« Previous | Main | Next »

Schedule changes on Radio 4

Post categories:

Gwyneth Williams Gwyneth Williams 12:10, Sunday, 10 July 2011

Martha Kearney

Presenter Martha Kearney. The World at One will be extended as part of a range of Autumn schedule changes.

Rather a busy week here at Radio 4. It was ten to five on Thursday when we heard about The News of the World closing down. I am in the middle of our annual commissioning round and so was in close conversation with Jeremy Howe, drama commissioner, and Tony Pilgrim, maestro scheduler. We stopped our discussion of Ulysses and thought instead (with sympathy) of Eddie Mair drafting his opening sentence. I could count on him not to say 'hacked to death'.

I wandered upstairs to the Media Show to suggest a special the next day - noon we agreed if Steve were up for it. He was of course (Steve Hewlett that is, the guru for this and other media tales). I was back in time to hear Eddie introduce what has to have been one of the best PM programmes (or any programme) on a breaking story for quite a while. And yes, Steve was with Eddie, to add his sixpence. Then back to, where were we, oh yes ... moving on to Trollope.

This blog is really about Radio 4 this Autumn. We have some new programmes and a schedule change coming up. I have decided to extend The World At One. With the faster development of stories following Today (especially now that Parliament sits in the morning) there simply is not enough time to cover the full news agenda, both foreign and domestic. The excellent Martha Kearney runs out of time when she is just getting going - and besides I have got tired of extending WATO every time a story breaks. This has happened too often since I have been here and listeners get fed up if they are looking forward to other planned programmes.

All these programmes remain, by the way, in the new schedule; they are simply (for the most part) put into the afternoon after the play at three o'clock (details are below). We are also launching new comedy on Sunday night: John Finnemore in his first solo show. I am thrilled to have new political satire from Rory Bremner on Radio 4, Tonight, which starts Thursday nights and will repeat into the Sunday slot, and Sue Perkins with a new panel game, Dilemma - and there's more to come.

We will have a new science programme on Tuesday mornings at nine o clock presented by the physicist, Jim al-Khalili, with the aim of getting us up to speed on the science and scientists that are changing the world we live in - who knows, I might even be able to understand the introduction to my daughter's PhD by the end of the first series. A new 15-minute interview programme called One to One will (some have said, alarmingly) let presenters follow their passions. Americana is closing. It is a terrific programme and has done well, taking us deeper into some of that vast country's untold stories. I will certainly continue to commission programmes about the US - it is after all the world's superpower and has huge impact on us here in the UK - as well as on other parts of the world, including building up our European coverage. Readings will diminish but we will add some on to Radio 4Extra and we will continue to brag about our brilliant Radio 4 short stories and back the BBC National Short Story Award to the hilt.

This job is about choices. I have made some. I hope they keep Radio 4 listeners happy and listening.

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

Details of the Radio 4 schedule changes.

  • The last time The World At One duration was changed was in 1998 when it was reduced from 40 minutes to half an hour.
  • The Life Scientific will be broadcast on Tuesday mornings from 9-9.30am, after which One to One will run for 15 minutes.
  • The narrative history series will move from its 3.45pm slot to 1.45pm, following on from The World At One. The first series at the new time will be A History of the Brain, presented by Professor Geoff Bunn.
  • Rory Bremner's show Tonight will be broadcast from Sunday 16th October at 7.45pm (originated Thursday before at 11pm).
  • From November, the short stories (currently running at 3.30pm, Tuesday-Thursday) will be rescheduled with some broadcast at 3.45pm on Friday and some at 7.45pm on Sunday.
  • From next spring, the number of short stories will be reduced from three to one a week on Radio 4. There will also be readings on Radio 4 Extra.
Those programmes that followed The World At One at 1.30pm will, on the whole, be broadcast between 3-5pm, from 7th November. The reorganisation of the afternoon schedule will be run along the following lines:


  • Comment number 1.

    I think it is a shame that the 1.30 programmes are being relocated. I enjoy listening to the Monday quiz,Tuesday music based programme and the others during my lunch hour. If you want more lunchtime news you can switch to Radio 5. Half and hour of news is enough at lunchtime.

