Sound Matters - Soundtrack for the UK - How did we get here?
30 January 2002
Text of a lecture
given by Jenny Abramsky, News International Visiting Professor of Broadcast
Media 2002 at Green College, Oxford University.
This speech was
first in a series of four.
Please check against
Sound is what Radio
Radio conjures pictures
with words, conveys ideas, challenges assumptions... all by using an
infinite variety of sound.
the BBC in 1969 because I was enthralled by radio.
kindled my obsession with news when, for example, I had listened, in
my bedroom, to Alastair Cooke and William Hardcastle on Radio 4, telling
me of the shooting of Robert Kennedy.
fostered my love of drama, putting on productions that swept my imagination
into realms of fantasy. It had entertained me with the Goon Show...
had stimulated my interest in ideas with programmes like Brian Redhead's
A Word in Edgeways playing, almost toying with words.
for me, was and is an extraordinarily potent medium.
know what I expected of the BBC... at my first interview the Chair of
Appointments asked me if I could change a plug?
was my reply. "Did I know why I had to change the plug" was
the next question... I was flummoxed...
get the fire working again" I ventured? A smile crossed his face.
I had given the right answer...
in those days was hierarchical, intellectual, pulsating with creative
energy and full of people at war with each other.
Directorate was ambitious, challenging, curious, exacting, and arrogant...
and it seemed to do everything. But it was remarkable fun.
struck by the range of programming Radio produced every day.
first year I worked on schools drama, classical record review, Charlie
Chester, the World at One.
set up the rig for a live concert from the Royal Albert Hall, I was
part of the team covering the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh and, later,
the team working 24 hours a day on Apollo 13.
the genre, whatever the event, radio attempted it.
I am going
to try, in these four lectures, to explain how the radio we know today
came about, look at radios role within the BBC, and, in my final
lecture, discuss whether radio can have a continuing public service
role as technologies converge and audiences seem to expect and demand
so much more from their public services.
I am not
a historian. This is a personal reflection, coloured by some 30 years
of experiencing the extraordinary shifts and turns of the BBC's own
attitudes to radio.
in this lecture cover every aspect of radio and every milestone over
the past eight decades... this will be a selective reflection.
began, almost 80 years ago, society was unimaginably different.
of Versailles was three years old. The Great Depression was yet to come.
George V was roughly halfway through his reign. Elgar was about to be
appointed Master of the King's Music.
called ragtime was on the way out and something called jazz was beginning
to be noticed. Movies were silent... and the Labour Party had never
BBC - the British Broadcasting Company - was a commercial venture.
of wirelesses wanted to sell their new products and they realised they
needed content... and a distribution system... so they formed a limited
company, a commercial monopoly, which was financed by a Post Office
licence fee and supplemented by royalties from the sale of receiving
sets, made by the manufacturers.
granted to the company had severe restrictions. Broadcast content was
to be limited to music, educational and religious subjects and entertainment.
News, not already printed, was to be prohibited except by special permission.
BBC had a staff of four! - it was led by an engineer, John Reith, who
became the first General Manager of the BBC in the late Autumn of 1922.
Reith was enough of a visionary to see the potential of broadcasting.
radio impact on the social and political life of this country? Not very
easily at first!
30th April 1926 it was a music programme - Jack Payne's dance music
- which was interrupted by an announcement of a coal strike.
afraid of the limelight the announcement was made by Reith himself.
miners' strike rapidly became a real general strike, and it's worth
looking at, because it was the first event that raised the key issue
of independence from Government which has been so important in the last
were no newspapers. This was after all, a general strike.
then the Chancellor of the Exchequer, edited and managed a propaganda
sheet, called the British Gazette from 11 Downing Street... who says
spin-doctoring was invented by New Labour...
was difficult for most people to know what was going on - unless they
had a wireless and a receiving licence.
time of the General Strike there were more than two million licence
paid 10 shillings a year (a figure which remained unchanged until 1946).
