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The fate of children's radio

Friday 24 June 2011, 15:00

Roger Bolton Roger Bolton

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Daphne Oxenford, original presenter of Listen with Mother

I was drifting in and out of sleep the other day when I thought I heard the sound of Tubby the Tuba, shortly to be followed by Nelly the Elephant, and Burl Ives swallowing a fly. I waited with keen anticipation for Danny Kaye to sing 'Inchworm' or perhaps 'The Ugly Duckling'. Well we do regress to childhood as we get older.

For some reason I was back in the land of BBC Radio's Children's Favourites and Listen with Mother, a safe and secure world far from the Elvis's pelvis, or the sexed up songs of Beyonce or Rihanna. Today the BBC is accused of abandoning children's radio broadcasting and not without cause. In 2009 Radio 4 scrapped 'Go For It' - its only dedicated programme for children.

Then in February this year, as part of its review of BBC Children's Audio strategy, the BBC Trust said that it "regretted that the children's programming on Radio 7 is not serving audiences well, and performs very poorly in terms of reach, quality, impact and value for money". The three point strategy the trust approved in response to this devastating assessment was first a reduction in children's programming on Radio 7, now Radio 4 Extra, from 1400 to 350 hours, ie to a quarter of what it was.

Second, the shifting of Cbeebies pre-school audio to downloadable content instead and third making children's radio programmes available for broadcast by third parties. To examine these issues Feedback talked to Paul Smith, Head of Editorial Standards for BBC Audio and Music, Gregory Watson, managing director of the commercial radio station Fun Kids, and to Susan Stranks of the National Campaign for Children's Radio. I began by asking Susan Stranks, in view of the BBC's less than glorious attempts to make successful children's radio, why bother with it at all?

Next week in Feedback I'll be visiting the BBC's weather centre to answer your questions on that great British obsession the weather - or at least how we hear about it on BBC radio. Do let me know what you think.

Now I'm off in search of Mandy Miller and her elephant.

Roger Bolton presents Feedback on BBC Radio 4

  • Listen again to this week's Feedback, produced by Karen Pirie, get in touch with Feedback, find out how to join the listener panel or subscribe to the podcast on the Feedback web page.
  • Read all of Roger's Feedback blog posts.
  • Feedback is on Twitter. Follow @BBCR4Feedback.
  • The picture shows Daphne Oxenford, the original presenter of Listen with Mother on the Light Programme in the 1950s.

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Comments

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 1.

    This was a very good discussion. Had Gregory Watson of Fun Kids not been included I might have been misled into believing that the BBC has done its damnedest to encourage children to listen to radio but that the market is just not there.

    Last week on Feedback questions were raised about the findings of a survey showing that people supported the replacement on Freeview of many radio channels by BBC Alba. I forget the exact figures, but Gaelic speakers were overrepresented by a factor of twenty or so. I grew up believing that the BBC was fair and impartial, a true national asset, but now I am having serious doubts.

    Paul Smith failed to convince me that children matter much to the BBC and Gregory Watson explained that children do listen to the radio. The fact that 30,000 children responded to Chris Evan's writing competition, and the enthusiasm exhibited by the child contributors to this week's Feedback, is strong evidence that children are interested in listening to radio.

    If the BBC can give many millions of pounds to BBC Alba each year why can it not give something to run a children's radio station?

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    Comment number 2.

    Then again(and perhaps you can blame how and where publicity is aired to attract a section of the audience)maybe the answer is that Children(what ages are we including)no longer really watch or listen to much of what we consider to be what Children would today or used to.

    One child that was interviwed had Fearne Cotton(Radio 1)as her "Hero" and she took part in the Chris Evans(Radio2)short story competition or whatever it was called and these are mainly music stations...

    Is there room for a stand alone Childrens Station at the BBC probably not...
    Can the BBC afford with all the restraints on its budget to do a lot of children's programmes(even if it probably should as part of its remit)
    And many people find it messes up(used to)BBC Radio 7 looking at the comments left on the website.

    Luckily, the BBC does still manage to do some stories and are able to dress them up as family entertainment to be mainly shared by parents and children together.

    I don't know how well the commercial station that is aimed at children is doing(did I hear it had won awards)even if I was a child as far as I know its not available on AM/FM or DAB in my area so it must be limited in accessability(I assume some parts of the UK on DAB)otherwise satellite(Sky)and the internet.

    The existing commercial stations haven't any part of their schedules dedicated to childrens programming.

    When Metro Radio started years ago in the North East it tried to have some programming other than music(whether that was a rule forced onto it by Ofcom or whatever it was called then)or planned I don't know but it didn't last long.

    I think Capital Radio had a children's strand of programmes too but again it hasn't these days.

    It is far too easy to blame the BBC on this one...

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    Comment number 3.

    Since grey stained Aunty is the easy victim of another's fate, then her aged stutterings about the 'fate of childrens radio' are as always, forgiveably parochial.

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    Comment number 4.

    "Since grey stained Aunty is the easy victim of another's fate, then her aged stutterings about the 'fate of childrens radio' are as always, forgiveably parochial."

    And it is, of course, easy to believe that a trend will remain undifferentiated when one’s located on the linear(ish) part of a sine wave. I would liked to have heard contributions from Vibeka Venema and Jane Chambers (I used to lie awake in bed at night worrying about those two when they were struggling with Go4IT!). One often sensed that Go4It was complied for the benefit of some of those annoying Palm Beach bicycled children featured in the southern posh Archers.

    Well done Chris Evans (and Radio 2….for soliciting 30,000 scripts) – a fab guest on DID, especially his description of hanging out at Piccadilly Radio (legendary radio station in the North of England – featured Roger ‘Twiggy’ Day and the classic Andy Peebles's 'Soul Train'))

  • rate this
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    Comment number 5.