  • Comment number 2.

    There will also be readings on Radio 4 Extra.

    Will these be new readings?

  • Comment number 3.

    So afternoon reading is for the chop:
    first reduced to 3 days from 5 and now to two at weekends
    then zero next spring.
    Happy schedule changes!

    This will be okay if the R4Xtra readings production keeps up.
    But since the time of BBC7 there has always been a tendency there
    to repeat, repeat,repeat and not guarantee new stuff every week

  • Comment number 4.

    changes are always going to produce protest, as what people like is that today is the same as yesterday. It should be seen that the world changes, and that radio 4 needs to change to accommodate. Good luck on the new schedules.

    Personally, I'm just hoping that somewhere in there a new series of the fantasy afternoon play Pilgrim has been scheduled somewhere

  • Comment number 5.

    I am really sad that Americana is closing I found it to be consistantly interesting in that all important 'cooking the tea' slot of the day. It is the only Radio 4 programme that has inspired me, on more than one occasion, to get on the web and look at the accompanying pictures. I have no personsal connections to the USA, i just liked to hear about ordinary people and places ,we usually just hear about their politics.

  • Comment number 6.

    I'm a bit surprised that afternoon reading has been cut back - surely the production costs must be lower than almost any other output on the station? I would have thought in these times that anything that people enjoy that offers real value for money would be given bigger priority?

  • Comment number 7.

    I like what I've read so far, though mixed feelings about 'Americana', as I love Matt Frei's style and the general topics he's covered.

    Eddie Mair and Thursday's PM was excellent. I was sorely tempted to dip into the BBC News channel but luckily stayed with Radio 4. For those who missed PM and the breaking news you can still 'listen again' till Thursday 14th here is the link https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qskw

  • Comment number 8.

    Did someone suggest News of 5Live? I can't imagine listening to 5Live for anything but a football commentary. Not news, don't want talkback.

    Rather hear more WAtO than the pot luck of 1.30 progs, some good, some...

  • Comment number 9.

    Sorry to see the afternoon readings curtailed, but Radio 4 is such an excellent station, I'm sure that will continue. One suggestion - for years I've turned off for Loose Ends. It's all a bit showbiz schmoozy, what about something really entertaining - your best comedy shot of the week?

  • Comment number 10.

    I know there are always moans when things change - and I'm going to add to them. With 24-hour news available on television, the excellent Today Programme and PM, do we really need yet more news in the middle of the day? (Indeed, it's fairly frequently the same news, just rehashed.) Those who can't do without can, surely, go elsewhere. Where do those of us who want good-quality, intelligent entertainment go?

    Please, give us a break!

  • Comment number 11.

    So there's now an hour devoted to news at 13:00 every day. Regardless of the fact that often there isn't enough interesting news to fill 30 minutes.

    All because you are "tired" of having to extend the news on the odd occasion something truly momentous happens. How many times has this happened over the last 12 months, some 250 episodes of WATO? I suspect not all that many.

  • Comment number 12.

    Regarding the expanded WatO, isn't Martha Kearney favourite to be snaffled by Channel 4 News? (Or has Auntie had her an offer she can't refuse?)


  • Comment number 13.

    About time WATO was extended. There's often a lot going on that needs covering, and then to blow it all away for yet another silly panel game grates for me. Good move.

    I'm SO glad that the Afternoon Play will not be top and tailed along with the Appalling Archers. I have missed so many good dramas by turning off the dreadful village idiots and then forgetting to turn on again in time for proper drama.

    Pity Americana is going. I enjoyed that, but change is inevitable and you got the two big ones up there right.

    Now, if we could just get that idiotic, "Thought For The Day," taken OUT of the news, and The Archers sent to R2, life would be perfect.


  • Comment number 14.

    I for one wholeheartedly support these changes. R4 is my go-to for in-depth news coverage and with the speed that news stories develop these days the gap between Today and PM needs more than a half hour WATO to do it justice.

