BBC cuts children's programmes: Radio 5 cleared to make way for 24-hour news and sport network starting next April

THE BBC is spreading a wide range of programming around existing radio channels, in order to clear Radio 5 frequencies for an exclusively news and sport 24-hour network from next April. As expected, children's programmes are wiped from Radio 5, a move much criticised yesterday, and given only a token space on Radio 4.

The service will cost pounds 30.2m, with extra costs funded from internal cuts and efficiencies. About 75 people, mostly children's programme experts working for RadioE 5, face the sack, though the new network will need new recruitTHER write errors and presenters. Liz Forgan, managing director of BBC Radio, called the new service 'an exciting creative idea, not a compromise'.

Radio 3 listeners will be one of the main groups disrupted, with an hour of primary school programming going out each afternoon when the lunchtime concert is finished. Radio 4 long wave will take the Open University programmes on Sunday evenings and Test Match Special during the summer.

In return, Tony Hall, director of BBC news and current affairs said the network will adopt a motto of 'first and live'.

It will provide news bulletins on the hour and half-hour, with sports news hourly, and a broad range of accessible mass market news and current affairs items, including business news. It will have lengthy 'drive time' news programmes in the morning, lunchtimes and afternoon-evenings.

All of Radio 5's current 2,000 hours a year of sports broadcasting - and the presenters - will remain on the service. But tough editorial decisions will be needed about priorities when big news stories break in the middle of live evening and weekend football coverage.

The controller of the new network will be drawn from the powerful news and current affairs directorate - the driving force behind the defeated plan for a Radio 4 longwave rolling news network.

Children's programmes are the main casualty of the changes, which were rubber stamped by the BBC governors on Monday. Only 75 hours from the current 1,800 hours of children's and youth programming output will survive, on Radio 4, in the form of a 15-minute story for pre-school children and a Sunday afternoon half-hour serial.

The Voice of the Viewers and Listeners Association attacked the decision. Paul Donbovan, author of The Radio Companion, the expert guide to current and past programmes said: 'Why deny a new generation this type of radio?'.

Children's Hour was dropped from BBC radio in 1962 and a key problem faced by Radio 5 is that there is no tradition of children listening to speech radio, as opposed to pop music.

Ms Forgan said yesterday: 'The children's programmes are very good quality, but the question has to be asked: if the children are not listening, are we providing the right programmes for them?'

She said she regretted the decision, but added: 'We have to be where our audiences want us and not where our own nostalgia might lead us.'

She also pointed out that BBC children's television was putting pounds 57m a year into new programmes.

Phil Harding, the BBC executive who conducted an extensive 120 page study when the Radio 4 longwave revolt forced a re-think, said that Radio 5's most popular children's programme, the 7.15pm story, only attracted an audience of 20,000 in its eight to 11-year-old target audience, seven in 1,000 children.

He said the BBC was happy to serve minorities and gain only small audiences, but they had to be sure the programmes hit their target. Children, or rather boys, had been tuning in for sports programmes hosted by Gary Lineker. Children also listened to Radio 1. He said that educationalists and the Open University had been unhappy at being broadcast on Radio 5 and wanted to be on an FM network.

The changes are also part of a BBC attempt to attract younger non-metropolitan audiences: Radio 4 has a particularly strong following among affluent social groups aged 45 and over.

Comment, page 19

Media, page 25

HOW THE RESHUFFLE WILL AFFECT BBC RADIO

EDUCATION

Primary schools - one hour in the afternoon on Radio 3.

Education and language courses - Radio 4.

Open University - Radio 4 longwave on Sunday nights.

Education will continue to be offered across all networks.

SPORT

Live sports coverage moves to the news and sports network.

Weeknight live football commentary - news and sport network.

Test Match Special and cricket cup - moves from Radio 3 and 5 to Radio 4 long wave.

Wimbledon - news and sport network, with full live coverage at weekends and regular reports and commentary on weekdays.

Open Golf and Ryder Cup - news and sport network, with extended weekend live commentary on the closing days and regular live reports with news coverage on weekdays.

Athletics, rugby union and league, boxing and racing - the news and sports network will have live coverage of key events.

THE YOUNG

Children - moves to the Radio 4 weekday morning quarter hour slot; Radio 4 will also feature the Sunday serial.

Youth - no direct transfers.

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