverage, more exclusive content, and a major new promotional campaign, writes Michael Rosser.

The corporation, which runs five digital radio stations, is ploughing£2m into boosting its coverage. Nearly 50 new transmitters will be built throughout the UK between now and May 2004, increasing coverage from 65% to 85%.

New content arrangements will see digital speech station BBC7 follow its first original commission, Spanking New on 7, with readings from science-fiction classics from this autumn. The occasional series will start with a three-hour special from author James Follett on 3 August entitled Men, Martians and Machines.

The move reflects new research unveiled by the Digital Radio Development Bureau (DRDB) this week which claimed one in five buyers of the new radios have bought sets to listen to BBC7.

The DRDB, which is backed by the BBC and commercial broadcasters, said the study showed people were becoming more interested in the content of digital radio than the technology. It predicted that digital radio penetration would rise from 175,000 to 500,000 by the end

of the year.

BBC director of radio Jenny Abramsky said: "This marks a watershed. For the first time it shows that digital radio is on its way to becoming a mass-market proposition, rather than the preserve of audio enthusiasts."

The BBC this week launched a five-week promotional campaign across BBC TV, radio and online services, to run until the end of July.

Listening figures relating to the BBC's digital radio portfolio will be unveiled for the first time by Rajar on 23 October.