Reith saw early on that a critical role for the BBC was to "inform",
when the company was licensed the newspaper proprietors had wanted no
news to be broadcast until it had already been published in both the
morning and early evening newspapers.
could only be heard in the evening, at 7 oclock... and every bulletin
had to begin with the acknowledgement "Copyright News from Reuters,
Press Association, Exchange Telegraph and Central News". The BBC
did not gather any news of its own.
was also forbidden to deal with controversial issues.
May 1926, Reith had a delicate path to tread. The news agencies temporally
agreed to abandon their restrictions. There were five bulletins a day
starting at 10.00am.
status of the BBC?
position was clear - the Ggovernment had the legal authority to tell
the BBC what to broadcast... and, if it felt so inclined, could take
over the BBC and turn it into an arm of government.
were those led by Churchill, who wanted to do just that.
were others less strident in their views who wanted, as one of them
put it, to leave the BBC with "a measure of independence".
I am not
sure we would define what happened as "independence".
Minister, Stanley Baldwin, trusted Reith and knew him well... well enough
to broadcast a message to the nation from Reith's own house in the middle
of the strike... the words of the message were written by Reith! Imagine
if that happened now!!
this cronyism the important decision was that the Government did not
take over the BBC.
if we were to look at the BBC's coverage of the General Strike with
today's emphasis on impartiality, on fairness, we would not be very
was sober, it was non-inflammatory, it was accurate, so far as it went...
but it was very far from comprehensive.
reinforced authority, it was unfair to the Labour Party, never allowing
truth is that it was probably the best that the BBC could do at the
time, against a background of deference and dinner-jacketed newsreaders
on the radio.
the General Strike, the Government needed to take a long term view of
how broadcasting should be regulated and financed. I will not go into
All I will
say is that the first committee, of the endless committees that have
looked into the future of British Broadcasting, the Crawford Committee,
recommended to the Conservative Government what you might say was one
of the first nationalisations...
Broadcasting Company was turned into a public service corporation, its
authority guaranteed by Royal Charter, financed by a licence fee.
early days was the BBC outward looking - audience focused?
argued for a BBC dedicated to the highest standards, free from political
interference and commercial pressure. He saw that broadcasting could
be a force for both good and ill.
as 1924 he wrote "he who prides himself on giving what he thinks
the public wants is often creating a fictitious demand for lower standards
which he will then satisfy"... dumbing down was even an issue in
confess as I researched these lectures I have been struck by how many
issues were raised on the day the BBC started and every few years came
back to haunt it.
Charter came into force in January 1927. And Radio was now able to broadcast
trusted by the public, who continued to buy wireless licences in increasing
numbers. They turned to the radio for entertainment - and for news when
could concentrate on the business of "bringing the best of everything
into the greatest number of homes"
.Reith's objective for
best of everything" meant more than the cultural elitism which
many people associate with pre-war BBC.
may have said there would never be jazz or variety on Sundays - and
by the way there wasn't - but the bedrock of the schedule, then, as
now, was plays, debates and above all music - concerts, both classical
and popular, particularly light and dance music.
and later Henry Hall, were the first stars - bandleaders who became
major broadcasting personalities, as influential as the stars of Radio
1 and 2 are today.
earliest days music accounted for the largest slice of broadcasting
time - over 60% - and nearly 20% was devoted to classical music.
proprietors, the musical establishment had been suspicious of this new
upstart, fearing the BBC would destroy concert going in the UK.