  • Comment number 15.

    I believe that if BBC 5 Live was better, there'd be no need to extend the World at One. However, 5 Live is overly concerned with sport and football in particular to the extent that proper 'rolling' news reporting is too little.

  • Comment number 16.

    I agree with all the comments that lament the demise of Americana. Ms Williams does not justify her decision to close the programme; instead she says how "terrific" Mark Damazer's brainchild is. There may be more to this decision than meets the eye. I do not understand how in light of her decision to axe Americana she thought it appropriate to write:

    "This job is about choices. I have made some. I hope they keep Radio 4 listeners happy and listening."

    I'm certainly not happy and I'll soon not be listening to Americana. Ms Williams seems not to have considered the wishes of listeners like me, or, if she has, she demonstrates gross insensitivity by her use of the word "happy".

  • Comment number 17.

    Like everyone else, I am very sorry to see Americana get the chop – it had developed into a most interesting piece of radio and I liked the way Matt Frei never hid his emotions. He blew his top (on air) once after receiving a rather rude email – the email implied the listener wasn’t a fan of Mr. Frei. I haven’t a clue who Sarah Gilbert is, but she was a fine editor of the programme (the edition about unemployment in the US was particularly interesting) and so I hope she isn’t too upset about this decision.

    I would have concentrated more efforts into restoring The World This Weekend to its former glory. What’s happened to James Cox? His extended interviews on the programme were always a good listen. I have never felt that Ms. Kearney was the right person for WATO. I thought the comment – to Winifred Robinson – about arriving at work wearing trainers a bit silly and very Weekend Woman’s Hour.

    R4 continues to ignore the world of engineering – there’s more to science and engineering than the possession of a Ph.D. Why is R4 so obsessed with academics – most of whom can’t actually make anything? The recent heated exchange between Lord Bragg and Prof. Pat Hudson highlighted the problem. Whoever produced ‘What Scientists Believe’ was on the right track.

    Anyway, more progs produced by Emma Harding will keep R4 in good health. This woman is sooooooo talented. I’m also grateful to Torquil MacCleod for that thoughtful edition of Saturday Review. HOWEVER, I was lying on the floor with a mug of tea balanced on my chest last night listening to Saturday Review…….and I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about!!!! Could someone at R4 supply translational information during the programme please? We don’t all possess Ph.D’s on The History of Goethe’s Trousers!

    P.S. I am also concerned that Bridget Kendall’s great broadcasting talents aren’t fully utilised. The Forum never fails to ignite the intellectual afterburners and the programme about Colour was a good example of this. I was smiling away when Ms. Kendall joined in the conversation about writing love letters on coloured paper. Ms. Kendall is also funny when she speaks about her lack of knowledge relating to pop music.

  • Comment number 18.

    I don't have any problem with change as such (this smear is always applied whenever anyone makes a reasoned objection to a poor innovation) but this is in the usual wrong direction. There are hundreds of hours of news and current affairs coverage available every week - even complete addicts (now why is *that* never perceived as a problem?) cannot possibly say that there is ever a time of the day or night when there is no news or current affairs coverage somewhere on radio or TV. And, as another contributor so rightly remarks, far more often than not it is the same half-dozen stories endlessly rehashed, padded out with speculation and with interviews which last for ten minutes only because the interviewee is never allowed to finish a sentence. If Radio 4's news coverage equalled, in quality, that of the World Service it would matter less - but the World Service operates by a completely different set of values, with a genuine range of stories and an interest in all parts of the globe. Now that we can all get the World Service on digital radio, Radio 4 should think seriously about providing fewer hours of news coverage, not more.

    New readings and new drama should be protected at all costs, simply because no one else does them, whereas everyone does news and current affairs. Radio 4 Extra is a delight and a lifesaver, but the repeats do come around very regularly.

    I wonder whether there is any point in even expressing these views, since the BBC's trend away from culture and towards ephemera continues on the track it has been following for at least the last twenty years - but whilst there is still anything left to save, we have to go on trying!

  • Comment number 19.

    The changes look excellent and long overdue.

