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Schedule changes on Radio 4

Sunday 10 July 2011, 13:10

Gwyneth Williams Gwyneth Williams

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Martha Kearney

Presenter Martha Kearney. The World at One will be extended as part of a range of Autumn schedule changes.

Rather a busy week here at Radio 4. It was ten to five on Thursday when we heard about The News of the World closing down. I am in the middle of our annual commissioning round and so was in close conversation with Jeremy Howe, drama commissioner, and Tony Pilgrim, maestro scheduler. We stopped our discussion of Ulysses and thought instead (with sympathy) of Eddie Mair drafting his opening sentence. I could count on him not to say 'hacked to death'.

I wandered upstairs to the Media Show to suggest a special the next day - noon we agreed if Steve were up for it. He was of course (Steve Hewlett that is, the guru for this and other media tales). I was back in time to hear Eddie introduce what has to have been one of the best PM programmes (or any programme) on a breaking story for quite a while. And yes, Steve was with Eddie, to add his sixpence. Then back to, where were we, oh yes ... moving on to Trollope.

This blog is really about Radio 4 this Autumn. We have some new programmes and a schedule change coming up. I have decided to extend The World At One. With the faster development of stories following Today (especially now that Parliament sits in the morning) there simply is not enough time to cover the full news agenda, both foreign and domestic. The excellent Martha Kearney runs out of time when she is just getting going - and besides I have got tired of extending WATO every time a story breaks. This has happened too often since I have been here and listeners get fed up if they are looking forward to other planned programmes.

All these programmes remain, by the way, in the new schedule; they are simply (for the most part) put into the afternoon after the play at three o'clock (details are below). We are also launching new comedy on Sunday night: John Finnemore in his first solo show. I am thrilled to have new political satire from Rory Bremner on Radio 4, Tonight, which starts Thursday nights and will repeat into the Sunday slot, and Sue Perkins with a new panel game, Dilemma - and there's more to come.

We will have a new science programme on Tuesday mornings at nine o clock presented by the physicist, Jim al-Khalili, with the aim of getting us up to speed on the science and scientists that are changing the world we live in - who knows, I might even be able to understand the introduction to my daughter's PhD by the end of the first series. A new 15-minute interview programme called One to One will (some have said, alarmingly) let presenters follow their passions. Americana is closing. It is a terrific programme and has done well, taking us deeper into some of that vast country's untold stories. I will certainly continue to commission programmes about the US - it is after all the world's superpower and has huge impact on us here in the UK - as well as on other parts of the world, including building up our European coverage. Readings will diminish but we will add some on to Radio 4Extra and we will continue to brag about our brilliant Radio 4 short stories and back the BBC National Short Story Award to the hilt.

This job is about choices. I have made some. I hope they keep Radio 4 listeners happy and listening.

Gwyneth Williams is Controller of BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio 4 Extra

Details of the Radio 4 schedule changes.

  • The last time The World At One duration was changed was in 1998 when it was reduced from 40 minutes to half an hour.
  • The Life Scientific will be broadcast on Tuesday mornings from 9-9.30am, after which One to One will run for 15 minutes.
  • The narrative history series will move from its 3.45pm slot to 1.45pm, following on from The World At One. The first series at the new time will be A History of the Brain, presented by Professor Geoff Bunn.
  • Rory Bremner's show Tonight will be broadcast from Sunday 16th October at 7.45pm (originated Thursday before at 11pm).
  • From November, the short stories (currently running at 3.30pm, Tuesday-Thursday) will be rescheduled with some broadcast at 3.45pm on Friday and some at 7.45pm on Sunday.
  • From next spring, the number of short stories will be reduced from three to one a week on Radio 4. There will also be readings on Radio 4 Extra.
Those programmes that followed The World At One at 1.30pm will, on the whole, be broadcast between 3-5pm, from 7th November. The reorganisation of the afternoon schedule will be run along the following lines:

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Comments

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 1.

    I think it is a shame that the 1.30 programmes are being relocated. I enjoy listening to the Monday quiz,Tuesday music based programme and the others during my lunch hour. If you want more lunchtime news you can switch to Radio 5. Half and hour of news is enough at lunchtime.

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    Comment number 2.

    There will also be readings on Radio 4 Extra.

    Will these be new readings?

    Russ

  • rate this
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    Comment number 3.

    So afternoon reading is for the chop:
    first reduced to 3 days from 5 and now to two at weekends
    then zero next spring.
    Happy schedule changes!

