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That new thing I mentioned....

Eddie Mair | 12:18 UK time, Tuesday, 12 January 2010

...was the disappearance of the hard opt at 17.54.

The what???

The hard opt at 17.54.

17.54 is the point at which listeners on Long Wave leave the programme. What that has meant for us as programme makers, is that we have to time the programme twice...once to hit the bongs at 17.59 and 33 seconds, and once a little earlier at 17.54. We had to make sure we had an item that finished bang on 17.54 to the second. Then I would leave a pause, and at that point Radio 4 Continuity would pick up and move on to the shipping forecast on Long Wave.

For the programme team, that meant that every night there also had to be a three minute long item between the fixed point at 17.54, and the start of the weather forecast at 17.57.

Editorially, that meant there was no time to run longer pieces by reporters or longer interviews. It was three minutes, no more no less. It was a very restrictive situation which the team always rose to. But for me it always meant that our desire to have a nice clean ending for the small proportion of listeners on long wave restricted our journalistic options, at the very point a lot of people are listening.

So we asked our colleagues at the network if they'd mind if we abandoned the hard opt at 17.54. Long Wave would still leave PM at that point, and the shipping forecast would happen as usual. But instead of having to hit the 1754 junction to the second, and with a pause...Long Wave would simply fade down whatever was playing on PM.

This is what we started last night. In the minutes leading up to the weather at 17.57 we ran Jon Manel's report on Guantanamo Bay, which had a total duration of more than five minutes. That would have been impossible before

We will still run three minute items sometime, but we now have the option of running longer discussions, interviews and reports too...bringing a greater variety of styles to that part of the programme.

It also means that the arithmetical gymnastics our excellent studio directors have to perform is a little easier. The PM running order changes minute by minute, and the editor and her/his studio director (who keeps an eye on all our timings) need options when the unexpected happens - we lose lines to guests, radio cars can't get signals, a report isn't quite ready etc. There were times we had to jump through all sorts of hoops in a crisis to make sure that no matter what we paused at 17.54. It could be a little scrappy. We'd sometimes have to cut short good stories.

We think this is a good way of making PM a little better, by changing something which, it seems, no-one noticed. Hurrah!


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