BBC, as early as 1924, contracted the first full-time musicians and
in 1927 Radio rescued the Proms. Radio had become a catalyst for stimulating
were founded in 1930 and Adrian Boult was appointed Permanent Conductor
and Director of Music.
the BBC Symphony Orchestra into a world class orchestra.
that, but Boult, as Director of Music, also developed the BBC's role
of cultural patron by commissioning works from composers such as Elgar
identified an important role for public service broadcasting, which
was true of drama, where the man in charge was Val Gielgud. Gielgud,
brother of John, was clear from the onset that radio drama needed to
be different and distinctive from theatre.
writers was now part of radio's mission.
was comedy, variety, children's broadcasting, educational broadcasting,
but, with the exception of Children's Hour once a month, the Governors
banned quizzes and competitions!
there was sport as well. I find it remarkable how quickly the new BBC
set up camp on every territory!
time Reith left the BBC in 1938, he had made the BBC a cultural institution,
a catalyst for artistic development and also the major source for entertainment
in the country.
a strong relationship with its audiences. The educational role of the
BBC had been established, and embedded in the radio schedule.
had established itself as much the journal of record as the press, if
not more so...
There was an expectation that great events would be heard on radio...
and of course when war broke out the morale-boosting and propaganda
power of radio was fully recognised.
onset of war the BBC recognised the need for the first time to be more
audience focused, to cater for a variety of tastes.
Service, the forerunner of the World Service, had already been established.
Service replaced the National and Regional programmes and a different
service, the Forces Programme, was created to serve the British Expeditionary
were hungry for news... and news / information was now the most important
thing the BBC broadcast...
was now a truly news-gathering organisation with correspondents like
Richard Dimbleby, Wynford Vaughan Thomas, Frank Gillard and Godfrey
know that until the war roving reporters, like Dimbleby, were known
as Mobile Topicality Assistants, so as not to upset the newspapers!
to look at the impact of that war reporting in my third lecture, on
its continuing influence on radio.
BBC's broadcasting during the war, enormous as its role of information
provider, communicator was, was much more - new stars were discovered,
new formats were developed.
music, comedy, request programmes, variety dominated the airwaves.
like Desert Island Discs began... celebrating its 60th birthday this
nurturing of comedy talent flourished with programmes like ITMA
It's That Man Again, and its star Tommy Handley.
start of the war there were 4,000 staff broadcasting 50 hours per day
and in seven languages.
end of the war there were 11,000 staff broadcasting 150 hours a day
in 45 languages.
tempting to look back at those times and the early post-war years with
a rosy glow.
has said "nostalgia creeps in".
it a golden age as some producers thought when "free spirits, unconfined
by the BBC hierarchy" were able to do virtually what they wanted...
With no expense spared? Should we be nostalgic?
had two domestic services in the immediate aftermath of war - the Light
Programme, replacing the General Forces Programme in the summer of 1945,
and a regionalised Home Service.
look carefully at the schedule of both services, it's not clear which
audiences they were meant for.
more like a scheduler's muddle and were remarkably similar.
light music, plays, and comedy.
Service did do more news, and religion, but it was the Light Programme,
for example, that paid tribute to Bernard Shaw on his 90th birthday,
and put on a performance of The Man of Destiny with Eric Portman, whilst
the war time comedian, Arthur Askey entertained on the Home Service...
not realised that the 1946 season of the Proms only broadcast the first
half of each concert... (neither, by the way, had the present Director
of the Proms, Nick Kenyon).
time for a new vision - that was provided by the Director-General, Sir
he was perhaps the first to see that radio broadcasting needed to reflect
a wider variety of tastes and that the way to achieve this was to create
more of, as he called it, a "settled system of programmes".
to introduce a third service, a "minority service... the Third
was ambitious, he was "determined to break new ground"...
must "continually seek to innovate, to raise standards", he
an ambitious challenge to radio in the austerity of post-war Britain.
post-war years, as television gradually became the senior partner, radio
did, I believe, establish a critical role contributing to and shaping
the cultural fabric of the UK.
to the Third Programme included Bertrand Russell delivering the first
Reith Lectures, W.H. Auden, Iris Murdoch, Tolkein, Robert Graves, Edith
Sitwell, Isaiah Berlin, Camus, Thomas Mann.
