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Feedback: Radio Science

Friday 21 June 2013, 15:34

Roger Bolton Roger Bolton

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Editor's note: Feedback is available to listen to online or to download and keep.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006slnx
http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/feedback
Next month a new science series begins on Radio 4, which should be the cue for rejoicing amongst those who enjoy such programmes.
However judging by the Feedback postbag there is a lot of mourning going on as well, because the new programme is replacing the much-loved Material World. Also dematerialising, at least for the moment, is the long running series presenter, Quentin Cooper.  This week on Feedback I talked to the BBC executive responsible for these changes, Deborah Cohen, Editor of the radio Science Unit.
CLIP
It’s not for me to comment on whether Deborah Cohen has made the right decision, but perhaps I can add a couple of thoughts.
First, unlike some of her colleagues, Ms Cohen never ducks an interview and will always come on Feedback even when she knows she’ll have to face a lot of criticism.
Second, I suspect that she would have liked to have kept both programmes, but given the shortage of space on Radio 4 doesn’t have that option.
That shortage is due in no small part to the dominance of news and current affairs. Just have a look at the Radio Times and see how much of the network is given over to news programmes. Add other mainstays such as Womans Hour, You and Yours and the Archers, and there isn’t much airtime left.
Then there is the problem of creative competition. In science radio there is hardly any.
This network is unique, but there is a downside. Some good shows have to come to a premature end to make space for new formats. Yet those new shows have to succeed almost immediately. There are few if any other places to experiment. It alright talking about the “right to fail”, but if you exercise that option too frequently you will likely be defenestrated along with your programmes.
A few years ago it was hoped that Channel 4 might develop a thriving radio arm, but that came to nothing. Then it was hoped there would be money available for significant original productions on Radio 4’s digital sister station 4 Extra. There isn’t.
So if you cancel a long running popular series and dispense with its much loved presenter you are certainly taking a brave decision, with no guarantee the new show will be a success.  Good Luck Deborah Cohen! I look forward to your next appearance of Feedback.
Finally just a reminder that you set the agenda on Feedback, and that you can write to us about anything to do with BBC radio, network or local. That includes policy as well as programmes.
Listen to this week's Feedback or download it as a podcast
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b02x9f59
http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/feedback
Read all of Roger's Feedback blog posts
http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/radio4/tags/Feedback
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites.

Editor's note: Listen to this week's Feedback or download the podcast

A round-bottom flask The appliance of science - Radio 4 is changing it's science programmes soon.

Next month a new science series begins on Radio 4, which should be the cue for rejoicing amongst those who enjoy such programmes.

However judging by the Feedback postbag there is a lot of mourning going on as well, because the new programme is replacing the much-loved Material World. Also dematerialising, at least for the moment, is the long running series presenter, Quentin Cooper. This week on Feedback I talked to the BBC executive responsible for these changes, Deborah Cohen, Editor of the radio Science Unit.

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Deborah Cohen, Editor of the radio Science Unit discusses changes to her programmes.

It’s not for me to comment on whether Deborah Cohen has made the right decision, but perhaps I can add a couple of thoughts.

First, unlike some of her colleagues, Ms Cohen never ducks an interview and will always come on Feedback even when she knows she’ll have to face a lot of criticism.

Second, I suspect that she would have liked to have kept both programmes, but given the shortage of space on Radio 4 doesn’t have that option.

That shortage is due in no small part to the dominance of news and current affairs. Just have a look at the Radio Times and see how much of the network is given over to news programmes. Add other mainstays such as Womans Hour, You and Yours and The Archers, and there isn’t much airtime left.

Then there is the problem of creative competition. In science radio there is hardly any.

This network is unique, but there is a downside. Some good shows have to come to a premature end to make space for new formats. Yet those new shows have to succeed almost immediately. There are few if any other places to experiment. It alright talking about the “right to fail”, but if you exercise that option too frequently you will likely be defenestrated along with your programmes.

A few years ago it was hoped that Channel 4 might develop a thriving radio arm, but that came to nothing. Then it was hoped there would be money available for significant original productions on Radio 4’s digital sister station 4 Extra. There isn’t.

So if you cancel a long running popular series and dispense with its much loved presenter you are certainly taking a brave decision, with no guarantee the new show will be a success. Good Luck Deborah Cohen! I look forward to your next appearance on Feedback.

Finally just a reminder that you set the agenda on Feedback, and that you can write to us about anything to do with BBC radio, network or local. That includes policy as well as programmes.

Listen to this week's Feedback or download it as a podcast

Read all of Roger's Feedback blog posts


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites.

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  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 7.

    Material World presented by Quentin Cooper is - now sadly was - simply the best audio popular science program. I subscribe and listen to many podcasts, a fair share of them about science, and have always been amazed by the amount of information that Quentin has managed to elicit from his guest, the depth and breadth of his knowledge that has come across in his questions and - yes, I admit it - the way his comments and awful puns made me chuckle.
    I agree with the all the other comments puzzled about this decision by the BBC and very disappointed.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 8.

    The decision to axe Material World and Quentin Cooper is still not really explained. If the BBC is as committed to science programming, as it often claims, then surely space could be made in the schedules for another show.
    The idea that the new presenters “know the questions to ask” appears to unfairly suggest that Quentin Cooper didn't do that, on the contrary, he always seemed to ask exactly what we were wondering.
    Also Radio 4's definition of successful appears to be the fame of the presenters, not the size of the audience or how much we like the programme, which is disappointing

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 9.

    I just wanted to say that listening to Elizabeth Stokoe talking today on The Life Scientific, the story of how she got into science after being drawn to feminism, could have been the answer I'd have given myself..! Nothing inspires quite as much as being told that you cannot do something. I am a little older, but hearing my mother say things like"Oh women don't do things like that dear..", or "Don't look too clever dear or no one will ever marry you" was all the encouragement I needed to study sciences in school... and yes, I did find physics hard work, and no I had no one at home to help or encourage me .. "Learn to type dear..." or "How about a bilingual secretary.?" was all the career guidance I got at home - and this to someone who was helpless at languages! But still my mother thought it more suitable 'for a woman" than chemistry, which I actually WAS good at!

    I ended up studying geology and oceanography, which draw on a very diverse and interdisciplinary range of sciences, and then I spent 7 years offshore in the oil industry, trailing sonars around the North Sea and acquiring geophysical data and I have had various earth science and science management jobs since, over 30 years. I'm currently a project manager at a Silicon Valley tech company, having moved countries.

    And yes, I did get married and no, I never learned to type properly! I sometimes wonder if we are doing women no favors by encouraging them into science; tell them "No, that's not for you dearie..." in a suitably patronizing manner, and they will flock to it!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 10.

    Re Material World and Quentin Cooper; I still don't understand the Beeb's reasoning for this, even after having listened to the statements made by Deborah Cohen.

    Cooper is such a knowledgeable and skillful live broadcaster, though, his talents will surely be in demand somewhere!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 11.

    Quentin was / is a fantastic presenter and should still be presenting Material World! His sharp Wit and humour combined with his perceptive questions which I as a layman could understand should not be thrown away and wasted in this criminal way. Re instate Quentin now!!!!

 

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Find out about this year's panel and theme