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I told The Guardian on Monday that we were going to do some Radio 4 roadshows at universities later this year - at Cardiff, Bedford and Derby. We will record in front of an audience a clutch of programmes (comedy, debate, political) and, in addition, tell them about the range of Radio 4 programmes - and what we're about.

It is decidely not an attempt to change the demographics of Radio 4. It is an attempt to explain to an audience that sometimes knows distressingly little about Radio 4 (we have evidence that we are not much known among many under 30 year-olds) that we have things to stimulate and amuse them. I know that they won't listen to hours on end of Radio 4 but if they listen even to a little bit now then I am hoping that later in their lives they will end up listening to more. I don't think I can just assume that as they get older they will 'find' Radio 4. There are too many other choices around now for anyone to bank on the behaviour of previous generations to assert that Radio 4's future is safe.

There's been a huge expansion in the number of people who go on to higher education and I don't think we've thought through how to appeal to them at this point in their lives. And it's reasonable to think intelligent speech has something to offer. If it works then we'll go to many more universities/higher education institutions next year.


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  • Comment number 14. Posted by lordBeddGelert

    on 14 Jul 2009 08:53

    Dangerous putting too much store on one person's opinion...

    But it doesn't seem to have stopped the City..

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  • Comment number 13. Posted by lordBeddGelert

    on 11 Jul 2009 21:40

    Ah, Mr Damazer, I suppose I am guilty of that awful sin of criticising without offering anything constructive. So here are some meanderings.

    I guess a lot of students don't listen to the radio for the same reason I don't watch TV. My view is that in my dotage I may not have loads of other forms of entertainment to refer to, so TV will be the obvious choice, so why waste time now on something I will 'have' to do eventually ??

    The other point is why would students NEED to listen to speech radio, rather than music, when the next Libby Purves, Martha Kearney, Eddie Mair or John Humphrys is probably going to the same lectures they are ?

    Especially if Radio 4 gets its act together and doesn't rely on the Oxbridge mafia for its next generation of presenters. As Tom Hodgkinson and the Idler / QI crowd say, we are all experts at something, so in a very real sense why should they refer to 'speech radio' when they could much the same thing down the student bar ??

    So if they don't necessarily want 'speech radio' on FM, what might they want ? Well I'm sure they want information and entertainment, but how do they 'get it' ??

    One idea is to nick the 'facebook' logo, and do some advertising handily called face.time - with the faces of the sort of people they don't expect to be 'Radio 4 types' featured.

    For example, I'm not Malcolm Gladwell's biggest fan, but he does have his followers amongst students, and he was on 'Loose Ends' a couple of weeks ago. Post his picture and the details of the programme he was on, and when, may break down barriers about what Radio 4 is really like. His idea in 'Blink' that people decide an awful lot about something in just two seconds may be overblown. But consider what judgements someone is making of the type of programme you have within the first two minutes of hearing Ritulah Shah and Nicholas Parsons. This could make for some good marketing.

    It is along the lines of some of the advertising for Bristol's Colston Hall. It is 'council-controlled' so has a bit of a worthy, fuddy-duddy, dated image [remind you of anyone ?] - but when one goes inside and sees the list of people who played there, and the year, one realises that hip and trendy bands played there before they were so mammothly successful that they became stadium bands.

    Here are some other 'faces'.

    Jack Dee
    Stephen Fry [obviously..]
    John Barrowman [well, okay, it is still in the can, but hey..]
    Graham Norton [how many students know he's one 'Just a Minute'..]

    The other thing is students may want 'information' but why limit this to radio output ? Few students may be able to build up a head of steam about the 'World Tonight', but if they are studying Modern History [or even if they are not..] how on earth are they surviving without reading 'history in the making' on Robin Lustig's blog ?? Shouldn't this be getting plugged along the lines of NEWSPAPER student promotions ??

    You know the sort of thing 'You're skint, so why not tune to Robin Lustig's blog and find out what is going on with our HALF PRICE student offer, while stocks last..' Just as long as you don't go down the route of those vapid 'down with the kids' adverts the banks seem to excel at.