    Perhaps it has to be accepted that children listen more to stations/programmes originally meant for an older audience(as Chris Evans on Radio 2)and if the older listeners do not mind accept that Children have to be included as a consideration so as long as they can get a younger element involved without alienating the audience the programme was originally for.

    Children probably listen to the above because adults have it on the radio so they learn and get used to what they hear because of what the adult chooses to tune into.

    I don't always hold that a child that doesn't hear radio will not come to it later in life or discover a different type of radio such as speech as opposed to music.

    But if you live in a house where all you hear is one type of music your tastes will be limited.

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    Comment number 6.

    Let us not forget that not only has the BBC budget restraints more than ever but straying into Children's TV it continues to try and give a dedicated channel for children for most of the day but whatever anyone thinks of the commercial children's channels there are many available via satellite, Freeview and cable who are attracting them. Now you could say that shows there is an interest and demand for such programmes and channels and not all of the programmes will be bad but I suspect many adults would be unhappy with the content and say its not showing what I want my children to watch.

    Many are showing imported material from the States, Canada, Australia etc...not much of anything produced in the UK. Which again probably gives another thing to complain about.

    Now on the other hand hasn't it been the case that apart from very young children watching with a parent something aimed at the youngest children many children want to watch what they know their parents or adults don't like something they feel is meant for them and only them.

    So its probably the same for radio...

    But children are individuals and I'm not sure just as I am proving by what I say you can generalise what will/will not attract children.

    You have to offer all kinds of entertainment and accept some will be attracted some of what is broadcast and others will choose something else.

    But wait a minute aren't most charities, governments and experts on children being tied to the tv or listening to radio, sitting at computers and playing on games consoles and want them outdoors or going to places to exercise and be more physical?

    But I would say that some tv and radio interaction just as reading a book is good for the imagination and mental well being.

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    Comment number 7.

    Roger Bolton refers to the delightful song 'Inchworm', along with other favourites: The Ugly Duckling; Tubby the Tuba; Nelly the Elephant and Burl Ives swallowing a fly. For years this repertoire has been sadly absent from our ever expanding BBC services, in which children's radio has been brutally cut to less than 'Children's Hour' provided in the 40s, when the Home Service was the only platform of delivery.

    In contrast, the tracks Roger mentions air regularly on the children's internet radio service, abracaDABra!, which provides all-day, every-day nursery and novelty songs mixed with folk, jazz, classical and light music, intertwined with poems, stories, games and chatter for young children and their families.

    This service has neither advertising nor public subsidy and is linked to the Sound Start Group's on-going campaign for a publicly funded radio network for young children and their families.

    Susan Stranks - National Campaign for Children's Radio
    www.sound-start.com


  • rate this
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    Comment number 8.

    Sunbright, I agree that its sad about the lack of the favourites that you mention and I'm sure that for many they still could delight many children but because of how broadcasting is and the lives many families have for many these would have no meaning whatsoever.

    I know from my own childhood memories they still do and when Radio 2 does a special at holiday times of Junior Choice many of these are played again but its adults remembering happier and perhaps more innocent times.

    I hope someone is writing similar material today and its being heard somewhere perhaps a station like abracaDABra! is one such answer.

    You'll notice that just as you mention some of the children's music as examples nearly all the songs that are played at Christmas time come from years ago and few if any new one's are heard.

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    Comment number 9.

    From the first time we bought a clock radio we enjoyed the added benefit, if one of us couldn’t sleep, of turning on the then brilliant World Service which routinely followed on when Radio 4 closed down. This could be done without any retuning and we could be certain that when the alarm kicked in again next morning we would get the Farming Programme followed by Today, again without any retuning. Then, after a short illness, our FM clock radio died. Looking to the future, we replaced it with a digital clock radio, only to discover on our first sleepless night that, without warning, an hour of schools radio had been slotted in amongst the World Service programmes. Somewhat irritated, wondering how many UK schools started teaching at 1:00 am, we nevertheless tolerated this intrusion – one of us had been a science teacher - with thoughts that maybe some UK teachers recorded the programme for later use or maybe it was used by overseas schools. After all, some of it was quite interesting even to us ancients. However, recently this intruder has been joined, again unannounced, by an hour of CBBC nonsense – raucous, frenetic, tasteless and offering no obvious benefits to those innocent victims at whom it is aimed. We can’t believe any parent or child could be desperate enough to tune in to this in the early hours and we hope that not too many overseas listeners now think this is what the BBC inflicts on UK families.
    So now comes last Friday’s Feedback, on which we heard an earnest discussion on whether BBC radio programmes should cater for the very young. Amazingly it seemed that no participant had any idea that every weekday, in the early hours, nonsense aimed at young children was overriding the World Service output on the Radio 4 digital channel!!
    We therefore have three questions:
    1. Why have some World Service broadcasts on the late night Radio 4 digital channel been replaced, unadvertised, with stuff for children who should anyway be asleep?
    2. Why was no-one in the discussion on last Friday’s Feedback aware that this was happening? Don’t they do any real research?
    3. And, incidentally, why is there no longer a world music programme broadcast on the World Service?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 10.

    thecatcampion

    The first two questions that you ask were put to Denis Nowlan (Network Manager Radio 4) in an early June edition of Feedback. There was a lot of disappointed listeners who contacted the programme about the matter. Nowlan chuckled a lot throughout the interview in a manner that seemed quite disrespectful to many lovers of night-time radio.

    He claimed that the kids stuff had to be broadcast in the early hours for "technical and rights reasons". His explanation was not convincing, and would not have been any more so had he desisted from his inappropriate chortling.

    What happened was thoroughly unprofessional. Just like Nowlan's appearance on Feedback.

 

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