The BBC and the commercial radio sector have forged a partnership designed to secure the future of digital radio in the U.K.

The initiative between the license fee-funded BBC and commercial networks is set to establish the Radio Council, a body which would lead a range of initiatives. It will comprise the BBC and the three largest commercial groups - Global Radio, Bauer Media and GMG - as well as trade body RadioCentre representing the rest of the commercial sector.

It is set to meet quarterly and its chairmanship will rotate annually between the BBC and the commercial sector, with Tim Davie, director of BBC audio and music, to chair it for the first year.

A proposal for the Radio Council will be tabled at the next RadioCentre board meeting. Three cross-sector digital projects lined up for the new body include the development of an online live radio player for streaming at one Web location; work on a common user interface and electronic program guide (EPG) across all digital radio devices including DAB, digital TV, online and mobile phones; and rolling out a calendar of exclusive digital-only content for listeners on DAB.

Each project would require the approval of the BBC Trust and RadioCentre board.

Although the BBC has invested in DAB digital radio with the launch of new stations in recent years, the commercially funded sector's plans have been hit by the economic downturn. TV broadcaster Channel 4 dropped plans for three new digital radio stations in October because of the fall in advertising revenues.

"The partnership between the BBC and commercial radio is crucial to the future of the medium," said Tim Davie in a statement. "Radio is unique and much-loved, but the media environment is changing and we have to work together to make sure it remains as popular and relevant as ever."

Andrew Harrison, RadioCentre chief executive, added: "This exciting new initiative kick-starts our collective approach to ensuring radio is at the heart of digital Britain. We will of course remain competitors for listeners with the BBC, and RadioCentre will continue to lobby for the commercial and regulatory freedom to compete on level terms, but today we recognize that we need to work together in a new partnership to deliver a thriving radio sector for listeners."

The Radio Council would also co-ordinate with government the appointment of a CEO for the Digital Radio Delivery Group, established by communications minister Lord Carter.