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Some changes to the Radio 4 schedule

Monday 24 January 2011, 06:55

Gwyneth Williams Gwyneth Williams

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Noctilucent clouds, photographed by John Rownlands, a finalist in BBC Radio 4's 'So You Want to be a Scientist' project.

I was promised freshly-brewed coffee and croissants at the end of their last run but when I went to Feedback to talk to R4 listeners - alas - I got a lovely welcome but just the usual BBC water... I did, however, get a chance to answer some listeners' questions and to put some of my early thoughts about Radio 4 to Roger Bolton. I was also interviewed by Ben Dowell from Media Guardian and his article is published today.

In my first three months as Controller of Radio 4 I have been travelling around meeting producers - and I have still to meet many, both in-house and in the independent sector. I have been overwhelmed by the commitment and quality that I encounter from programme-makers everywhere so I am determined to try and simplify our commissioning processes. Radio 4 has good audience figures and rings with intellectual rigour so if we cannot take a few creative risks now, when can we? In terms of strategic direction, I want to emphasise Radio 4's more forward-looking, modern side to complement our deserved reputation for history coverage and I am keen to encourage a more international sensibility across all programmes- I don't mean more foreign programmes but a subtle understanding that what happens in the world affects our local decisions and everyday lives, in culture, economics, health and most things.

From October I plan to launch a new 9 a.m. science programme - not about the ideas of science which Melvyn Bragg covers regularly in the brilliant In Our Time - but about science and working scientists, about the scientific method, across a range of subjects: physics, biology, engineering, technology, natural history. The Science Department will lead the work on developing this and I have been talking to various people, among them Jim Al-Khalili, a scientist and an experienced broadcaster, about possibly presenting it. I also want to broadcast a fifteen-minute interview strand in which some of our best journalists can be led by their passions and interests in choosing subject matter and interviewees. I hope to entice Lyse Doucet, Robert Peston, Bridget Kendall, John Humphrys, Lucy Kellaway and others to give it a try. I have been talking to the poet Ruth Padel about the possibility of presiding over a series of poetry masterclasses that will travel around Britain to tap into the current explosion of interest in poetry. And there will be new comedy on Sunday evening to cheer us at the end of the weekend and build on Radio 4's record of championing talent. Look out too for new satire from Rory Bremner.

This does not come without some sadness: Taking a Stand, On the Ropes, The Choice and Between Ourselves will go from October to make way for science. I launched Taking a Stand myself some twelve years ago with its talented producer. The programme was award-winning; I have one, for an interview Fergal Keane did with Rufus May, that I have kept with me and is now hanging on the wall of my new office in Broadcasting House. I have not made this change without a lot of thought and I can assure you that, in different ways, these much-loved presenters will still grace the airwaves of Radio 4.

Gwyneth Williams is Controller of BBC Radio 4 and Radio 7

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    Comment number 1.

    Nice to see some changes. I hope the science strand also considers some of the philosophical issues, e.g. what is the scientific method, why does it work (do we know?), what are the alternatives? etc. This might be more wide ranging than getting into specialisms, which by nature will be of focussed (but at times very significant) interest.

    I'd like to see a problem addressed: You have to admit that there are times when radio listening is not easy due to work during the day and, let's face it, the competition of TV and social gathering in the evening. Previously many interesting programmes have been placed at, for example, 8 o'clock at night. I should have listened, but I never did. I know the intention of previous controllers was to get us to listen at less popular times, but it is fighting a hard battle.

    I would (seriously) suggest more repeats of such programmes, but timed to pick up different audiences. In particular I would like to see repeats during the night. As an erratic sleeper I would love to hear an interesting programme in the middle of the night rather than endless repeats of world news. And please lose the school programmes at night. Any school can get these on-line surely...

    Keep up the good work. Mike.

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    Comment number 2.

    What a relief to get some more science on Radio 4... brilliant news.

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    Comment number 3.

    Science instead of misery at 9am - a good change (I exaggerate, but it was hard to tell Taking a Stand, On the Ropes and the Choice apart). How about a female presenter - and a real scientist, not a journalist?

    One suggestion that has come up in Radio 4 strands on Facebook is to enhance the international dimension by listening to ordinary people in other countries - from our own correspondent, but largely without the correspondent.

    Please, less focus on the USA and more elsewhere. American influence is so great that they will be omnipresent anyway, so we hardly need special helpings - dozens of reporters to cover the US elections, caravans of camper-vans to interview people in every diner on Route 66, and Americana! It is often interesting - in parts - but too often gushing and cloying in its acclamation of every snippet of mundanity, supposedly brightened by the application of a few stars and stripes.

    Any Questions is getting tired, specifically because of Jonathan Dimbleby's style. Over recent years he has intervened more and more, and too often his sentences are long, rambling, badly constructed and destructive of the flow of argument. Eddie Mair is far better.

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    Comment number 4.

    @Mike Kemp: Try iPlayer and/or podcasts. I make extensive use of both to listen to what I want, when I want. More repeats would mean less new content - i.e. less choice on iPlayer!

    At the times when I choose to listen to R4 all day, there are already more than enough repeats.

    More real science would be wonderful. Please, present it in an intelligent straight forward way. Not dumbed down. Not apologising for the merest hint of complexity. Not in a boring way either.

    However, Taking a Stand and The Choice were sometimes inspired. We heard the genuine voices of "normal" (though usually extraordinary) people. We need an outlet for this, when suitable subjects are found. I don't really mind which presenter is used, as long as they let the subject speak.


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    Comment number 5.

    I would mention the deletion of the so-called "Thought For The Day" from the Today programme, but I understand from elsewhere this topic is already closed.


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