    Finally, I'm never sure if I'm allowed to use the 'If Mohammed won't go to the mountain..' analogy here, but I'm sure you could do more to take Radio 4 out 'on the road' for recordings. When do you ever go to Cardiff, Bedford and Derby otherwise to record programmes such as 'Clue', 'Just a Minute', or indeed the 'Today Programme' or 'PM' or the 'Moral Maze' ?

    There was an absolutely fantastic debate on a few years ago between Christopher Hitchens and Gorgeous George Galloway to debate the war in Iraq. STUDENTS queued round the block to get in for a barnstorming show with a really good debate and argument from both of them.

    BUT IT WAS IN AMERICA !! ['fraid I don't recall whether it was in Washington DC or New York, I suspect the latter.. ] This is what the kids want - so what if you are accused of dumbing down occasionally ?

    If you don't adapt, you will not survive. So 'crowdsource' [sorry..] some more ideas when you go out on the road and find out what students would like, what connections you can make with what you have at present, and don't be frightened to take some risks in trying something new.

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  • Comment number 12. Posted by lordBeddGelert

    on 11 Jul 2009 20:04

    p.s When is Rob Brydon appearing on 'Clue' ?

    If he can't get a few students tuning in, then you may as well give up..

    I really have high hopes for him - his shtick of disorganised self-deprecating chaos could be an absolute winner, and make the Nicholas Parsons of a new generation..

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  • Comment number 11. Posted by lordBeddGelert

    on 11 Jul 2009 20:00

    Damazer, the problem here is bloody obvious. You spend all the time on this blog perpetuating fatuous 'marketing' initiatives about buzz trends twitter patter 140 characters or less guardian-speak to be down with the kids. And then yet more birt-speak about demographics and getting hip with the interent daddyo. Surely the WHOLE POINT of Radio 4 is that it requires a bit more effort than reading a text message or downloading a podcast, useful thought that might be ??

    So when the yoof tune in to find that the average age of the presenters is roughly 50, they feel that they have been sold a pup. I would try and draw an analogy that it is a bit like buying the Guardian but finding that someone had inserted a copy of the Telegraph inside, or even vice versa, but those papers are now both so anodyne and centrist that one doubts if anyone would notice the difference were it not for their relative sizes.

    I am all for bringing intelligent speech radio to students. But sadly R4 is not just 'intelligent speech radio'. There is still an awful load of fusty fifties class-obsessed nostalgia and 'we-can't-bear-to-chuck-anything-out-waste-not-want-not' dross like You and Yours on the air.

    If Channel 4 Radio had taken off that earthquake would have created a tsunami which would have swept away an awful lot of stuff like Saturday Live [not old, but just feels it...] Midweek [good programme, but just how dull can a programme be branded and still retain listeners ?] and File on Four [this is something students might be interested in, so why not have a proper theme tune ?].

    PM with Eddie Mair would be an ideal catch-up on news for people who don't get up until midday and often don't watch telly. But such gems are never going to reach people if the station has a veneer of such hideous middle-class niceness. But it is only a veneer. There are some really hard-hitting things on 'Womans Hour' with a refreshingly unsnooty Jenni Murray.

    But by coming after, say, Andrew Marr - who really must be genuinely the uncoolest person in the known, and possibly yet to be explored, universe - what chance would poor Jenni ever have of getting the students to tune in as their 'breakfast radio' ?

    Mind you, as a grumpy middle-aged curmudgeon, I'm not the one to ask. I would kick up a fuss if they tried to get rid of 'Thought for the Day' [even in its current emasculated incarnation]. And if they tried to get rid of the posh tones of Harriet Cass I might well be persuaded to man the barricades with my placard.

    So maybe that is a circle that can't be squared. You aren't the Guardian. You aren't Channel 4. Any attempt to try and be more 'cool' would simply lose the core audience. In any case most students aren't politically aware until after they leave college. And why not ? If you can't ignore politics, go to concerts, get drunk and get laid while you are a student, then what on earth is the point of going to university ?

    Just as long as you 'brain up' and get a social conscience afterwards.
    One only learns to drive properly after passing the driving test. But if you fail to update the furniture and redecorate enough to get at least some students to catch the pure comedy gold that is 'Mark Watson makes the world substantially better', then I for one think that would be be a damned shame.