    The World at One always needed to be in a 45 minute format and it's great it will now get the time that it merits.

    Americana, as well written and produced as it is, has run its course and we need a change.

    Good to see Radio 4 Xtra being used for the readings, a natural place of them to be.

    I'd love to see more on engineering and IT topics on Radio Four, but the most important thing is to protect and develop radio drama because it is such a unique form of entertainment.

    But best of all; I'll now be able to listen to Rory's show!

    Great stuff.


  • Comment number 20.

    Personally, these changes suit me overall. I use Radio 4 primarily as a source of news and analysis so it's great to see The World At One being extended - well done to the BBC for keeping up with the times. I have no problem with using Radio 4 Extra for readings.

    The saddest loss is that of Americana, which was excellent. As Matt Frei is moving on anyway, I understand that this is a good time for a shake-up. I look forward to seeing additional documentary programmes on America to compensate, as Ms Williams indicates.

    Perhaps there could also be additional programmes on Asia and other parts of the world, which are insufficiently covered on Radio 4? I can always go to the World Service for my fix of international coverage, but it would be great to see a weekly slot on Radio 4 dedicated to another part of the world, akin to the excellent 'Power of Asia' series on the BBC News website.

  • Comment number 21.

    Really pleased to hear about the extention of WATO, it's ridculous to hvae 3 hours of yesterday's news in TODAY and half an hour for breaking news.

    I now this hasn't been mentioned but why is CASENOTES being cut? which I know it is.
    And could the afternoon play either match the quality of Radio 3's or disappear please, there is onlt the occasional play worth listening to, so many are dross

  • Comment number 22.

    More quizzes please!!!! And less of the Archers!!!!!

  • Comment number 23.

    Since you're boxing Americana, how about licensing the superb This American Life from Public Radio International and running it on Radio 4 Extra? It is run with great success on Canadian and Australian public radio and it's always seem strange that the UK has been omitted.


  • Comment number 24.

    Delighted witn WaTO being given more time. Perhaps it could do what it says on the tin, ie some foreign stories. It usually sounds as if the W in the title stands for Westminster.

  • Comment number 25.

    I'm afraid I'm one of those regular listeners {from that rare 'under 50s' group... - under 35, in fact!} who feels there is already too much news and current affairs content.
    I also find the the change from BBC 7 to BBC 4 Extra has seen an increase in repeats of things that do not need repeating.

    In response to draconus' comment
    "Personally, I'm just hoping that somewhere in there a new series of the fantasy afternoon play Pilgrim has been scheduled somewhere"
    So nice to know I'm not the only one who loves that series! Maybe we could one day have a televised version...? And how about another series of "High Table, Lower Orders"?

  • Comment number 26.

    Good to read TWAO is being extended, it is however a massive shame 'Americana' is being dropped; it was a decent replacement for the lamented 'Letter from America'. It was entertaining as well as informative on our cousins across the water.

    I can't understand why when TWAO is being extended and the 1:30 - 2:00 pm programmes are being rescheduled they aren't simply moved to an earlier slot. Surely this is great opportunity to drop the boring & moribund 'You & Yours'... please!


  • Comment number 27.

    Please please please don't axe 'Thinking Allowed'. I'm a bit concerned that it doesn't obviously fall into any of the 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. categories detailed above...

  • Comment number 28.

    Re msg 25, And how about another series of "High Table, Lower Orders"? I couldn't agree more: both series were brilliant. Though where to find a writer to replace the late, great Mark Tavener?

  • Comment number 29.

    MinnieBannister - I guess Thinking Allowed fits into the factual section at 3:30pm.

  • Comment number 30.

    Please podcast "The Life Scientific"!

  • Comment number 31.

    Don't worry I am sure we will Podcast The Life Scientific.

    Andrew Caspari (Head of Speech Radio and Classical Music, Interactive)

  • Comment number 32.

    I am just thankful for the i-player as it means thay my time listening to Radio 4 is spent listening to the programmes that I really wish to hear which are not always the ones being transmitted at the time I can listen to R4. What I really like about R4 is that it has short well produced programmes that I can listen to in isolation (I am not a fan of roling news!) What did I do before I had broadband?