plays by Sartre, Pirandello, Brecht, Louis Macniece, Beckett, Pinter
and Tom Stoppard's first work.
department was run by Laurence Gilliam. One person described this department
as "a haunt of wayward talents".
start it was in fierce competition with the Talks department, the forerunner
of the News and Current affairs department.
from its earliest days has created warring baronies. In the Fifties,
the Features department, the intellectuals as they saw themselves, regarded
Talks with contempt, and vice versa.
extraordinary how many of the battles fought in or over the BBC have
been repeated every decade.
disdain of administrators was around in those early post-war years -
features producers had no compunction in cheerfully biting the hand
that fed them - a habit of BBC producers from then on.
in those days were more like impresarios, like film producers, they
encouraged writers, they commissioned artists, they spent money - lots
Douglas Cleverdon took between a week and nine days to rehearse a play
and he and other producers would not hesitate to hire an orchestra if
a character went to a concert.
that so called "profligacy" came disasters, but there also
came programmes that fulfilled Haley's dream.
took seven years to persuade, cajole, drink with and coax Dylan Thomas
to write Under Milk Wood.
like Cleverdon, were stubborn and uncompromising.
also elitist. They aimed their programmes at a small audience, at certain
friends - their words not mine - and they didn't care about the people
who didn't understand.
Cleverdon we would not have Under Milk Wood, which took the use of words
and sounds to a new level... evoking mood, place, sense.
Another producer who understood and exploited the power of sound was
Charles Parker, who used radio as a chronicle of working class life,
by blending voices and music.
Ballads, which Parker produced, with the help of folk singers Ewan MacColl
and Peggy Seeger, from 1958 to 1964, truly broke new ground, giving
ordinary people a voice. He made one a year.
are 5,000 hours of Parker recordings stored in his archive in Birmingham.
spirits" like Parker and Cleverdon lived uncomfortably in the BBC
and were often accused of being "too free with the Corporation's
money"... and they certainly were, but I am not sure the BBC has
ever got the balance right between enabling free spirits to flourish
and ensuring public money is well spent.
Parker fell foul of a BBC becoming more cost conscious, of a BBC deciding
that an output of one programme a year from a radio producer, was not
represent ambition... and they were influential.
Radio's millennium project The Century Speaks, with the voices of 6,000
ordinary people, owes its origins to Charles Parker's pioneering work.
also shaped radio's approach to classical music.
Boult and, much later, Sir William Glock, Controller of Music from 1959
to 1973, who used his position to invigorate contemporary music.
inception BBC Radio introduced to this country major works of Bartok,
Prokoviev, Schoenberg and Webern, almost unheard in the UK until the
BBC embraced them.
the BBC Symphony Orchestra has given over 1,000 premieres - some have
sunk without trace - but Glock, as Controller of Music, began the Proms
policy of commissioning the best young composers, which led to works
by Harrison Birtwhistle, Maxwell Davies and more recently to Tavener's
The Protecting Veil... one of the most successful works of our time.
has been influential in other equally important aspects of our cultural
saw the flowering of radio entertainment - with programmes like Round
The Horne, Hancock's Half Hour and the Goon Show.
Since then radio has nurtured comedy talent in the UK.
its investment, its showcasing, I think the comedy scene would have
been the poorer.
as the Fifties, it was realised that radio could be the testing ground
Half Hour was the first show to transfer, a tradition that has continued
to this day with shows like League of Gentleman, Goodness Gracious Me.
this took place when the BBC was a monopoly. Radio faced little competition.
domestic competition the BBC faced was its Television Channel.
ITV launched and, from then on, radio's position within the BBC was
gradually eroded as television, rightly, took the greater share of resources.
the balance of power shifting to Shepherds Bush, the shape of radio
remained largely unchanged for some 21 years until offshore pirate radio
stations, like Radio Caroline, increasingly listened to by young people
like myself, were banned.
