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BBC7 The BBC's Digital Drama and Comedy Station
Following the introduction of a digital radio network in the UK, the BBC wasted no time in taking advantage of the new opportunities this presented.
At 8pm on Sunday 15th December 2002, BBC7 was launched. The idea behind the station was to bring to air a radio station that provided nothing but spoken word entertainment. No music, no chat, no news, just entertainment.
To achieve this the BBC decided to make available their extensive catalogue of comedy, drama and readings. They also re-introduced live daily children’s broadcasts in the morning and early afternoon. This was particularly well received.
The first four hours of the opening night were broadcast simultaneously on BBC Radio 4. This was demonstrate the fact that vast majority of BBC7 broadcasts started out on Radio 4, or its predecessors. BBC7 often refers to itself as the sister station to Radio 4.
Paul Merton had the privilege of hosting the opening night and the first programme to be broadcast was an edited version of “Knowing Me, Knowing You” a spoof chat show with outrageous host Alan Partridge played by Steve Cogan.
The station has a slight leaning towards comedy, this is because many comedy programmes fit into nice 30 minute sections, which is how the station tends to broadcast the majority of its material. There were some Saturday Night Theatre productions which were broadcast in the early days, but they were re-edited into three 30 minute episodes and broadcast over three days.
Fortunately BBC7 has a very active user forum and the users at the time were able to persuade the powers that be that they had the intelligence and stamina to take a full 90 minute drama. This resulted in 90 minute dramas being broadcast on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
The other major problem the Station has faced is a phenomenon known as “rights issues”, this means that that although the BBC have plays and dramas in their archive, their contract with the author and other artists prevents them from broadcasting them. This has been a particular problem for Saturday Night Theatre recordings.
While it was understood that there were always going to be repeats on BBC7, the “right issue” significantly reduces the amount of available broadcasts. This has led to the same programme being re-broadcast only months after it was first broadcast on BBC7.
These problems notwithstanding BBC7 is a welcome addition to the digital airwaves and it is hoped they will go from strength to strength.