    Yes I am an avid listener of Americana, but I take the view that R4 has a lot of programmes about America but little about the rest of the world, with a few honourable exceptions like From Our Own Correspondent. Could it not have been replaced with a programme fronted by a different foreign correspendent each week?

    I've often thought that Radio 4 should run trails for more World Service programmes. As another blogger has said Bridget Kendall's The Forum is excellent.

  • Comment number 33.

    I'll have to say goodbye to my favourite 1:30 programmes as they are good to listen to over lunch but not much use during the afternoon. I know that Radio 4 has been struggling to fill this slot, but about half the programmes here are personal favourites.

    As an idea, can I suggest that the extended WATO is segmented into a main part of say 20 minutes followed by an "in depth" 25 minutes. Then if the extra feature is interesting I would listen (I am a news addict but not everything interests me as much as the journos might hope). If it is not on a subject that interests me it gives me half an hour to "listen again" to a recent "Brain of Britain", "Feedback" or ""Media Show". Maybe even catch up on the new John Finnemore (hope it is as good as he promises) as I rarely listen in the evenings, despite the schedulers trying to tempt me for years.

  • Comment number 34.

    I hope that the promise to extend European coverage is kept. I won't miss "Americana" though. Where will "Brain of Britain" and "Counterpoint" go? Please tell me that "Quote Unquote" will finally disappear! Do you think that someone will give a long hard look at the quality of some of the 6.30 comedy shows?

  • Comment number 35.

    Good call extending WATO - but either I'm misreading, or the article doesn't make clear whether this will be back to "40 minutes of news and comment" or 45, or 60-less-the-weather-forecast?

    It's a shame that Radio 5 can't put out something worthwhile at midday for those of us who take an earlier lunch break. I'm sure R5 used to do a good 30-minute news programme at midday, along the lines of the 6pm news on Radio 4, but that seems to have been replaced by a phone-in. So I'll be quite happy with a longer WATO and I can't say I'll miss the pot-luck hit-and-miss 1:30pm shows a great deal.

    Of course the big question is... Archers back to 1:40pm ? ;-)

  • Comment number 36.

    Very happy with the extension of World at One, a truly great news programme.

    Americana will be a loss, but there is already a lot from the US on the network, so unless it were to be supplemented with Africana, Asiana etc.

    In terms of readings - I quite like them, as I prefer readings to plays, and generally switch off when drama comes on.

    All in all a very good scheduling review. Sticking to what R4 does best - crafted intriguing docs, and solid news and analysis.

  • Comment number 37.

    Generally in favour.

    I would like to see a proper quiz (not a light hearted thing like the news quiz) every week - seeing Quote Unquote on the schedule is heartbreaking.

    Also keen on more science so well done - but presented by people who know what they're talking about not Melvyn Bragg who seems to read up on the subject for 10 minutes but acts like an expert.

    Also - after the great success of AHOW in 100 objects last year, lets have a rerun of This Sceptered Isle - wonderful radio!!

    Also bring back the PM music, the UK theme and get rid of thought for the day.

  • Comment number 38.


  • Comment number 39.


    I agree with you that something needs to be done about Thought for the Day. Williams, however, seems committed to bringing more religion to Radio 4. You may remember from January the much criticised "Bible Day" that Williams greatly supported. A whole day was given over to quotations and commentary on the King James Bible.

    We can complain all we like but it seems that the Controller is not one for listening!


  • Comment number 40.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 41.

    I do think it makes sense for WATO to be longer than half an hour. Radio 4 is the place I choose to go to for news and WATO is already much more satisfying than the Today programme. I am generally happy with the change as the 1:30 slot is a bit unattractive at the moment.

    It's a shame though that the opportunity wasn't taken to reverse the other change from 1998 when The Archers was moved to 2pm and the Afternoon Play shortened to a miserable 45 minutes.

  • Comment number 42.