Caroline, broadcasting from an Irish ship, with a Dutch crew and flying
a Panamanian flag, was a challenge the Government could not ignore.
one cabinet minister said in 1967, "we can't remove the sweets
without replacing the saccharine".
BBC could not ignore the popularity of pop either.
origin of Radio 1 appears to have been a politically expedient deal
between the Government and the BBC.
banned the pirates and the BBC launched a new service Radio 1 which
it did in September 1967. And it renamed the other services Radios 2,
3 and 4.
Radio 1 wasn't easy. Radio had said that it could create Radio 1 by
making "special economies" and that no increase in the licence
fee would be needed.
was not at first well served. Somehow the BBC muddled through
many programmes were broadcast simultaneously on Radios 1 and 2 like
Late Night Extra, presented by a little-known Irishman called Wogan.
its start Radio 1 faced the argument that the provision of pop music
was not a public service and should not be paid out of public funds.
at the BBC two years later. The BBC I joined was in the throws of a
revolution - it was in turmoil.
first day in Broadcasting House someone asked me to sign a protest sheet
about something called Broadcasting in the Seventies.
in the Seventies" was the most controversial document ever produced
prompted by problems of scarcity - scarcity of resources, and scarcity
study group, chaired by Gerry Mansell, then Controller of Radio 4, with
help from McKinsey's - the first time the BBC used consultants - considered
the future of radio and the structure of the BBC in the regions.
partly written by Ian Trethowan, later to become Director-General, warned
"there will be both gains and losses", and recommended cutting
the cost of music, rationalising the BBC in the regions and opening
more local radio stations the first, Radio Leicester had opened
were losses. The orchestras were cut - although rather slowly. In 1970
there were 12 BBC orchestras, over the next 10 years they were cut to
six. Greg Dyke would never have been so slow.
in the Seventies" was not just about cuts. It was also a visionary
document. It helped the audience. It led to networks that were more
a new Radio 3 concentrating wholly on music and the arts... Radio 4
became a speech network and the present structure of BBC Local Radio
1969 the report was seen as anything but visionary both outside
the BBC and within.
forecast that specialist networks "would not broaden a listener's
yes The Sun, supported an increase in the radio licence fee with the
headline "BBC needs money, not an axe... it deserves a roll of
drums from every BBC orchestra while there is still time".
Campaign for Better Broadcasting - the CBB - was set up with members
including Sir Adrian Boult, Tyrone Guthrie, Henry Moore and Jonathan
the document as "a masterpiece of devious and subtle generalisation...
a capitulation to accountants' logic".
learnt from experience that the BBC is very good at fighting itself.
signed a memo to the DG, Charles Curran, criticising the changes and
claiming "there will not be enough adventurous broadcasting, risks
will not be taken". 134 signed a protest letter to the Times.
their fears realised? Did radio lose its creative nerve?
specialised Radio 3 continued to commission new contemporary music,
to do Shakespeare, continued to do programmes on ideas, use contributors
like Sir Isaiah Berlin and produce series like Beowulf.
4, now a wholly speech station, commissioned some of the its finest
series - The Long March of Everyman, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy,
The Lord of the Rings dramatisation being repeated now. It was able
to offer its audience the rich mix of programming we expect today.
1 and Radio 2 were able to develop as separate entities for their different
that the arguments had raged over the Third programme, but what of those
millions who wanted a quality public service for their tastes and passions?
Radio 1 and Radio 2 showed the BBC had realised that, to their different
audiences, the music of Bing Crosby was on a different planet from that
of the Rolling Stones!
report gave the go ahead for a chain of 40 local radio stations to be
created - without which the BBC's relationship with communities would
be very much the weaker.
