BBC agrees on news and sport service for Radio 5: Governors' approval means reprieve for Radio 4's long wave service

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The Independent Online
THE BBC governors yesterday approved plans to turn Radio 5 into a rolling news and sport station from next April. It will be aimed at people aged 25-44, thus abandoning efforts to woo children and young listeners.

The decision means Radio 4 will continue to be broadcast on long wave, a substantial victory for its loyal listeners, though there will be more opt- outs to justify the luxury of having two frequencies. All the main news programmes, including Today, will remain untouched. Test Match Special is expected to move from Radio 3 to Radio 4 longwave.

The news has disappointed BBC children's programme makers, who had been trying to carve out a niche in radio, complementary to television.

Marmaduke Hussey, chairman of the governors, said: 'The live news and sport network is a new editorial concept and, we believe, an exciting one. The governors have the greatest confidence in this network.'

'It will widen our coverage for our listeners. Both news and sport will be essential to its identity as the place where live events of all sort are covered by some of the BBC's finest specialists, commentators and reporters. The concept plays to one of radio's greatest strengths as a medium, its immediacy.'

John Birt, director general, said: 'I am confident, after extremely thorough research, that a news and sport network offers an exciting programme prospect - which will bring new listeners to the BBC.'

The plans became fully public only last week. But the governors, in an attempt to pre-empt the criticism that they had sprung the decision on licence payers without proper consultation, said they had taken the decision only after a lengthy series of meetings.

The project had been based on extensive consultation through research and public meetings, careful consideration of the needs of all sections of the audience and an assessment of the position and programming of Radio 5, Mr Hussey said.

Two director generals, Sir Michael Checkland and John Birt had publicly announced plans for a rolling news network on Radio 4 long wave during 1992. But last October the governors, faced with an unprecedented revolt, postponed plans to put it on long wave until they were satisfied that listeners would not be deprived of Radio 4. Investment in transmitters for the FM signal was stepped up. But the proposal from that moment was effectively dead.

Liz Forgan, who became managing director of BBC Radio in January, was given the task of devising an alternative. The sport and news hybrid Radio 5 is her solution. It has the virtue of apparently catering for younger, less upmarket people, while saving money by reducing youth and children's programmes.

Leading article, page 17

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