Shows to be axed in Radio 4 shake-up

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The Independent Online
The BBC is bracing itself for a barrage of complaints from listeners when its unveils its new schedule for Radio 4 next month.

The new schedule, which is being put together by Radio 4's new controller, James Boyle, is expected to be without early-morning institution Farming Today and a number of long running discussion programmes such as Analysis and Medium Wave according to BBC insiders and the industry magazine Broadcast.

The changes, which will be announced at the end of July so that producers can commission new programmes for next year, may also see the Archers, Woman's Hour and arts magazine programme Kaleidoscope move their slots.

The Radio 4 audience is notoriously resistant to change and is vocal and well-organised. When Woman's Hour was moved six year ago the BBC was inundated with complaints; four years ago, street demonstrations were organised in a successful campaign to stop Radio 4 losing half its frequency to a rolling news service.

The Archers may move to an earlier time slot in an effort to grab more listeners and it could find itself with a longer omnibus edition on a Sunday morning. At the moment, 15 minutes have to be cut from the weekday editions to fit the omnibus slot.

Changes are also being considered for the Today programme, the BBC's flagship news programme. One plan involves bringing it on air half an hour earlier to replace Farming Today and using Woman's Hour presenter Jenni Murray, regarded as one of the best broadcasting voices in the country, on the Today programme to broaden the show's reach. Today may also be extended into the weekend as a seven day programme.

The planned changes could also provoke a political reaction. There is speculation that Yesterday in Westminster, the daily report that ends the Today programme, is also under review and the Week In Westminster will be moved from its high-rating Saturday morning slot as it is though to be poor scheduling for it to follow Ned Sherrin's magazine show, Loose Ends. MPs have already registered concern about the lack of parliamentary reporting across the media.

The BBC refuses to comment on the rumoured changes, but senior sources tried to emphasise that the plans are about making the schedule more accessible rather than axing shows: "There will be plenty of good news about good shows on Radio 4."

The changes being planned will not become apparent until next spring at the earliest as new shows and schedules come on air. However, the BBC is committed to managing the news of any changes better than it has in the past. It is felt internally that the audience in the past was resentful about changes being foisted on them without consultation.

Senior executives at BBC radio have acknowledged that listeners have a perception of them sitting around "thinking up change for change's sake".

James Boyle, known as MacBirt in his native Scotland, overhauled the schedule of Radio Scotland before taking the Radio 4 controller's job last year. In Scotland he organised a cull of veteran presenters and gave the station a more youthful sound.