So I do
think it was visionary.
in the Seventies" achieved was a shape for public service radio
that enabled it to become more audience focused, more able to compete
when faced with commercial competition. Above all it created a framework
for Radio BBC to develop.
is one thing else that pervades "Broadcasting in the Seventies"...
the belief that, because we were in the television age, radio had to
are still some fields in which it has a unique role," it said but
it went on, "for most people radio is now mainly for daytime".
of radio's ambition explains perhaps why there grew among some executives
in the BBC, a belief that radio was somehow no longer central to the
future of the BBC, and by the turn of the century would be a dead medium.
I remember being told so in no uncertain terms by one senior TV Production
Head in the early Eighties.
dropped any reference to Radio in its name in 1971... not surprisingly
many people today are unaware that it pays for radio as well as television.
relationship radio enjoyed in the BBC during the latter half of the
last century owed much to a failure to see the complementary relationship
that could be forged between television and radio and, as resources
became scarce, a sense that the old media could only diminish.
Nineties it led to controversial restructuring and ways of working which
will be the subject of my third lecture.
executives who espoused the view that radio had little future could
never explain why much of the passion and controversy surrounding the
BBC was still inspired by radio.
current affairs programmes had developed from those early deferential
days. Politicians were being interviewed and challenged... although
they were not always forthcoming.
Seventies news and
current affairs programmes had become "appointment to listen"
programmes on Radio 4, as a result of the creation of the World At One
in 1965 and later its spin-off programme PM by Andrew Boyle and William
determined to set the agenda for news. As a result the Today Programme
had changed. It was much more of a current affairs programmes than the
soft magazine of the Sixties. And there was The World Tonight at 10
in 1977, the then Controller of Radio 4, Ian McIntyre, decided to slash
all these news and current affairs programmes because he did not believe
they could sustain quality, there was uproar.
cut the Today programme into two half hours. PM and The World Tonight
were cut to half an hour.
war - and most of the battle took place outside Broadcasting House in
the diary columns of the newspapers, in particular the Londoner's Diary
of the Evening Standard. Producers were leaking on a daily basis.
the Director-General Greg Dyke sent an email to staff exhorting them
to stop whinging or get out.
DG had sent a similar e-mail in 1977/8, and acted on it, it would have
led to the end of the Radio News and Current Affairs department - the
whole department was in revolt.
for them, so was the audience.
current affairs are central to Radio 4 in 2002. They proved central
to Radio 4 in 1977/8.
coverage, comprehensive coverage, an international perspective, without
these things public service radio would be the poorer.
was about the soul of Radio 4 and on this occasion news and currents
affairs, rightly, was restored to its role as the spine of the network.
had not, I do not believe Radio 4 would have survived as the force it
Today was able to become the leading current affairs programme across
all media. And it also showed that radio was about more than daytime.
has lost its way it's usually because it has become internally focused
and not put the needs of its audience first.
on Radio 4 had been partly caused by the BBC's response to competition.
been cocooned from competition but finally, in 1973, commercial radio
launched in the UK with LBC in London and Capital. This was a different
challenge than offshore pirates.
Local Radio] started with some programming of real public service values
- programmes like Capital Radio's The Way It Is.
a significant news-gathering capability, with specialist correspondents.
It quickly took significant share in London.
the number of services expanded and in the Eighties they were gaining
process they had dropped most of their speech programming and much of
the early Nineties the ending of simulcasting, splitting frequencies
and adding new services like Capital Gold had an immediate impact and
seriously eroded BBC Radio audiences.
share in London went from 22% in 1988 to 11% in 1991! As dramatic a
decline as Radio 1's would be four years later.
Broadcasting Act freed ILR from the IBA yoke and gave it a regulatory
body of its own, the Radio Authority.
act enabled national radio and regional radio stations to be created,
this led to the successful launch of Classic FM.
growing strength of commercial radio, with nearly 150 stations, had
an inevitable impact on public service radio.
the Thatcher years Radios 1 and 2 were under threat. Should they be
privatised? Did they have a public service role?
has never gone away. The new Shadow Culture Minister, Tim Yeo, has recently
suggested it should be discussed again.
early Nineties this debate dominated the future of BBC Radio, at a time
when most of its components/networks were suffering from wobbles and
uncertainties which affect all creative organisations from time to time,
and amid predictions that its share of audiences would decline to 38%
by the year 2000, if services remained unchanged.