    I love listening to radio 4, last night I just couldn't go to sleep it was so interesting (can't remember what programme) I am going to continue watching radio 4, tonight I am looking forward to Astronists radio programme.

  • Comment number 43.

    Rory Bremner, eh? Yet another left wing performer on Radio 4?

    Nobody can accuse Radio 4 of not being consistent

    Is there any chance of some balance?

    A right wing comedian, perhaps? Or is this too much to ask?

  • Comment number 44.

    Adding my voice to what I hope will be a torrent of disapproval in response to the axing of AMERICANA . I can add little to the arguments put succinctly by "newlach " . Give him/her a medal.
    I can claim some moral high ground as the BLACKMORE VALE magazine recently published my defence of CLARE IN THE COMMUNITY against an unwarranted attack (I am no kneejerk opponent of comedy !) . This week my letter has been endorsed by a Radio 4 listener and fan who refers to the "timeless excellence " of AMERICANA .

    The Controller'slanguage is interesting . She has "decided to extend WORLD AT ONE " . As for AMERICANA, it "is closing", as though the programme itself has made the decision !

    One of the assets of AMERICANA is the coherence of each programme around a particular theme : the space race or the U.S. small town for example .
    Why axe a programme that is terrific (the Controller's term) and plainly successful ?

  • Comment number 45.

    Good news about Wato stretching out again. Bad news though about some of the filler programmes that have been at 13:30 finding new homes.

    Americana was past its sell-by date. It should have been Russia and China - we know far less about them and anyone with digital TV can get fixes of real Americana from the news channels.

    Shame you didn't remove the 11:45 mini-soap that occupies part of Womans Hour and bring back the serial reading. The drama serial must be more expensive than an actor reading an out-of-copyright book - I feel bereft with regular doses of Mme Bovary.

    Huge welcome to the Tuesday 09:00 science spot, replacing religion/ethics.

    In spite of the carping, though, it's a welcome refreshing of a schedule that had been getting tired.

  • Comment number 46.

    Oooh err - if our Gwyneth aims to outnumber the changes James Boyle introduced in the late '90s, she might inherit the mantle of 'The Dark Controller'...

    Although I was never a great Americana fan, thinking it might give way to another international documentary perspective type of thing, I am surprised the slot is being filled with more panel/comedy shows, of which R4 has too many ailing specimens already - with ISIHAC, JAM and Quote, Unquote being well past their sell-by date IMHO, despite being very popular.

    R4 should not be driven by a chase for cheap audience ratings, although I must admit, somewhat contradicting myself perhaps, to looking forward to the new Bremner satire programme. (And if only he could have been on now, given the feast of material in the last couple of weeks!)


    P.S. Totally agree with Lawrence about the need for some nitty-gritty engineering - R4's science is over-dominated by academics living in fairy land.

  • Comment number 47.

    I want to know why nowhere on this site, even in the press office release, is there to be found a full list of the axed programming?
    Americana, was an interesting, if massively delayed, follow on from the much loved "Letter from America", which was sorely missed. Something needs to replace it. We need to know how our cousins across the pond are thinking, and how their real lives go.
    Casenotes going? WHY?
    And I also second the need for more coverage of engineering topics. Material world has a vast amount to cover, and either needs more time, or we need a second show to keep us all up to date.

  • Comment number 48.

    Not more news! Networks are already awash with it and it's too, too depressing. Radio 4 is superb at times but would be even better with no news at all. More good comedy please and more, not fewer, short stories.

  • Comment number 49.

    By the way, am I the only person left in the world who quite likes "Quote, unquote"?

  • Comment number 50.

    I am delighted that Americana is going. I strongly urge Gwyneth Williams to resist the lobbying, on this blog and elsewhere, for it to stay. There is more than enough, and at times an outrageous amount, of americana on Radio 4 without having a whole programme dedicated to it. I was hoping, with Gwyneth Williams background, that Americana would be replaced by Africana.

  • Comment number 51.

    Marcus Smith

    Has some particular story from the programme offended you?


More from this blog...


These are some of the popular topics this blog covers.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.