Radio 4 chief tries to disarm critics BBC boss calms fears over Radio 4

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The Independent Online
A pre-emptive charm offensive by Radio 4's new controller, James Boyle, has mollified the person likely to be the most vocal critic of his forthcoming shake-up of the station's schedule.

Mr Boyle and a team of researchers and commissioning editors visited Jocelyn Hay, chairman of the influential BBC lobbying group Voice of the Listener and Viewer, three weeks ago to present the research figures that are informing his planned changes.

Mr Boyle made the visit even though he yesterday dismissed as "the wildest of wild speculation" stories that Farming Today is to be axed, the Today programme may be extended to Sundays, and that the times of The Archers and Woman's Hour may be moved.

Ms Hay, inveterate letter writer and trenchant critic of the dropping of Peter Hobday from the Today programme and the use of Radio 4 long-wave for Test Match Special, said yesterday she was willing to give Mr Boyle the benefit of the doubt: "Any channel or institution has to be refreshed from time to time, they cannot be allowed to ossify," she said.

"We were impressed that he made the effort to come and talk to us. Mr Boyle showed us how listeners tune into the station in the mornings, lunchtime and in the evenings for the news and The Archers. He wants to manage the audience drops in between those times and strengthen the figures.

"We were very assured that he accepts Radio 4 is a unique broadcaster of high quality intelligent speech programming. And he is on the record as saying he will not slaughter any sacred cows. We have to accept that he is approaching the changes sensitively and intelligently."

Ms Hay's main concern is that the BBC might use the changes to Radio 4 as an excuse to cut the station's budget.

"I have been doing what any responsible new controller would do," said Mr Boyle yesterday. "Padding around slowly but surely talking to listeners, talking to producers and talking to lobbying groups asking if Radio 4 is the way it ought to be, are there things we ought to be doing?"

Mr Boyle appeared on the Today programme yesterday to calm the fears of listeners about wholesale changes, although he managed to deny that he had completed his final plans while assuring Archers fans that the omnibus edition would not be moving to Sunday afternoons.

"I could go through the speculation picking off the programmes one by one, but why bother."

He did hint at the rumoured extension to the Today programme, which would involve giving it a start time of 6am and running it seven days a week, when he said: "News and current affairs drives Radio 4 - it is one of the things that listeners come in for."

However, Mr Boyle appears to have bypassed the National Union of Farmers on his tour of listeners. If Today is extended, Farming Today may be axed and the NFU said its members would be "extremely angry".

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