RADIO / Right of Reply: Sharon Banoff insists that Radio 4's Anderson Country has improved with age

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IN ITS first two months Radio 4's Anderson Country has provoked piles of complaints from listeners, many of whom deem it 'worthy of Radio 2'.

'THOSE WHO listen exclusively to Radio 4 make up only 15 per cent of its total listeners. That means 85 per cent are more promiscuous in their listening, and perhaps they enjoy us more. Much of what we do is the traditional stuff of Radio 4 but newly packaged - familiar elements from successes such as Tuesday Lives and Punters.

'We bring listeners a different, sometimes more contentious view of life. We use people who are not necessarily opinion makers, but who have an informed opinion. We concentrate on what's going on around the edges of a story, often the most interesting part.

'A key element is to bring on new talent, those with their feet on the first rung of broadcasting. We give opportunities to new voices. Maybe we overdid the phone-in element at the start, but after the first couple of weeks we had no more than six calls on any programme. They've never been the main focus. Our callers have adapted to the show's tone. They are not the bigots some suggest.

'We follow a topical agenda with a less metropolitan bias. This week, we picked up on the debate about Shylock's portrayal in The Merchant of Venice, looking at how we represent certain figures and ideas from the past. We asked how you teach Othello to black teenagers. Today we're discussing the background to peace negotiations. What do mediators actually do? And we've had features from all over the country.

'The programme is in its eighth week and we have grown and developed since we have been on air. You can't rehearse a live programme like this.

'There's a problem of perception, based on the first couple of weeks. People are now writing to tell us how much they are enjoying the programme. We're not complacent: we've moved on.'

Sharon Banoff is the editor of 'Anderson Country'. She was talking to David Benedict

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