BBC Radio 5 Live has been told to do more to cover minority sports and harden up its news output in a wide-ranging review by the BBC Trust.
The station was praised by listeners for the quality of its sports coverage and as a reliable source for breaking news, according to the trust's service licence review published on Monday.
But the trust called for "clearer commitments" on the station's news output; it said there should be fewer "non-news" features in news programmes and said discussions and other feature items should be "clearly driven by a news or topical issue".
This follows criticism of Radio 5 Live by its commercial rival, TalkSport, which said the station was failing its remit to devote 75% of its output to news and was not doing enough to cover less mainstream sports.
The BBC Trust said audiences thought the range of sports on Radio 5 Live was "broadly right" but added that there was "recognition that the station could do more to cover sports that commercial radio does not".
"Given the BBC's responsibility to cover a broad range of sports, the trust has said it would like 5 Live to build on its commitment to non-mainstream or minority sports," it said.
As indicated by BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten last week, the trust has also rejected the BBC's plan, outlined in its Delivering Quality First cost-saving proposals, to drop Radio 5 Live's weekly current affairs show.
BBC trustee Alison Hastings, who led the review, said: "In a year that has seen so many major news stories hit the headlines, it's great to see that 5 live's approach to news coverage and breaking news really stands out for listeners. We've set out ways in which we think 5 live could build on this to ensure that all of its journalism continues to meet the high standards that audiences expect.
"The station also has an unmatched reputation for sports coverage among licence fee payers. Given the BBC's unique position we think the station could do more to cover the less mainstream sports that other stations can't, and we look to the executive to decide how best to achieve this."
The trust estimated that "up to two-thirds" of Radio 5 Live's output was dedicated to football, the vast majority of it the English Premier League.
In response to concerns about the need to cover more minority sports, Radio 5 Live management told the trust that it will guarantee to cover at least 20 sports a year.
The trust said the offer did not go far enough. "While we feel that this is a good starting point, it does not provide enough clarity in either frequency or volume of coverage," said the trust.
"In addition, it reflects what 5 Live currently does, rather than seeking to increase its commitment."
The trust said Radio 5 Live should cut the amount of money it spends on sports rights, despite management concern about the impact that would have on its output and audience levels.
5 Live spent £12.85m on sports rights in 2010-11, down from £16.38m in the previous year, largely as a result of broadcasting fewer live Premier League football matches.
"We encourage BBC management to look for savings in this area, which may include rights sharing and forming non-exclusive deals where possible," said the trust.
"BBC management ... feel that, were they to lose further significant sports rights this would damage 5 Live's capacity to maintain its level of listening and audience reach.
"We understand these concerns. However, we feel that the station has sufficient funding to acquire the necessary range of sports to meet its public service commitments."
The trust found the station spends more money on its sports coverage than it does on news, even with the cost of sports rights stripped out.
It said the balance should be reversed, with more resources going into news programming.
Radio 5 Live's total expenditure in 2010-11 was £72.99m, marginally up from £72.73m in the previous year and more than any other BBC radio station apart from BBC Radio 4.
The trust said the station, dubbed "Radio bloke" by critics, should do more to appeal to female listeners.
But it dropped a service licence requirement that the station should draw a "younger and more diverse audience" to the BBC. Radio 5 Live's reach among over-45s has grown 14% in the last five years; among under-45s the increase was 1%.
A management proposal that the remit of Radio 5 Live's digital sister station, 5 Live Sports Extra, should be extended to provide a "more predictable schedule" – including repeats from 5 Live and other BBC stations – was rejected by the trust.
It said only 50% of UK adults were aware of Radio 5 Live and said any future marketing campaigns should highlight the station's news offerings rather than sport.
Overall, the trust said Radio 5 Live and 5 Live Sports Extra were "performing well".
Radio 5 Live was "greatly valued" by listeners who appreciated the "breadth, depth, wit and intelligence" of its news programmes. Listeners also "greatly appreciate" the station's sports coverage, it said.
The BBC Trust carries out reviews of the BBC's television and radio services at least once every five years. A public consultation about the stations prompted 9,500 responses from the public.
A 5 Live spokesperson said: "We are pleased that the report concludes that both Radio 5 live and Sports Extra are performing well and are rated highly by our audiences. We will now consider the detailed findings and develop plans to implement the report's recommendations."