BBC will not bow to campaign over Radio 4 change

SENIOR officials within the BBC confirmed yesterday there was no likelihood that the controversial decision to end transmission of Radio 4 on long wave would be reconsidered.

The BBC said, however, that it would meet representatives of the 'Campaign to Save Radio 4 Long Wave' tomorrow. The campaign has influential allies. It was revealed at the weekend that Prince Charles has written to Marmaduke Hussey, chairman of the BBC board of governors, asking for full details of the proposed change.

In July, the BBC revealed plans to create a 24-hour news service on long wave and broadcast Radio 4 only on FM by late 1993 or early 1994.

Protesters claim that a substantial percentage of Radio 4 listeners would not be able to get a good-quality FM reception.

The BBC, apparently surprised by the leaked reports of the prince's intervention, claimed yesterday that by the time Radio 4 was taken off long wave, 98 per cent of the population would be able to pick up broadcasts on FM.

By the end of the 1990s, a spokesman said, simultaneous broadcasting would, because of the extension of FM coverage, become redundant. He called for a more balanced debate.

'The fact is that the spine programmes on Radio 4 - the Today programme, for instance - will continue to run on Radio 4 as well as on the new long wave news service. We are simply providing listeners with an extension of choice.'

The spokesman said that the BBC had carried out in-depth research which indicated demand for such a news service.

He pointed to a recent Citizenship survey which asked people to list their listening preferences. Out of 16 possible choices, the notion of a 24-hour news channel came sixth. Radio 1 was the most popular station and Radio 4 the fourth favourite.

Opponents of the change maintain that this supports their claim that people want Radio 4 to remain as it is.

The spokesman said: 'If you look at the history of radio, there has always been anguish about change. When Michael Green (controller of Radio 4) switched the time of Women's Hour recently it caused a lot of concern. But that is now doing very well.'

Sources within the BBC said that there was 'no likelihood' of the decision being reconsidered.

This will not please the large number of listeners determinedly pressing for a change of heart. The campaign, which has received more than 30,000 pledges of support, is planning a silent march on Broadcasting House next week. Petitions are being organised among the 500,000 listeners on the Continent, which can only receive Radio 4 on long wave.

Four years ago, Mr Green pledged that he would never abandon long wave. He said then: 'Let me emphasise once again that there is no question of depriving listeners of long wave . . . The Archers and many other programmes . . . will continue to be heard loud and clear.' This promise was made in response to petitions from overseas listeners worried by rumours of change then circulating in Broadcasting House.