Radio 1 listeners' panel to suggest changes

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THE BBC is to ask its listeners to tell it where Radio 1 is going wrong, writes Michael Leapman.

In the next few weeks there will be appeals on air for volunteers to sit on an advisory panel that will monitor the troubled pop music station's performance and suggest improvements.

The latest audience research, published last week, shows Radio 1 has lost a quarter of its former 16 million listeners in the year since Matthew Bannister - a protege of the Director-General, John Birt - took over as controller.

But Sue Farr, head of marketing and publicity for BBC Network Radio, said yesterday that the idea for the advisory panel was first mooted last year, before the extent of the audience erosion was known. 'They're absolutely not going to tell Matthew Bannister how to run Radio 1,' she said. 'But we think it's important to have input from listeners, especially young listeners.'

The new panels will be co- ordinated by an outside public relations consultancy run by Lynne Franks, which put the idea to Ms Farr last year. Liz Forgan, managing director of Network Radio, has approved the scheme, even though she said on the air last month that listeners should not poke their noses into audience research issues.

Ms Farr denied reports yesterday that the exercise would cost pounds 150,000, saying that it would be below pounds 100,000. She said it was more cost-effective to hire an outside agency to run the scheme than to hire new staff.

Since Ms Forgan joined the BBC last year audiences have fallen, largely as a result of increased competition from commercial stations. But she has put a lot of effort into strengthening the marketing of the operation.