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Radio 4 listeners want fewer quizzes

RADIO 4 is to scrap some of its new lunchtime quizzes and bring back the 9am news bulletin after complaints from listeners about aspects of the station's five-month-old schedule.

The best of the quizzes and panel games will stay, but from the new year factual feature programmes will be run after the World at One two days a week. Radio 4 has broadcast a wide range of panel games at lunchtime trying to find what it calls "the new classics".

However, calls to the Radio 4 helpline, letters and e-mails have shown that programmes like Mastermind, Puzzle Panel, Full Orchestra and X Marks the Spot are too much for listeners when they are on five days a week.

Features on arts, music and rural subjects are being commissioned now to start broadcasting in January.

The 9am news bulletin immediately after the Today programme was scrapped when the new schedule was launched in April to try to carry more listeners through into the post-9am programmes. The station suffers from a massive switch-off after all its news programmes and the new schedule was designed to hold that half of the station's 5 million audience that tunes in just for John Humphrys and The Archers.

However, after conducting listener research and telephone polls, James Boyle, controller of Radio 4, has decided to bring the bulletin back.

"Listeners have told me - and I agree with them - that the 1.30pm slot is not quite right yet," Mr Boyle told members of the Voice of the Listener and Viewer pressure group in London last night.

"In response to listener feedback, I am also restoring the two-minute news bulletin at 9am, which will take effect from Monday October 5."

Listeners had complained that a "landmark" in their morning routine had disappeared with the two-minute summary, a Radio 4 spokeswoman said.

The BBC chairman, Sir Christopher Bland, yesterday acknowledged that listening figures for parts of the schedule introduced in April were "a little disappointing", and Mr Boyle said it had yet to win universal approval.

Listening figures since the radical schedule changes have been mixed: audience numbers were up, but the hours of listening were slightly down. They did indicate, however, that the audience for the half-hour quiz slot after the World At One programme has slumped by a fifth compared to the previous year when the World at One was longer and was followed by The Archers.

Sir Christopher said: "I think the interim figures are interesting but inconclusive. Some aspects of them were a little disappointing.

"We always said that judgment should not be short term, and the changes in the schedule wouldn't be a quick fix."

The next quarterly set of the industry's official Rajar listening figures would give a better idea of how it was settling down, he said at the launch of the BBC's latest "Statement Of Promises".