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Thursday 12 February 2009, 12:55

Mark Damazer Mark Damazer

Several of you have raised the matter of repeats - and others trails.

I'll write about the vexed subject - and it is - of trails later this month.

I'll deal with repeats in this one.

Yes - we repeat a fair amount - about 19% of the schedule. It can feel like more - because if you strip out things that you couldn't repeat, like Today, PM, The World at One, news bulletins etc... it's higher. Some of this is pure economics. We simply can't make more programmes with the money we have. We have several ideas for new programmes/formats - but I can't afford to take out repeats and replace them with these news ideas. We'd go broke.

It has got a little more difficult in recent years - but we have always repeated a range of programmes and I do not believe that things are very different now - a little, but not much.

But it's not all about economics. Take the recent move (and re-branding) of Archive on 4 (The Archive Hour as was). This format/title, now ten years old, was very often one of the best things we did all week. It was going out only on a Saturday night at 8 pm to an audience of between 300,000 and 400,000. (That's the number who listen to at least a portion of it - not necessarily all of it).

Now it gets a slightly shorter transmission, 45 minutes, at 3 pm on a Monday afternoon. The total audience for something of quality has more than doubled as a result. Thus this week's fascinating programme on the burning of The Satanic Verses and the fatwa against Rushdie is heard by far more people. That's a good thing.

Bad - if you miss the reading that was once there at 3.30 - but on balance, and keeping in mind the economics, a decent trade.

For heavy listeners - it can be wearying. But there is not much overlap between the two Archive on 4 slots and although I wish everyone would listen to R4 most of the time - not everyone does. Some people listen lightly - so well-placed repeats are a boon for many - and a pain for some.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I should perhaps confess that I am a very light listener to BBC Radio 4, Mark. I prefer to listen to BBC Radio 3 in general, although the advantage, if there is one, is that I am very specific in what I listen to on 4, and I will listen with full attention. The issue of repeats therefore does not bother me in the slightest.

    I understand the economics of the situation. The bigger your budget, the fewer the repeats. As the BBC is constrained, your budget is under pressure. In all likelihood, therefore, we shall see more repeats on BBC Radio 4, and elsewhere on the BBC over coming years.

    In terms of what you choose to repeat, and what you choose not to repeat, this decision is, in my opinion, a tough call. I would say that some of the very best broadcasts get relatively small audiences, and it would be good if more listeners had the opportunity to listen. Of course, Mark, as a Controller, you cannot ultimately control what listeners will tune into, but I would say that if you feel that something merits a wider audience, you ought to try and give it a wider audience. Cheers (dinner)! c.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    There's repeats and there's repeats isn't there?

    I'm coming to the conclusion that I may be an unusual Radio 4 listener. For many, it is on foreground or background for much of the day, attention waxing and waning according to inclination. I on the other hand scour the Radio 4 (and cast an eye over R3 and BBC7) schedules and do much of my selective listening in LA mode. Thus I have a different take on the whole matter of repeats. You, understandably, come from the view of trying to juggle a weekly schedule to a predominantly live audience and who still outnumber the 'connecteds' by a large factor. Fair enough. It won't always be that way though. How much longer will the live audience outnumber the non-live audience? Ten years? Five? How rapid is that change, and the change to an audience who can switch between live and non-live modes?

    Some of the better plays seem to be on a 2-year (approx) repeat cycle. Again, no objection in principle, but why is it we rarely get older gems? Is it because such material hasn't been digitised or that the attention span of the producers can't hack it? Radio 4 has one of the greatest sound archives in the universe; great plays, great documentaries, great interviews, and no doubt great other things as well. BBC7 carries only a particular slice of this archive.

    Use that archive. Use it and start to plug it into iPlayer. There's a whole new mini-channel for you, and it won't cost you a penny. (Well, not many.)

    And there you were telling us you are trying to save money. No such luck, matey. We want more, not less.


    P.S. Yes, this week's Archive on 4 was very good.

    P.P.S. Us plebs don't get to see any audience figures for specific programmes, and often waste time arguing about such things and whether they might amount to anything meaningful even if we did know them. Having let the cat out of the bag though, how's about you putting us out of our misery and giving a few more numbers?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    I would agree with Russ here, Mark. There is no reason, in my view, why you should not be totally transparent about audience numbers for specific programmes on BBC Radio 4. It would certainly make a refreshing change for the BBC.

