The first in a series of posts from Tony Pilgrim, explaining what on earth a Radio 4 Head of Planning and Scheduling does.

    It is becoming easier to find and play or store and share radio programmes in the way that you want to, when you want to (podcasts, for instance). But listening live is still by far the way that the vast majority of our audience hear our programmes (the latest listening figures from industry body RAJAR). And it's forecast to remain so for some time to come.

    So as well as deciding what programmes we should commission, we also have to keep trying to create the best on-air schedule we can, to keep lots of you happy for as long as possible every week.

    Deciding what to listen to 'live' on the radio tends to be quite different to deciding what to watch on TV. People talk about the radio providing company for them, at home or in the car, often listening alone while carrying out other activities. People tend not to look through the radio listings picking out things to listen to, and then tune in at a particular time for a single programme and move on to another channel. Rather, the radio needs to fit in with their lifestyle and movements through the day. So the audience needs to know roughly what they are likely to get at what time, and tend to form listening habits around that.

    The Radio 4 schedule is an attempt to gauge the lifestyle trends of our very broad audience, providing programmes that work well for the time of day they are on air, informing, stimulating and entertaining you all to just the right degree! And the basic shape and flow and change points in the schedule have not changed radically for quite a while.

    For example, weekdays could be (very roughly) characterised as (pre-0900) agenda-setting news into (0900-1130) serious factual conversation into (1130-1200) entertaining diversion, then (1200-1400) popular/consumer news and information, then (1400-1600) relaxing diversion to (1600-1830) facts, news and behind the news, then (1830-2000) arts and entertainment on to (2000-2245) facts, news and behind the news for the more concentrated listen, then (2245) book at bedtime, and for those who don't want to go to bed (2300-2330) some more diversion and entertainment. There will be programmes that don't quite fit this, but the Radio 4 network team uses this pattern as a starting point.

    There will be some people who find this shape across the day is not what works for them. And there will be some who think I just throw everything into a random schedule placement generator, and see what happens.

    But hopefully we do keep evolving the schedule, trying to get the right tone and relevant content to address gradual changes in how people are living and consuming media.

    My job is to help Controller Mark Damazer and the rest of the Radio 4 team to plan ahead for this evolving schedule in the medium- to long-term, while ensuring that there are no silences in the shorter-term. I have to plan for seasons and events to be marked in a clear way in the schedule, and get all 13,500 programmes a year, from 5.15 in the morning till 12.45 at night, in the right place at the right time. And we have to satisfy a number of checks and balances along the way: Statements of Programme Policy, Independent Production Quotas, in-house output guarantees, repeat ratios, subject/presenter clash-checking, complementing other BBC channels where possible.

    So evolving the shape, ticking the boxes, not too many shocks, letting the programmes and presenters themselves do the surprising. But like my TV counterparts, I also sometimes get the chance to place programmes to try to get impact or attention for Radio 4, to get more people aware of the kinds of great programmes we broadcast, and hopefully get more of them to listen. The scheduling of last night's Down The Line Credit Crunch special on the eve of the Budget, is an attempt to do this.

    I will post again to talk through the process of deciding a particular schedule change, and how we try to assess whether it will work. Or I could post on another aspect of radio scheduling if anyone has a particular interest. Let me know.

    • The latest listening figures from industry body RAJAR, which provides a single audience measurement system for the UK radio industry.
    • The latest BBC press release about radio listening figures.

    Comments

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    • Comment number 25. Posted by lordBeddGelert

      on 27 Apr 2009 13:15

      "The "digital revolution" is nothing but a method of delivery (or production.."

      This might have been true 5 years ago. The programmes or content might have been 'streamed' digitally in a linear fashion from 05.30 in the morning until 01.00 the following morning. It wouldn't make a difference if they were digital or not. You would tune in to what was on at that point.

      So if you were around at lunchtime you might listen to 'Moneybox' or even 'You and Yours' because that is all that there was on.

      But the digital revolution is about much, much more than that. Why bother listening to 'You and Yours' if you can listen to the podcast of 'In our time' ? A far more interesting use of an hour.

      Of course, this has downsides. You might not listen 'off-line' to some deadly dull and worthy 'Afternoon Play', whereas in the past you might have had to, and actually found it rather 'improving' rather in the way you might have been forced to eat your broccoli in the past.

      For you not to see that the future of Radio 4 has to change when people are able to pick from a menu, rather than be fed 'the dish of the day' as decided by Mark Damazer and Tony Pilgrim shows that whilst you fully understand that a quality programme still has to be delivered, what that product is 'packaged in' has to be a lot more attractive as well.

      Of course, I'm not pretending that this doesn't have huge downside risks. It is far more difficult the TV drama budget when a 'popular' show has eight, rather than eighteen, million viewers.

