BBC Radio 4

    More on the Radio 4 schedule changes: Short stories

    From 1949, archive caption reads: "Miss Stevie Smith, poet, one of the finalists in the BBC Third Programme Short Story Competition, reading her story Sunday at Home"

    Some concern has been expressed about the reduction in the number of short stories on Radio 4 from next April; we will broadcast 100 rather than 150. I wanted to explain my thinking behind this decision - taken very much in the context of the overall schedule changes for the Autumn which I announced last week.

    Above all I want to make it clear that Radio 4 is committed to broadcasting new writing and new writers and my plans for the network very much reflect this reality.

    Radio 4 aims to broadcast more of "the best that has been thought and said in the world", in the words of Matthew Arnold. This brilliant analysis of culture as an active force is very much the text that inspires me as controller. Culture and Anarchy was written in the most turbulent times of the nineteenth century as science displaced certainty so the echoes of Arnold's thesis ring particuarly true now.

    And this aspiration lies behind our choices in the annual Radio 4 commissioning round which is just drawing to a close. We will soon have commissioned 500 out of 1,365 ideas for broadcast next year. Many more will be commissioned on a rolling basis throughout the year.

    Each year Radio 4 broadcasts 13,000 programmes. We have just signed off on 22 plays by first or second time writers to radio in the Afternoon Play slot and over 60 pieces of new writing for 2012/13 across all our drama slots - and there will be more to follow as we have an ongoing commitment to commission nearly 150 original single plays in the afternoon drama slot alone.

    We will commission 100 short stories each year, some of which will also be broadcast on Radio 4 Extra. In the autumn on Radio 4 Extra we will introduce a new short story slot each day Monday to Friday for archive stories and a limited number of new commissions.

    We have just announced the Alfred Bradley Bursary for new writing in the North and we will broadcast the winner on Radio 4. We plan to join up with the World Service and support the International playwriting competition, again broadcasting winners on Radio 4.

    We will continue to support the BBC National Short Story Award and broadcast winners across the week on the network - look out for the judging line-up which will be announced next week.

    I hope that my Autumn schedule changes will inspire and engage listeners.

    There will be a new prime-time science programme at nine in the morning presented by the physicist Jim Al-Khalili, a new interview programme called One to One designed around the passions and interests of presenters, new comedy for Sunday night, including new programming from some of the most talented writers and comedians working today like John Finnemore, Rory Bremner (repeated from Thursday night with new satire), Sue Perkins and others.

    The World At One, presented by the formidable Martha Kearney, will be extended to forty-five minutes to take account of the extraordinary news agenda, both national and international. WATO, as we call it, has felt increasingly hemmed in at thirty minutes. Stories now develop faster and need a fresh eye by lunchtime. Parliament sits in the morning now and WATO needs to cover emerging issues. This leaves too little time, in my judgement, for other stories.

    One of the results of extending the World At One, as I mentioned in my blog when I made the announcement last week, is that the number of short stories on Radio 4 has been reduced. We will still broadcast around 100 short stories on Radio 4 from April 2012 rather than 150, which is the current number. Some of these will also be broadcast on the new Radio 4 Extra short story strand.

    My plan is to showcase the Short Story on Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra as much as I can.

    Other programmes have also been affected by the schedule changes on the network such as, for instance Americana, which has been decommissioned. In essence, I have made the editorial decision to add an hour and a quarter of programming each week and thus need to make space in the schedule.

    I do want to make it clear that my commitment to writing, new writing and the BBC National Short Story Competition on Radio 4 remains. I am proud that Radio 4 is the place where most new writing is commissioned and broadcast and I fully intend to keep it that way.

    Gwyneth Williams is Controller of BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio 4 Extra


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