    Russ is also right to highlight the glories of the archive which the BBC, and BBC Radio 4 in particular, has available to it. As your budget is obviously under pressure, Mark, a more imaginative use of the archive would be an obvious route forward.

    Of course, as discerning listeners, we also want new 'stuff' as well, but broadcasting, in my view, has been an experiment. You put something out there, and you see whether it works.

    As for the digital revolution (etc.), well, here you are, Mark, engaging with your (potential) audience online. Cheers (morning coffee)!


  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Mr Damazer sir, would you be in the market place for a suggestion for an afternoon play repeat ?

    I can't remember the title but know it was a play about a bowls club and one elderly couple's attempts to swing a win at the tournament.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I do listen to Radio 4 from dawn til dusk so I am very conscious of repeats. But this is to be expected... those robbed of the luxury of regular access to your excellent programmes are entitled to catch-up!. I do switch to BBC7 whose schedule is repeated during the course of the day. As I choose not to watch television, radio is my main staple for entertainment and current affairs so I listen around the repeats and use the listen again facility for programmes I have missed. As most of the popular repeats are of such good entertainment value it is often enjoyable to hear them again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    I am a massive Radio 4 fan, and it would be my choice of luxury if I was cast onto the desert island.

    Which brings me to my point. I appreciate that Desert Island Discs cannot be repeated on Listen Again because of music copyright regulations. But please consider posting a verbatim text of the interviews on the DID website. Even without the music, this would make such interesting reading. And would be some compensation for missing the actual broadcasts.

    And both the first broadcast and the repeat of DID are both morning timings, which I cannot always catch. Could not one of the two slots be in the afternoon or evening. Usually, regular programme repeats are at noticeably different times of the day.

    Finally, can the Listen Again for In Our Time please offer the full 45 minute broadcast, and not the shortened evening repeats, which only give us 30 minutes of the original.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    ronsands: thanks.
    The complete 45min versions of In our time from the current series are all available to listen at

    Previous series can be browsed at
    and are also all available to listen in their full versions.

    or subscribe to the podcast

    (Jem Stone - host)

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    A simple comment from a new contributor - There is a schedule to fill and a budget to operate within so reasonable repetition of programming is justifiable and the good programmes are very often worth hearing again

    But when it comes to the bad programmes, well they should not go out in the first place. I am a particular fan of radio comedy and regularly listen to the 6.30pm slot and recently have started to experience a sinking feeling when one of these poorer programmes comes on having two reasons to feel glum:
    1/ I am trapped in the car on the way home and such a slave to the timeslot that I wont listen to another radio channel preferring instead to rant at whoever commissioned the programme in the first place and
    2/ I am going to hear this programme repeated again some time in the future while I am trapped in the car and such a slave to the timeslot that etc etc.

    Quality output can withstand repetition.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    I see a problem here, FourbetterthanFive, particular with something like comedy. Humour varies so much! I sometimes find myself laughing at the wrong moments, for example, and often sit stony faced, when everyone else is rolling around laughing on the floor.

    Of course, we all have different sensitivities, and what one person finds funny, someone else might boring and a third person might find deeply offensive. Humour often lies on the edge of what is socially acceptable. In terms of measuring the quality of programmes, particularly comedy programmes, it can, therefore be extremely tricky.

    The same arguments can be applied to aesthetics in general. If we were all to walk around an art gallery, for example, I would be most surprised if anyone preferred precisely the same paintings as kleines c.


  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    sad that the bbc's radio 4 broadcasts are partially restricted by lact of funds. Why not stop this continual 'Americanisation' of the bbc-radio and tv. At the drop of a hat and needlessly Americans crop up on programmes, British broadcasters for british programmes-as the Pm would say. Transmissions from the USA must cost you more than. domestic transmissions-and at the same time contaminate our native language with American jargon

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Reply to kleines c 12.35 am comments. I totally agree, everyones tastes are different and no comedy programme is likely to/nor should it appeal to everyone. Indeed the opposite should be true and we should expect a broad spectrum of prorammes from m.o.r to cutting edge so that all tastes are catered for.

    However whatever the type of programme there has to still be a minimum quality and that standard is evidently not there in some cases. Personal taste here I know but I cite Rudys(?) Rare Records as an example of a programme that utterly failed a minimum quality performance standard. What tests did that programme have to pass to make it to the airwaves?

    To paraphrase; good programmes should: make most people smile some of the time, some people smile most of the time and on no account should anyone never smile once at all throughout a whole programme/series.

