Leading Article: Safe new Radio 4

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The Independent Online
"SOLE, LUNDY, Fastnet, Irish Sea..." As listeners, viewers and readers, we are conservative creatures. But the Radio 4 audience is the most conservative of all. They represent a sort of National Trust of the airwaves, devoted to the preservation of the fabric of broadcasting schedules. Accidental survivals from an earlier age are treated with reverence. The shipping forecast, the six o'clock bongs, the seagulls on Roy Plomley's desert island. Millions of domestic routines have been displaced by the shifting of The Archers. Millions of ears have been offended by "30 minutes of news and comment from the BBC" instead of the 40 of The World At One.

And yet... the surprising thing about the changes brought in by James Boyle, controller of Radio 4, is how little protest there has been. Now, a month on from the small earthquake we can add: not many hurt. This is an extraordinary achievement for Mr Boyle. Remember how the BBC was forced to back down by the Save Radio 4 Long Wave campaign in 1993? Mr Boyle does. And he prepared the ground for his frankly modest renovations of the national monument with care, pre-empting the fuss, taking the Radio 4 Roadshow to middle England and squaring the Speaker of the House of Commons over the changes to parliamentary coverage.

So what of the reforms? Some of them are good, some not so good. John Peel's programme about families on Saturday morning, for example, is excellent, but starting the news just before 9am instead of on the hour is highly irritating. Letters to the BBC's own Feedback are running strongly against the changes but, as ever, the contented tend not to write in. What is significant is that middle England has not marched on Broadcasting House to protest. They are sleeping safely in their beds, soothed by familiar litanies. "Rockall, Malin, Hebrides... "