      Marks and Spencer had to radically re-engineer their business and make their marketing a lot more slick, and part of that was paid for by buying products made outside the UK. So I can understand why some people are resistant to change.

      But sitting Canute-like at Radio 4 towers as the tide comes up the beach and the listeners desert to other shores just isn't an option which is sustainable in the longer term in my view. But then parts of Radio 4 are still like an English town circa 1950 - so maybe the pace of change just isn't going to advance with any alacrity in the near future. Let us see.

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    • Comment number 24. Posted by TV Licence fee payer against BBC censorship

      on 26 Apr 2009 19:13

      #23

      "because it didn't continue to evolve with the digital revolution"

      The "digital revolution" is nothing but a method of delivery (or production), it matters not one jot if the programme content is delivered by bush-telegraph, wax phonograph or as an series of Ones and Zeros (digital). What we are/have been discussing has nothing what so ever to digital broadcasting, or shouldn't have...

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    • Comment number 23. Posted by lordBeddGelert

      on 26 Apr 2009 18:29

      Boilerplated - you are of course entitled to your opinion and tastes. What I would ask is whether you would object to the following excellent progs, which don't in my view deviate from being 'informative', although I would agree that they may not be 'dry' or 'deadpan', which I don't necessarily see as an advantage in radio.

      The Reunion - Today's on Thalidomide was fantastic. I'm not the world's biggest fan of Sue McGregor, but she was no top form today. Brilliant theme tune and it 'does what it says on the tin'.

      Inside The Ethics Committee - Again, some might complain at the prosaic title, but it hooks you in.

      The Moral Maze - Okay, some of the guests can be annoying, but unlike a box of chocolates, 'you always know what you're gonna get'..

      My aim is not to upset other Radio 4 listeners with different views to my own - but in a world where people using digital technology will not listen for 6-8 hours straight of Radio 4, but 'cherry pick' programmes they do need to stand out a little bit.

      Of course, I don't necessarily welcome the development that people now download music primarily as 'singles' rather than whole albums, and this leads to a 'short attention span' which is inimical to listening to long pieces of classical music.

      But with times changing, the last thing anyone would want is for the BBC's flagship speech radio channel to become some sort of archaic museum piece because it didn't continue to evolve with the digital revolution.

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    • Comment number 22. Posted by TV Licence fee payer against BBC censorship

      on 26 Apr 2009 09:57

      #21

      - The Unbelievable Truth
      - Iconoclasts - with Ed Stourton
      - Chain Reaction


      Those programme titles would actually send me - and I suspect many who prefer a dry, informative (rather than hyped), dead pan style of delivery - off in search of either a CD, Radio 3 or the WS to listen to!

      I rarely now listen to either "PM" or "BH" due to the presentation styles/content, preferring instead the afore mentioned alternatives.

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    • Comment number 21. Posted by lordBeddGelert

      on 26 Apr 2009 09:33

      My final missive on this point is maybe a more 'upbeat' one. There are some fantastic programmes on Radio 4 - I do just think people need to be hooked into listening to them. Here are some with fantastic 'hooks'.

      - The Unbelievable Truth
      - Iconoclasts - with Ed Stourton
      - Chain Reaction

      I can well remember an excellent programme presented by Stephanie Flanders about her father, his musical career and his long illness. Having missed it live I wanted to find it online. I couldn't find it anywhere. I even emailed her for help, and she was kind enough to reply that many of her friends had been able to find it, so I felt a bit 'twp', as we say in Wales.

      Eventually I did find the programme which was simply one in the 'Archive Hour' strand, which I wouldn't have thought of as being the home of such a touching 'human-interest' documentary in a month of Sundays.

      Of course I'm not suggesting that 'Desert Island Discs' is re-named "What is on your iPod", but neither do I think it is asking too much for a little bit of effort to be put into programme titles.

      Boilerplated's point about 'Panorama' is well made - but it does also have that visual logo and an absolutely scorching theme song, as did that other current affairs gem 'World In Action'.

      Despite all my previous misanthropic whingeing it may surprise you to know that I do love listening to 'Radio 4' which is why I sometimes find it frustrating that more isn't done to share it with an even wider audience.

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    • Comment number 20. Posted by TV Licence fee payer against BBC censorship

      on 25 Apr 2009 18:49

      #19

      "If the BBC had elected to do that as a 'File on 4', it may have had more facts per minute, but since one wouldn't have known beforehand what it was about"

      Of course they would have, they would have read, seen or watched the publicity for the programme. Panorama is still called Panorama after what - 45 years - people don't expect the programme title to be changed each week, no, they listen to, watch or read the programme details, which is easier than ever to do in this age if the information highway, and then decide if the subject matter interests them.