    In the context of this debate good quaility programming withstands/deserves repetition - bad quality should not be made in the first place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    About Desert Island discs. I think it is a silly argument to say because of music copyright.
    Woman's Hour for example, prepare a digest of all the hour and sometimes we can listen at least 30 minutes.
    Other programs I listen in different radios do the same, take music off and only give the interview.
    I liked DID but because of the difficult hour you transmit (9 and 11 am I think) I just cannot listen at it. I work mornings!!! if at least you transmitted once in the morning and another in the evening it would be nice.
    For the repeating of programs, I rarely note that, I listen a lot radio 4 but I do it by internet or in the afternoons.
    I think a lot of people do the same, I want to say, it is rare someone is listening all long day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    "Because Plomley was a freelance, Desert Island Discs became his copyright. After his death in 1985 it went to his wife, Diana Wong. She still owns it but is now in her eighties and their daughter, Almond, acts for her.

    Mother and daughter and the BBC agree to have Plomley mentioned in the credits and the corporation pays Diana an annual sum (£5,000 in 1996). However, the family and the BBC cannot agree a payment to make the programme available after the broadcast. This is why it is not available via the BBC’s website."



  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Re: Archive (hour) on 4, I don't object to the repeat but I do object to it being a shortened repeat. You might get away with editting In Our Time from the live broadcast, as there might be a certain amount of um-er-ah that can be cut, but in a pre-recorded programme like the Archive, you're just short-changing those who only hear the "repeat".

    If you're going to repeat Archive, do it justice and have the repeat the same as the original -- ditto In our Time, come to that.

    Veering off-station, the same applies to Radio 7's Garrison Keillor show -- I've abandoned this in favour of the original two-hour Prairie Home Companion avaiilable on RTE Choice and numerous US stations on the Internet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Hi all, I listen to Radio 4 on line and in the car, so hear much of the content and I accept that budget restraints cause problems and repeats, by and large I don't have a problem with them. However some of the so called "comedy" programmes cause even me to switch off. Whilst I am here - why is it that I can only get two weak radio frequencies for R 4 on my car but R 1 pours out at huge strength and from many more frequencies. I listen on FM mainly in Central Scotland.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    The Daily Mail wrote a story/republished a large part of this blog post
    over the weekend.

    They also use quotes from a number of users' comments on this post (and some of Mark's earlier posts).

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    It's interesting to see that 'The Mail' does not know how to use apostrophes in your link, Jem. Of course, this does not reflect on the intelligence of Mail journalists, or readers, but perhaps they ought to listen to BBC Radio 4 Repeats a bit more often.

    In terms of ratings, of course, Radio 4 is doing pretty well, even with 19% repeats. I dare say that the judicious use of repeats could raise your ratings even further, Mark, although it is a good idea, in my view, to offer something new as well.

    What to repeat, and what to do new, is a tricky question, particularly with increasing budgetary constraints across the BBC, and elsewhere, including 'The Mail'. I think that if something is worth doing, it is generally worth doing well. Who knows what is worth doing?

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Will you puuuuhhhleeeeaaazzzzeeeee stop allowing these whingers to hijack what is, after all, a very sensible opportunity to listen to 'Desert Island Discs' on a Sunday if one has missed it earlier in the week.

    There may be some saddoes who have no life and therefore consider it a fate worse than death to have to listen to 'Start the Week' for a second time.

    Perhaps you could suggest to these people that 'alternative forms of entertainment are available'. They could try...

    * Walking the dog
    * Popping down the pub
    * Visiting their local park.

    Trails are a pain in the @r$e, but how else would one find out about a particularly important 'File on Four' or indeed 'Weekend Woman's Hour' with Sharon Shoesmith ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    I want the BBC to go on repeating programs. Ones like 'Just a Minute' and 'The News Quizz' really lift my spirits. It is not always possible to tune in at the program time and sometimes it is fun to hear a program again. The two above are a perfect example.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    I listen to radio 4 most of the day nearly every day so it comes as no surprise that I do often find myself listening to repeats. And I also listen to long wave which is interupted by the cricket so I do welcome repeats however for example the afternoon play, Friday or Saturday play are not repeated why not? Also Any Questions is repeated on Saturday which is a longer programme than Any Answers which seems absurd. rather than repeat any Questions have a longer time slot for Any Answers as John Humpries cuts up and cuts off the last few callers each week to get a varied view in what is such a short programme.


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