    This will be okay if the R4Xtra readings production keeps up.
    But since the time of BBC7 there has always been a tendency there
    to repeat, repeat,repeat and not guarantee new stuff every week

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    Comment number 4.

    changes are always going to produce protest, as what people like is that today is the same as yesterday. It should be seen that the world changes, and that radio 4 needs to change to accommodate. Good luck on the new schedules.

    Personally, I'm just hoping that somewhere in there a new series of the fantasy afternoon play Pilgrim has been scheduled somewhere

  • rate this
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    Comment number 5.

    I am really sad that Americana is closing I found it to be consistantly interesting in that all important 'cooking the tea' slot of the day. It is the only Radio 4 programme that has inspired me, on more than one occasion, to get on the web and look at the accompanying pictures. I have no personsal connections to the USA, i just liked to hear about ordinary people and places ,we usually just hear about their politics.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 6.

    I'm a bit surprised that afternoon reading has been cut back - surely the production costs must be lower than almost any other output on the station? I would have thought in these times that anything that people enjoy that offers real value for money would be given bigger priority?

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    Comment number 7.

    I like what I've read so far, though mixed feelings about 'Americana', as I love Matt Frei's style and the general topics he's covered.

    Eddie Mair and Thursday's PM was excellent. I was sorely tempted to dip into the BBC News channel but luckily stayed with Radio 4. For those who missed PM and the breaking news you can still 'listen again' till Thursday 14th here is the link http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qskw

  • rate this
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    Comment number 8.

    Did someone suggest News of 5Live? I can't imagine listening to 5Live for anything but a football commentary. Not news, don't want talkback.

    Rather hear more WAtO than the pot luck of 1.30 progs, some good, some...

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    Comment number 9.

    Sorry to see the afternoon readings curtailed, but Radio 4 is such an excellent station, I'm sure that will continue. One suggestion - for years I've turned off for Loose Ends. It's all a bit showbiz schmoozy, what about something really entertaining - your best comedy shot of the week?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 10.

    I know there are always moans when things change - and I'm going to add to them. With 24-hour news available on television, the excellent Today Programme and PM, do we really need yet more news in the middle of the day? (Indeed, it's fairly frequently the same news, just rehashed.) Those who can't do without can, surely, go elsewhere. Where do those of us who want good-quality, intelligent entertainment go?

    Please, give us a break!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 11.

    So there's now an hour devoted to news at 13:00 every day. Regardless of the fact that often there isn't enough interesting news to fill 30 minutes.

    All because you are "tired" of having to extend the news on the odd occasion something truly momentous happens. How many times has this happened over the last 12 months, some 250 episodes of WATO? I suspect not all that many.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 12.

    Regarding the expanded WatO, isn't Martha Kearney favourite to be snaffled by Channel 4 News? (Or has Auntie had her an offer she can't refuse?)

    Russ

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    Comment number 13.

    About time WATO was extended. There's often a lot going on that needs covering, and then to blow it all away for yet another silly panel game grates for me. Good move.

    I'm SO glad that the Afternoon Play will not be top and tailed along with the Appalling Archers. I have missed so many good dramas by turning off the dreadful village idiots and then forgetting to turn on again in time for proper drama.

    Pity Americana is going. I enjoyed that, but change is inevitable and you got the two big ones up there right.

    Now, if we could just get that idiotic, "Thought For The Day," taken OUT of the news, and The Archers sent to R2, life would be perfect.


    brendan

  • rate this
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    Comment number 14.

    I for one wholeheartedly support these changes. R4 is my go-to for in-depth news coverage and with the speed that news stories develop these days the gap between Today and PM needs more than a half hour WATO to do it justice.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 15.

    I believe that if BBC 5 Live was better, there'd be no need to extend the World at One. However, 5 Live is overly concerned with sport and football in particular to the extent that proper 'rolling' news reporting is too little.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 16.

    I agree with all the comments that lament the demise of Americana. Ms Williams does not justify her decision to close the programme; instead she says how "terrific" Mark Damazer's brainchild is. There may be more to this decision than meets the eye. I do not understand how in light of her decision to axe Americana she thought it appropriate to write:

    "This job is about choices. I have made some. I hope they keep Radio 4 listeners happy and listening."

    I'm certainly not happy and I'll soon not be listening to Americana. Ms Williams seems not to have considered the wishes of listeners like me, or, if she has, she demonstrates gross insensitivity by her use of the word "happy".

  • rate this
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    Comment number 17.

