BBC to hire all-powerful Pop Music Controller in major radio shake-up

The BBC’s Radio and Music division is about to undergo one of the biggest organizational shakeups in its history.

The UK-born media giant is on the hunt for a new, all-powerful boss of pop music, MBW can reveal.

According to an internal memo sent to BBC staff by James Purnell (Director, Radio & Education) today (April 24) and obtained by MBW, the newly-created role of Controller, BBC Pop Music will bring BBC’s portfolio of pop stations and music output under one umbrella.

Stations such as Radio 1, 1Xtra, Asian Network, Radio 2 and 6 Music – plus BBC Music and the Beeb’s Music TV commissioning heads – will all report into the new music head honcho.

“This is a great opportunity for the pop music stations to work more closely together and for the BBC to maintain its effective voice with the music industry,” said James Purnell (pictured), writing in an internal memo to BBC staff.

One suggestion being put forward by music biz whisperers today is the move could spell the end of a Controller position at BBC Radio 1 – which has been a highly- influential role in the UK industry for decades.

If Ben Cooper, current Controller of BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra, is elevated into the new Pop Music Controller role, say some, the Beeb would be unlikely to fill his former position.

That would follow the end of a dedicated Controller position at BBC Radio 2 and 6Music. The former Controller of those stations, Bob Shennan, is yet to be directly replaced since vacating the hotseat. (Shennan was recently promoted to the newly-created role of Group Managing Director at the BBC, leaving something of a leadership void at the Beeb’s Radio & Music properties.)

The BBC could, of course, look externally for its new Pop Music Controller, perhaps hiring someone from commercial radio or a streaming music company like Spotify.

Whether Cooper – who has driven BBC Radio 1’s online-savvy push for a new, younger audience in recent years – would stick around at the Beeb in this scenario is another matter.


In addition to the new Pop Controller position, the BBC is creating another new role, Controller of BBC Sounds.

BBC Sounds is the corporation’s newish audio app, which features podcasts, radio and music, and was launched to replace the old BBC iPlayer Radio app.

Soft-launched in June last year, it was fully rolled out in October, bringing together 80,000 hours of audio content, with the over-arching aim of attracting more younger listeners.

According to Purnell’s memo the app has been downloaded more than 2 million times.

“We are also launching into a competitive, relatively mature market. Gaining audiences is going to require determination and focus.”

James Purnell, BBC radio & Education

Added Purnell: “We are also launching into a competitive, relatively mature market. Gaining audiences is going to require determination and focus.

“We have something none of our competitors do – the breadth of our creativity. The streamers don’t have radio stations – yet. We are local, national and global. We have a unique public purpose – to serve the public by informing, educating and entertaining. And we have some of the best marketing and product teams in the world.

To succeed, we need to make Sounds more than the sum of those parts. We are therefore going to have a single person accountable for the service – a new Controller of BBC Sounds.”

You can read Purnell’s internal memo in full below.


Hi everyone,

I hope you had a good Easter.

With Bob Shennan moving on to Managing Director, I’ve been thinking about the shape of the senior team in Radio & Music.

We currently have a mix of controllers and heads in the pop music area, so I’m planning to create a new role – Controller, BBC Pop Music – to bring our portfolio of pop stations and music output under one umbrella. The pop stations (Radio 1, 1Xtra, Asian Network, Radio 2, 6 Music), BBC Music and the Music TV commissioning heads will report into the new controller. This is a great opportunity for the pop music stations to work more closely together and for the BBC to maintain its effective voice with the music industry.

As you know, Tony Hall has made growing BBC Sounds one of the BBC’s top priorities. We have ambitious plans and have placed Sounds at the heart of everything we do in music, radio and podcasts.

We’ve made a great start with more than 2 million app downloads and brilliant new music mixes and podcasts like Forest 404, That Peter Crouch Podcast and Obsessed With Line of Duty. In just one year, our monthly downloads have gone up by 4m to 24m. 

But we are also launching into a competitive, relatively mature market. Gaining audiences is going to require determination and focus. 

We have something none of our competitors do – the breadth of our creativity. The streamers don’t have radio stations – yet. We are local, national and global. We have a unique public purpose – to serve the public by informing, educating and entertaining. And we have some of the best marketing and product teams in the world.

To succeed, we need to make Sounds more than the sum of those parts. We are therefore going to have a single person accountable for the service – a new Controller of BBC Sounds. They will develop the strategy for Sounds, and oversee its delivery, coordinating our editorial, product development and marketing teams. The Controller will develop the editorial strategy for Sounds with the networks, who will do the majority of the commissioning.

This new post will serve the whole BBC. They will work with commissioners and producers from other divisions – as we have for example on Multi Story and The Hurricane Tapes. Our strategies for Sounds and smart speakers overlap in important ways, so I’ll also be asking the Controller to oversee our editorial approach to Voice too.

Until the future structure is in place, everyone who used to be managed by Bob Shennan will report to me, and Ben Chapman’s Digital team will continue to report to the Launch Director of BBC Sounds. In future, the Voice team will report into the Controller of BBC Sounds.

Adverts for the Controller of Pop and Controller of Sounds are now live on Careers Hub. The roles are being advertised internally and externally. The closing date is 17 May and we expect to appoint in June. We expect to announce the new Controller of Radio 4 in May. These changes will result in reductions in the number of senior manager roles.

Leaders of the affected teams will be in touch with more information, but do drop me a line if you have any questions.

Best wishes

James

James Purnell
Director, Radio & EducationMusic Business Worldwide

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