BBC plans to move Radio 5 down-market: Children lose out to news and sport

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THE BBC is planning to recast Radio 5 as a down-market news and current affairs network with sport, appealing to 25 to 44-year- olds, from next April. But this means abandoning most of its children's programming and teenage drama, a new audience it has been cultivating for the past three years.

This favoured option has emerged from a review of the controversial plans for a rolling news network, which the BBC's governors put on hold a year ago.

The corporation, after an extensive study of all the options, has climbed down from its original proposal to run a continuous news service on Radio 4 long wave, in the face of outraged middle-class opinion.

But proposals to cut children's programming and to shift schools broadcasts brought immediate protests. Jocelyn Hay, chairman of the Voice of the Viewers and Listeners Association said: 'I am horrified. I think this is a dreadful step. Is Radio 5's mix of young people's and children's programmes going to be sacrificed for this. 'I cannot understand why the BBC keeps constantly upsetting its listeners. It takes years to build up audiences.'

Under plans to be discussed at a special meeting of the BBC's governors on Monday, some 1,800 hours a year of children's and youth radio programming will be discontinued, leaving just 75 hours of production. The governors may decide to delay a decision until a second meeting later in October.

As a consolation prize, Radio 4 long wave will broadcast a daily 15- minute story for pre-school children, perhaps linked to Woman's Hour. This favoured option is outraging Radio 5 producers, who hope the governors will resist the plans.

Under the reshuffle, Test Match Special, which has been broadcast on Radio 3 this summer, will go out on Radio 4 long wave, while Radio 3 will be forced to disrupt its classical music schedules to take an hour of school's broadcasting each afternoon, to relieve Radio 5. Major world news events, requiring a continuous and serious news coverage will be broadcast on a Radio 4 frequency.

Nick MacKinnon, founder of the Save Radio 4 Long wave Campaign said yesterday: 'I am delighted. But my main concern is that the Radio 5 news programmes are going to have to be extremely good to justify all this upset. This sort of Daily Mail service is not something they had planned for, nor are their staff attuned to it.

'This is a fudge to save face. I am also concerned about putting Test Match Special on Radio 4 long wave. The BBC face a severe risk of prosecution. I for one will go to the small claims court if, as a licence payer, I can't receive the main Radio 4 service on FM'.

Radio 5 has been criticised for attracting low audiences -about 20,000 children for some programmes - and in last December's Extending Choice document the BBC signalled its intention to withdraw from children's radio drama because it was failing to reach its target audience.