1 had not changed for many years. It still had an audience of some 18
million, but it had lost much of its freshness... the sense of danger
and originality that DJs like Kenny Everett had brought in its early
it played was far from the cutting edge of the new music of the young.
of Radio 1 in 1993/4 has been written about at great length... it's
even been turned into a an enjoyable TV programme... so I will not go
into it here, except to say the BBC virtually handed eight million listeners
over to commercial radio on a plate!
so it refocused Radio 1 on its primary purpose... to serve its young
audiences, with relevant programming and championing their music.
debate, within the BBC, about radio's role in popular culture was not
confined to Radio 1.
was now firmly on most of its output. How did you justify services unless
you could demonstrate their distinctiveness?
radio was the first to undergo sweeping change. It became obligatory
to produce speech programmes at key times of the day, which significantly
improved their news coverage but the focus on news meant what had been
a fertile training ground for radio production talent almost dried up.
were merged to save money losing for the BBC a critical connection with
their communities. Investment in local radio stagnated.
was losing confidence in itself. Radio 3, became uncertain about its
purpose, as Classic FM discovered a new audience and seemed to challenge
Radio 3's existence, whilst never attempting its specialist remit.
2 appeared to be gently sliding into the grave... slowly, sedately but
seemed to be losing touch with its audience. The scale and speed of
loss of audience to Radio 1 shocked many in the BBC.
dealing with radio the corporation made some critical mistakes.
to put schools programming, all sports coverage, children's radio and
the Open University together and make them into a new network in 1990
- Radio 5 - was a mistake.
the other networks to become more focused, but Radio 5 was more an administrative
solution to a problem than a broadcasting one.
and the reasons for its failure and for the creation of Radio Five Live
will be the subject of tomorrow's talk.
and speed of change imposed on Radio 1 was partly responsible for its
loss of audience.
did not learn and, in 1997, made the same mistake with Radio 4. It was
a failure to understand how radio relates to its audience.
a friend and companion. It is the soundtrack to your life. When it changes,
it affects your life...
the wholesale changes to the schedule were as radical for the Radio
4 audience as Dave Lee Travis and Simon Bates' departures had been for
coincided with dramatic upheaval in the organisation and structure of
production that appeared formally to set parts of the BBC in opposition
to each other.
I am not
going to look at this now. This
lecture is about the networks and programmes public service radio delivers
to licence payers. I will talk about it in my third lecture.
am sure this inward focus played a part in affecting programme making
quality as the audience deserted Radio 4.
new schedule was introduced in 1998 the comedy was poor, some of the
new magazine programmes were just not good enough. Some of the producers
failed to understand their audiences.
of those programmes have already become classics... John Peel's Home
Truths, Front Row, Broadcasting House.
dwelt on much of the turbulence that has affected the shape of BBC Radio
in the latter part of the twentieth century.
is the state of public service radio in its 80th year?
healthy. Certainly audienced focused.
Radios 1 and 4, Radio 2 in the last five years has elected for evolutionary
change, for bringing the audience with it, each step of the way... and
its audience has by and large stayed.
the image of Radio 2 quietly slipping away has been banished, as a vibrant
refocused network has emerged and a new audience switched it on. It's
now the most listened to station in the UK.
the wobbles of the late Nineties Radio 4 has settled down, and comedy
has once again become confident, nurtured new talent and broken new
come a long way. Mocking politicians was expressly forbidden 80 years
the doom mongers of the Eighties have been proved wrong.
a dying medium, listening to radio is increasing, the medium is flourishing
as 90% of the population listen to radio each week.
radio contributed 46% of all viewing and listening to the BBC and now
has a 51.6% share of the total radio audience, not the 38% predicted
a decade ago!
has embraced new technology. Taken advantage of the opportunities offered
by the internet.
