Radio Northampton becomes Beeb’s first “virtual” radio station

The Beeb has announced that its first ever "virtual" radio station is going live today.

BBC Radio Northampton is part of the Virtual Local Radio (ViLoR) project, and is the first station to head cloud-wards, with another three to follow in the initial stage of the scheme.

What this means for DJs and production staff is that their local studio will appear much the same as a traditional studio, and they will still have full control over the mixing desks and other systems as normal – but the actual audio files will be stored, streamed and mixed in a remote data centre, in real-time.

Basically, the back-end equipment and infrastructure is all centralised, but the presenters and production staff will continue to work in the local office immersed in the community as they've always been. Obviously, the local element is pretty much key with local radio.

The move means that the BBC can keep costs down, as currently upgrading the equipment used in stations is a costly and sluggish (six months plus) process. However, with this new central infrastructure sharing scheme, that time to upgrade could be reduced to two months, with a substantial reduction in costs, too.

The Beeb has 39 local radio stations across the country, and BBC Radio Suffolk, BBC Essex and BBC Three Counties Radio will follow in Northampton's footsteps as part of the initial drive over the next nine months.

ViLoR also offers further benefits, the BBC notes, including improvements in audio quality due to not having to convert audio files to different formats as with traditional radio broadcasting, and new social media management tools to better interact with the audience.

Peter Coles, interim CTO for the BBC, said: "Northampton is a first, but significant, step toward us proving the potential for a fully virtualised BBC Local Radio network, and I'm sure we'll see the industry begin to adopt a similar approach. We'll continue to test and iterate the technology to help shape future plans before we decide whether to roll the system out across additional BBC Local Radio stations."

The BBC has in fact just appointed its new CTO in the form of Matthew Postgate.