Ahead of the rebrand of BBC 7 to Radio 4 Extra tomorrow, Radio Today understands the only remaining BBC network not to have a digital spin-off will get one later today.
BBC Radio 3 Extra will be entirely speech-based and give listeners to the corporation's classical, jazz and world music station the chance to hear a new 'conductors' commentary' service as well as extended versions of drama and arts programming.
We're told 3 Extra will launch at lunchtime today on DAB, digital TV platforms and online. However, our sources tell us it won't be on the BBC's national DAB multiplex but will instead appear on commercial multiplex Digital One. As space on D1 is tight, the new channel will be a 32k mono service and Absolute Radio 80s is expected to lower its bitrate to just 64k for 'a more authentic 80s sound'.
The main selling-point of the new 3 Extra is expected to be 'Beyond the Baton', which will enable listeners to hear from the conductor of the classical works as they're played on the main Radio 3 service. It's been described as being similar to a 'director's commentary' feature widely available on DVD movies, but in 3 Extra's case the conductor will provide insights into both the composition and performance of the piece, such as relaying information about the tempo, key, chord structure and instrumentation as the track progresses.
A BBC insider told us the plans had been in place for several months but hadn't been made public because of the current climate of cuts rather than launching more services. "Radio 1 has 1Xtra, Radio 2 has 6 Music, Radio 4 is getting 4 Extra, and 5 Live has Sports Extra – so it makes sense for Radio 3 to get a spin-off too," he said. "With us going on the commercial multiplex it's another expense for the Beeb, but since so many Tory MPs listen to Radio 3 we've had to do what they wanted."
UPDATE 12.01pm Friday 1 April:
And just in case you didn't spot it, this story wasn't for real. Happy April Fool's Day!