BBC, Radio is the third most used section of BBC Online, after News
and Sport, with over 30 million page impressions a month.
is not everything.
at the start of this lecture that I could not possibly deal with the
whole history of radio in one lecture. This is a selective reflection.
it all add up to? Has radio delivered a vision for public service broadcasting
which is it still central to the BBC's purpose?
never subscribed to a definition that public service radio should just
be about market failure.
radio must have range, and ambition, but it also has a duty to be popular,
to contribute culture both popular and high.
listeners to gain access to the music of their choice, setting that
music in context, opening their minds to other forms of music, is as
important to a vibrant society as an understanding of the minutiae of
must take risks, must not be safe - like Radio 1 should do and does
with new bands, with new music, with a bespoke news service for young
2 should do and does with documentaries, with comedy, with a wide range
of specialist music.
3 did ten days ago with the weekend festival of John Adams music at
the Barbican - by broadcasting and performing his Death of Klinghoffer
it broke new ground.
what Local Radio did last year with its coverage of Foot and Mouth.
It's what Radio 4 must always do.
service radio is to continue to have a role it must produce programming
not heard anywhere else, like Fergal Keane's Taking a Stand, like In
Our Time discussing the nature of good and evil, like The Irving Trial,
where all the protagonists and the judge spoke for the first time, like
Five Live's coverage of 11th September, like the new writing in The
Wire on Radio 3, like The Proms.
in some way the mission to inform, educate and entertain.
adventurous and creative enough? I think most of the battles fought
within the BBC have been over different interpretations of how to do
is changing rapidly.
to offer our listeners programmes that tell them about those changes,
and not just on networks like Radio 4 and 3, but through programming
on stations like Radios 2 and 1.
listeners are affected and have a right to be informed.
station like Radio 1 responded to September 11 is important. Was it
relevant for its audience?
thousands of e-mails, like this from Joanna, aged 15: "Listening
to the show has helped me a lot. Knowing that there are other people
in the world with the same thoughts as my own in a weird way is already
helping me come to terms with what is going on."
I joined has changed in the 33 years. There's less strife.
has become more attuned to its audiences, less inclined to deliver from
on high. Its range is all the greater as a result.
doing so, it has lost some of the arrogance that alienated sections
of licence payers.
So I think
radio is still relevant and forward looking.
still trying "to bring the best of everything into the greatest
number of homes".
we still have some way to go. Perhaps we could be more ambitious?
audiences who feel disenfranchised by the BBC - disenfranchised by radio
as a whole, particularly ethnic minorities. We must respond.
there will be five new public service radio stations - aiming at diverse
audiences, with what must be distinctive quality programming.
year the BBC will be creating as many stations as it previously took
72 years to do.
commercial as well as public service, is taking advantage of digital
- be it satellite, cable, online, or DAB. It's moving forward.
80 years of public service radio has carved out a role in the UK - as
an enabler, as an informer, as an entertainer, as an educator, as a
feeder of passions, and as a platform for ordinary people to have a
the BBC there is a growing realisation that radio is essential to deliver
its public remit.
would its role as cultural patron be without Radio 3's support of five
orchestras and the Proms, its support of World Music, without Radio
4's support of writers?
have a relevance to young people without Radio 1? Would it have sustained
its reputation for Sport without Radio Five Live? I doubt it.
it have a strong relationship with communities without Local Radio?
I doubt it.
it be the effective provider of news and current affairs I believe it
is today without programmes like Today and Jimmy Young? I don't think
its inception radio has offered both its audience and the BBC opportunity,
because, as the first Controller of Radio 4 I knew - a man called Tony
Whitby, summed up -
the realm of ideas, radio operates with uncluttered lucidity: in the
realm of the imagination, it soars where other media limp."