It’s time to make pop-up stations easier to set up, says Radioplayer’s Michael Hill

Everything’s popping up - restaurants, tea-rooms, bakeries, shops, cinemas. So why should radio be left out?

Earlier this month, the BBC ran a temporary station called Radio 2 Eurovision, broadcasting from a broom cupboard on DAB digital radio, the iPlayer Radio app and UK Radioplayer. It was the brainchild of Brett Spencer, head of digital at Radio 2 and 6Music.

It’s not the first. Previous pop-up stations have included BBC Radio 5 Live Olympics Extra, and there’ve been notable efforts from elsewhere too, with IRF Radio from the International Radio Festival a couple of years ago, and Jam FM appearing occasionally from the people who do radio with the scouts.

At Radioplayer, we love helping pop-up stations. Our platform’s flexible, and we’ve got quite good at making them appear by magic in our apps and our desktop players, then vanishing a few days later once they’re off-air. The BBC’s adept at flexing its DAB multiplex to allow new stations to appear – that’s one of the advantages of the technology.

Pop-ups will probably not attract the enormous audiences that established stations enjoy, but they’re great for creating buzz around an event, trying out new formats and presenters, raising digital awareness, and reminding us that radio can be spontaneous, fun, and simple. So why aren’t there more of them?

One answer could be that getting a pop-up station onto DAB (or FM, for that matter) is perceived as being quite long-winded. We don’t make it easy, as an industry, to try stuff out. They’re much better at this in Australia, where slots on DAB multiplexes are explicitly reserved for special event stations – as ABC Local Radio’s James O’Brien has written.

So could we get more pop-ups going here in the UK? And ahead of the launch of D2 (the second national commercial DAB multiplex), could we use them to encourage experimentation, to help grow the green shoots of next-generation radio?  Here’s a quick wish-list of actions that might help:

  • A fast-track route for pop-up Ofcom licence applications. It would need to feel quicker and simpler than the current process.
  • A commitment from DAB multiplex operators, and from services like Radioplayer, that we’ll make it as simple as possible to ‘switch on’ a pop-up station.
  • And some publicity around all this, so that people with great pop-up ideas know that it’s easier than ever. I’m sure Digital Radio UK would help here.

Yes, pop-ups do require effort, creativity, and co-ordination, but they remind us why we’re in radio in the first place: because it’s easy to experiment, to reach thousands of people with an idea that resonates deeply while it’s on-air, but which then vanishes into the ether (until you do it all again next time). 

Congratulations to the BBC on running such a successful station. Is this where it all stops, or are there more pops?  

Michael Hill is managing director of UK Radioplayer Ltd.