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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.
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  • 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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    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.

  • rate this
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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'))

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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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