The BBC Trust's review of service licences for Radio 4 and Radio 7
The BBC Trust's service licence review was hugely positive for Radio 4 and Radio 7. I have seen some of the listeners' responses on Radio 4 to the Trust. We are widely considered a 'national treasure' and the appreciation for what we do is humbling. The Trust's reseach received a record number of responses and revealed that eighty per-cent of the audience approved of us with a score of eight- or more out-of-ten. The reasons cited included "the passion and knowledge of the presenters; the range and depth of programming; extremely high production standards; and an intelligent and challenging tone". Add this to the new Rajar figures (one-in-five of us in the UK listen every week and Radio 4 accounts for one-in-every-eight radio listening hours) and the kind of quality delivered by Radio 4 for audiences is unarguable.
A broader picture too about radio seems to be emerging: we fit in with people's lives; we are modern, flexible and cheap. Radio 4 Extra (which is what Radio 7 will become) is another way of enjoying our drama and comedy programmes with something else thrown into the mix. There is a developing Radio 4 archive of documentaries and history programmes, science, film, arts interviews from the brilliant Front Row - all opening up other ways to find and share our programmes. Radio 4 is not confined to its successful schedule but can be enjoyed in different ways and this is a broad approach to the challenge posed by the Trust in their document this morning about expanding the Radio 4 audience in the future.
So let's think about David Liddiment's specific two 'buts' - prompted by our own excellent Sarah Montague on Today this morning (listen to the whole interview below). One, he said Radio 4 has a huge skew to the South-East of England. Those in the North don't listen as much as those in the South. And two, 35-50s aren't listening to Radio 4 as much as they were. Well, our audience has been quick to reply online; here are two examples from Twitter:
Today program making me mad. Radio 4. Don't put regional accents on because it's pc. Put the best reporters on there. AAAAAGGGHHH mad.
And I'm sure that listener appreciates the excellent File on Four, our flagship investigation programme based in Manchester with its first class reporters. We want talent on Radio 4 - wherever we can get it and we will continue to look widely everywhere for the best reporters and presenters. Of course we are keen for people all over Britain to enjoy our programmes more and the Trust understands this and supports our endeavours.
Partly that is about getting the best programmes and contributors from as many places as possible but mainly it is about excellent programmes and talent, both on and off air - the best on Egypt at present for instance, from those who know and carry authority, whether it is Magdi Abdelhadi from the World Service or Jeremy Bowen, our Middle East Editor (did you hear his recent programme on the Lebanon and wine? - highly recommended). We have plans to take more of our programmes out and around the UK - the Moral Maze, for instance, and a new poetry masterclass with Ruth Padel. I think too that as we develop a more international sensibility - which is only keeping up with our audience - we will be more welcoming to new listeners wherever in the UK they happen to live.
And of course as I have already said we have other ways of listening to Radio 4 in our developing archive and easier ways of searching and sharing our programmes.I am delighted that the Trust has endorsed and encouraged our plans for extending the Radio 4 archive on our website. We know how popular the archive is. For example the In Our Time archive is one of the BBC's most valued sites. In the coming months we will be making even more of our factual programmes permanently available. We will also put together some more collections of older programmes and interviews to support our seasons and events. The collection of Film Interviews was one of the gems of the Film Season. We are building something similar for World Book Night as part of the BBC Year of Books. Here is a sneak preview of the collection of Radio 4 interviews with the featured authors. Our web team have a range of other plans in store in the next few months.
So we are responding to the challenges raised in the Trust report in our own Radio 4 way and we will carry on trying to find and make available, in the words of Matthew Arnold, more of "the best that has been thought and said in the world"- for more listeners everywhere.
Gwyneth Williams is Controller of BBC Radio 4 and Radio 7
- Read the review of service licences for BBC Radio 3, Radio 4 and Radio 7 and the new permissions on the BBC Trust web site.