    Like everyone else, I am very sorry to see Americana get the chop – it had developed into a most interesting piece of radio and I liked the way Matt Frei never hid his emotions. He blew his top (on air) once after receiving a rather rude email – the email implied the listener wasn’t a fan of Mr. Frei. I haven’t a clue who Sarah Gilbert is, but she was a fine editor of the programme (the edition about unemployment in the US was particularly interesting) and so I hope she isn’t too upset about this decision.

    I would have concentrated more efforts into restoring The World This Weekend to its former glory. What’s happened to James Cox? His extended interviews on the programme were always a good listen. I have never felt that Ms. Kearney was the right person for WATO. I thought the comment – to Winifred Robinson – about arriving at work wearing trainers a bit silly and very Weekend Woman’s Hour.

    R4 continues to ignore the world of engineering – there’s more to science and engineering than the possession of a Ph.D. Why is R4 so obsessed with academics – most of whom can’t actually make anything? The recent heated exchange between Lord Bragg and Prof. Pat Hudson highlighted the problem. Whoever produced ‘What Scientists Believe’ was on the right track.

    Anyway, more progs produced by Emma Harding will keep R4 in good health. This woman is sooooooo talented. I’m also grateful to Torquil MacCleod for that thoughtful edition of Saturday Review. HOWEVER, I was lying on the floor with a mug of tea balanced on my chest last night listening to Saturday Review…….and I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about!!!! Could someone at R4 supply translational information during the programme please? We don’t all possess Ph.D’s on The History of Goethe’s Trousers!

    P.S. I am also concerned that Bridget Kendall’s great broadcasting talents aren’t fully utilised. The Forum never fails to ignite the intellectual afterburners and the programme about Colour was a good example of this. I was smiling away when Ms. Kendall joined in the conversation about writing love letters on coloured paper. Ms. Kendall is also funny when she speaks about her lack of knowledge relating to pop music.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 18.

    I don't have any problem with change as such (this smear is always applied whenever anyone makes a reasoned objection to a poor innovation) but this is in the usual wrong direction. There are hundreds of hours of news and current affairs coverage available every week - even complete addicts (now why is *that* never perceived as a problem?) cannot possibly say that there is ever a time of the day or night when there is no news or current affairs coverage somewhere on radio or TV. And, as another contributor so rightly remarks, far more often than not it is the same half-dozen stories endlessly rehashed, padded out with speculation and with interviews which last for ten minutes only because the interviewee is never allowed to finish a sentence. If Radio 4's news coverage equalled, in quality, that of the World Service it would matter less - but the World Service operates by a completely different set of values, with a genuine range of stories and an interest in all parts of the globe. Now that we can all get the World Service on digital radio, Radio 4 should think seriously about providing fewer hours of news coverage, not more.

    New readings and new drama should be protected at all costs, simply because no one else does them, whereas everyone does news and current affairs. Radio 4 Extra is a delight and a lifesaver, but the repeats do come around very regularly.

    I wonder whether there is any point in even expressing these views, since the BBC's trend away from culture and towards ephemera continues on the track it has been following for at least the last twenty years - but whilst there is still anything left to save, we have to go on trying!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 19.

    The changes look excellent and long overdue.

    The World at One always needed to be in a 45 minute format and it's great it will now get the time that it merits.

    Americana, as well written and produced as it is, has run its course and we need a change.

    Good to see Radio 4 Xtra being used for the readings, a natural place of them to be.

    I'd love to see more on engineering and IT topics on Radio Four, but the most important thing is to protect and develop radio drama because it is such a unique form of entertainment.

    But best of all; I'll now be able to listen to Rory's show!

    Great stuff.

    Scod

  • rate this
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    Comment number 20.

    Personally, these changes suit me overall. I use Radio 4 primarily as a source of news and analysis so it's great to see The World At One being extended - well done to the BBC for keeping up with the times. I have no problem with using Radio 4 Extra for readings.

    The saddest loss is that of Americana, which was excellent. As Matt Frei is moving on anyway, I understand that this is a good time for a shake-up. I look forward to seeing additional documentary programmes on America to compensate, as Ms Williams indicates.

    Perhaps there could also be additional programmes on Asia and other parts of the world, which are insufficiently covered on Radio 4? I can always go to the World Service for my fix of international coverage, but it would be great to see a weekly slot on Radio 4 dedicated to another part of the world, akin to the excellent 'Power of Asia' series on the BBC News website.

 

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