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    • Comment number 19. Posted by lordBeddGelert

      on 25 Apr 2009 18:02

      Boilerplated, Good points.

      "most people do not need nor want to be spoon feed.." - That is a fair point, but by not giving people tasters, and relying on the 'core audience' and 'legacy' of people listening to the previous programme keeping the radio on through a combination of inertia and laziness, it reinforces the image of Radio 4 as a middle-class ghetto, most of whose listeners are pensioners.

      "because you couldn't be bothered to listen to the programme in the fist place.." - Again, a fair point - but I guess people where having these kinds of arguments in BBC TV when there was only BBC One, BBC TWO, ITV and Channel 4 [or S4C]

      'Why bother 'marketing' the shows, if they are too lazy to tune in, why should we go the extra mile to tell them how wonderful the programmes are ?'

      When digital, multi-channel, 'on-demand' viewing came across the horizon, no doubt there was panic-aplenty as the BBC suddenly realised they wouldn't just be able to rely on millions tuning into the news because it was after the Two Ronnies, or David Attenborough because it was after 'Holiday' or whatever.

      If BBC Radio 4 think they will survive simply on an audience too apathetic to listen to anything else, they are in for a big wake-up call.

      I watched a fantastic programme last night on BBC 4 called 'Who killed the honey bee ?'. If the BBC had elected to do that as a 'File on 4', it may have had more facts per minute, but since one wouldn't have known beforehand what it was about, and the sexy buzzing bees 'intro' which could have been used to 'hook' the listener would have been bumped by the need to have that 1920s 'brass band', well, all I can say is that I for one probably wouldn't have tuned in.

      I'm certainly not advocating unbridled populism and dumbed-down vapidity - you can listen to 'Five Live' or '5live' for that. But there is a real risk that the next 'licence fee' settlement will be the last that ever exists. And I think we all know what would happen if Radio 4 became a 'subscription only' internet-only service - it certainly couldn't exist as an 'advertiser-funded' channel and still be recognisable to listeners.

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    • Comment number 18. Posted by TV Licence fee payer against BBC censorship

      on 25 Apr 2009 13:47

      #17

      "Will the Archers theme really be sustainable for the next decade ?? "

      Yes, amongst those who would be interested in the programme, that is the point, most people do not need nor want to be spoon feed, the fact that you didn't know what "You and Yours" was about wasn't because of a none sexy title or theme-tune but because you couldn't be bothered to listen to the programme in the fist place - sometimes one just has to sample a programme - I knew that "The Now show" is a comedy sketch show but until I actually listened to an episode or two I had no idea if I liked the show/format (which I don't!).

      Also, isn't it what the descriptive sub-title/strap-line is there for, to describe what programme is about "The Archers" - Contemporary drama in a rural setting", "You and Yours - News and discussion of consumer affairs" or "The Now Show - Comedy sketches and satirical comments from Steve Punt, Hugh Dennis and guests"?

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    • Comment number 17. Posted by lordBeddGelert

      on 25 Apr 2009 12:12

      Sorry, trying to make a slightly less silly point - Telly Programmes do have a huge advantage in terms of being able to 'brand' themselves visually and with expensive theme tunes. 'Life On Mars' or even 'Newsnight' just wouldn't have the logos, typefaces, and funky music on the radio. And they would probably be played by a brass band in any case.

      If you can't have funky, fruity logos like 'Apple' or 'Orange' then I do think you need to have some decent musical intros. Even 'JAM' and 'CLUE' are quite recognisable. Will the Archers theme really be sustainable for the next decade ??

      The real problem is that '4Radio' never took off, as that would have been a catalyst for Radio4 to have looked at some of these things.

      Of course, Marks and Spencer never bothered to evolve until the asteroid of a Phillip Green takeover looked like it was on the trajectory to hit them, and they had to shake themselves out of their complacency. Let us hope Radio 4 doesn't die a slow death, as if it doesn't evolve it might be like the dinosaurs and simply not able to adapt quickly enough if a major competitor does appear out of the Sky...

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    • Comment number 16. Posted by lordBeddGelert

      on 25 Apr 2009 11:59

      Boilerplated - Fair point, but 'You and Yours' sounds so dull that I've never listened to it enough to realise it was about 'consumer problems' - I thought it might be something to do with 'family and friends' for all I know.

      Mr Bowbrick - Fair point that 'plainer' names are not what is required, or necessarily boringly 'descriptive' ones, but if the title were sexy enough for you want to find out what the programme was about by listening to it that might help a lot.

      I also note that the continuity announcers are helping in this regard by ensuring that we now know that the programme is called 'Crossing Continents' - there seemed to be some doubt before...

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