BBC defends plan for all-news radio station

THE BBC hit back vigorously last night at critics of its plan to turn the Radio 4 long wave frequency into an all-news station by 1994. Giving details of the schedule proposed for the new channel, Tony Hall, director of news and current affairs, denied reports that attacks on it by vociferous listeners had persuaded the Corporation to think again.

The BBC's first attempt at an all-news service came during the Gulf war, when Radio 4's FM frequency was given over to news and comment about the conflict. Mr Hall told members of the Royal Television Society in London that this had attracted 1.5 million new listeners, many of them young.

Some regular Radio 4 listeners have complained that they cannot receive FM broadcasts well and will be deprived of their favourite shows, such as Desert Island Discs and Gardeners' Question Time. Mr Hall said that engineers would ensure that 98 per cent of the country could receive the FM service by the time the split was made. Research into reactions of listeners during the Gulf war showed that more people had difficulty receiving long wave than FM. Many car radios have no long wave reception.

Mr Hall said the lack of a specialised station meant delays in relaying important news. 'You had to wait for full details of John Major's new Cabinet earlier this year. You had to wait for the flash and details of the changes in interest rates on Black Wednesday. These are the latest in a series of occasions where we have not been first with the news.'

He added: 'People increasingly want their news when it is convenient for them - when they get in from work, when they've picked up the children from school, when they take a break from their work, or finishing a meeting, when they arrive in a hotel. That is the way of the future.'

Among the highlights of the new service would be:

Live parliamentary debates and major press conferences;

Three half-hour business programmes a day;

The foreign affairs programme From Our Own Correspondent, expanded to include reports on home affairs;

Guides to topical issues such as the Maastricht treaty;

A special programme on Europe every week;

Three times as many documentaries as Radio 4 has now;

More sports and arts news;

The best reports from the World Service.

The main news and current affairs programmes on Radio 4, such as Today and The World Tonight, would be broadcast simultaneously on both channels.

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