You wouldn’t have thought it would be too hard for a so-called smart speaker. After all, when Marconi legged it down to the patent office in 1901, he’d managed to make radio work on something a bit less advanced than an Amazon Echo speaker. But Alexa definitely has problems with BBC Radio. If you’re wondering why BBC Radio won’t play on Alexa, hopefully the advice below will help solve the issue and let you listen to Ken Bruce or Lauren Laverne in peace.
How to set up Alexa for BBC Radio
Listening to BBC radio stations on Alexa used to be easy. You used to ask her to play BBC Radio 2 and she would play it, using the TuneIn Radio skill.
Then the BBC decided that was far too convenient, yanked its leading national stations from TuneIn, and made us all install the BBC skill – which has proved erratic ever since. Now people complain that when they ask for BBC radio stations, they are either met with silence or they get a foreign radio station they’ve never heard of.
The advice below might not solve all your problems, but it will give you the best possible chance of getting a result.
Make sure Alexa is set to English United Kingdom
The first thing to do is make sure your Echo speaker is set to the correct language. If your device isn’t set to UK English, that can lead to the problem with getting foreign radio stations. To make sure the device is set to the correct language:
- Open the Alexa app on your smartphone/tablet
- Open More and select Settings
- Select Device Settings
- Choose the speaker in question
- Select Language and make sure English United Kingdom is selected
Install the BBC skill
To listen to BBC Radio stations and podcasts, you need to install the dismal BBC skill. It has a two-star rating in the Alexa skills store for a reason, but you don’t have a choice. To do this:
- Open the Alexa app
- Choose Skills
- Search for BBC and select the BBC app (don’t get confused with various other BBC skills, such as BBC News)
- While you’re here, click on the BBC skill’s settings and link your BBC account to the skill. If you don’t have a BBC account, register for one here
The correct BBC Radio commands for Alexa
Now you’ve got everything set up properly and the BBC skill installed, you need to make sure you’re using the correct voice commands to get the BBC Radio stations. I’m going to give you three different methods. You can experiment to see which is most successful for you.
The official advice is to say:
“Alexa, open the BBC”
You’ll hear a BBC blang and then be asked to choose a radio station, podcast or programme. Once Alexa has stopped speaking, you can ask for a specific station/podcast/show without having to say “Alexa” again. Here you don’t need to be too specific about the titles you’re asking for. You can say “6 Music” or “Woman’s Hour” or “Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour” and you should get the relevant show.
Alternatively, to cut to the chase, you can say:
“Alexa, ask the BBC to play…”
And then issue the name of the station, podcast/show of your choice.
This one’s even more of a shorthand, but tends to work only for radio stations and not specific podcasts or shows.
“Alexa, play BBC Radio 6 Music”
If you’re going to cut to the chase like this and ask Alexa to play a station without first invoking the BBC skill, it’s really important you use the station’s full name, such as BBC Radio 1, BBC Radio 2, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio 6 Music etc. If you simply ask for “Radio 1” you risk getting foreign fare or some random tune off Amazon Music.
What to do when things go wrong
Even using the methods above, it’s possible to still be met with a wall of silence when you ask for a BBC Radio station. You get the BBC Sounds jingle and nothing else.
I’ve found the best way to get past this is to physically switch the Echo speaker off at the wall and restart the device. Sometimes, it’s the only thing that will bring the BBC stations back to life. This is why the app has worse ratings than Eldorado.
What about multiroom music?
Yeah, that’s out of the question. When the BBC switched from TuneIn to its own app, multiroom support went with it. That means you can’t have Radio 2 playing simultaneously on the Echo speakers in your living room and kitchen. That, apparently, is progress. Someone at the BBC should be prodded with a stick.
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