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  • Comment number 10. Posted by newlach

    on 11 Jul 2009 15:34

    This seems like a good idea to me. Every week Laurie Taylor gets to the heart of some academic paper or other and Melvyn Bragg always raises questions that would be worth asking a tutor. I do not think this step should be viewed as the thin edge of the wedge - I'm confident that Gangsta rap is a long way off!

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  • Comment number 9. Posted by Baz

    on 11 Jul 2009 08:49

    It would be interesting to try and understand to what extent such marketing worked in the past. When I was studying my Batchelor's degree free R4 tapes were handed out as part of the Intro-week (Freshers week, whatever name it has now) goodie bags. I remember Andy Kershaw featured on the tape, and as an identifiable broadcaster that generated some interest.

    Certainly my listening habits were formed by friends when I was around 15 years old, and, sorry but comedy had a large bearing on it. I know it gets panned a bit now, but to me at the time Week Ending was pretty funny. So then you leave the radio on to hear decent news, and you leave it tuned for when you wake up and go to school in the morning, etc.

    Of course now I am facing redundancy, I too tend to have the radio on from 7am through to late on in the day. OK, so we do tune over R1 for Zane Lowe, which is brilliant.... but it is always back for the Today programme!

    I'd say the Radio 4 roadshows are a good idea. I get very annoyed by the way people often dismiss R4 as 'dead clever' and not for them. To my mind it is a wonderful and beautiful thing which rates very highly amongst the UK's cultural achievements and about which we should be proud. Get the message out there!

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  • Comment number 8. Posted by var42605

    on 10 Jul 2009 23:26

    Yes, yes, yes. Attracting students is exactly what Radio 4 should be doing. I'm a student and listen religiously, but also know that it has an awful lot to offer to friends who do not know Radio 4 so well.

    This roadshow is an innovative way of, quite literally, bringing Radio 4 to students.

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  • Comment number 7. Posted by trevor-ted

    on 10 Jul 2009 16:32

    Why? If people are going to roam the airways they will, or they won't.

    If you seek info on listening habits across the ages you will be obliged to act on it. Then we get n x BBc radio stations that are all similar.

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  • Comment number 6. Posted by mclarke82

    on 10 Jul 2009 13:23

    As a student, I feel I should point out that having listened to Radio 4 religiously since childhood, I'm finding myself increasingly alienated from the station. The quality of the news interviewing has become poorer, there has been too much punditry and not enough actual news, and the less said about the Today Programme's rising percentage of daft flubs the better. I say this as someone who often has the station on from 6am until 1am.

    Your best bets for a student audience are those who want news, politics and good comedy. Drag up the reporting standards a bit and don't set up interviews with people who you can't keep a clear line to (Radio 101, honestly) and you might pull it up a bit. And stop handing off all your good comedy acts to the TV stations the second you get them, that's not smart either.

    Also, if you want a younger audience, you need to catch them long before they get to university. One of the abiding traditions in my parents' house is turning on Radio 4 on a Sunday morning at 9am and leaving it on all day. Among the many other educational, musical, literary (and occasionally corrupting) influences this exposed us to, it meant there was a holy silence for the Children's Serial. This ritual was displaced with the advent of "Go For It", a programme which I and my siblings heartily disliked and my father detests. This started a new Sunday tradition of diving for the off button the second the Archer's theme died away. We can't have been the only ones.

    The one part of the reliably child-friendly broadcasting on Radio 4 stopped treating children as intelligent thinking beings who could concentrate on an ongoing story and became some kind of jangly mutant offspring of TISWAS and Newsround. If you stop training children to listen to radio drama, you won't get them to listen to it later.

    I was old enough to appreciate and listen to the adult dramas and the reportage when the change was made. My sisters weren't, and they never made the switch once the age-appropriate drama went away. They use Radio 4 for the news and annoying our Archers-addicted mother. And because we detested "Go For It", we have no incentive to turn it on for the younger members of the family when they're in the house either. That's another, oh, fourteen potential listeners lost.

    Radio habits are formed really young. You can't catch them at 18, you need to get them at 8 or 9 or 10.

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  • Comment number 5. Posted by Steve Bowbrick

    on 9 Jul 2009 22:21

    No premoderation here, Fifi. The Radio 4 blog is reactively moderated. No one sees your comments until they're live (the exception is for new users, whose comments may not appear straight away - the rules for new users are explained here).

    Steve Bowbrick, editor, Radio 4 blog

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