Creating an open, more distinctive BBC…

Tomorrow’s BBC – Creating an open, more distinctive BBC

 “By 2017 children will have suffered three years without any public service radio for them”.

 BBC Studios aims to transform the majority of in house production for TV and online but, apart from BBC Radio Comedy, radio remains in the public service arena.  BBC Studios – Strengthening the BBC’s role in the creative industries

If radio is to operate separately from BBC Studios, will it set new quotas for independent production; allow more or less funding from Licence Fees;  top slice radio budgets for partnerships with commercial companies and, if so, which budgets will be sliced?

And what of children’s radio following Charter Renewal?  In 2011 the BBC Trust decision on BBC’s Strategy for Children’s Audio  reaffirmed, in its five editorial priorities, the provision of outstanding services to children across all its platforms as part of its public service mission, at the same time approving draconian cuts to BBC Children’s Radio budgets and airtime. Out of an annual radio budget of £650m just £600k was left for children’s radio – less than the then DG Mark Thompson’s salary.  As reported in Nursery World, a protest meeting in the House of Lords called for urgent review of the cuts but they took immediate effect.

In September 2014 Radio 4 and 4 Extra controller Gwyneth Williams  announced  that adult speech network, BBC 4Extra, was to stop broadcasting the only remaining BBC radio programme aimed at children because listening by children aged 10 to 14 was so low and the station attracts a largely middle aged audience. Listeners under ten were not counted.

The demise of this vital element of UK children’s culture is well documented in successive BBC Service Licences for R4, R5 and, particularly, R7 and R4 Extra during their 13 years on air.  Artfully reworded clauses drafted by Executives and ratified by Governors and Trustees eventually cut BBC Children’s Radio to zero last year.

A brief daily podcast, of variable quality in sound and content, remains for the under sixes. Parents complain that, unlike a preset push-button radio that a toddler can use, these need adult supervision, technical knowhow and internet access – unavailable to many families who may  benefit most from daily access to culture and entertainment via radio.

Parents who bought DAB sets specially for the BBC Children’s content have been short changed and, while BBC Children’s radio is reduced to nothing, specialist areas for grownups, including  classical and black music, South Asian interests, cricket and so on continue to receive millions from BBC Licence Fees.

By 2017 children will have suffered three years without any public service radio for them.

BBC Charter Renewal

Sound Start Group Response to the Select Committee Consultation on

BBC  Charter Renewal


Sound Start has run the National Campaign for Children’s Radio for over 30 years with particular focus on declining PBS delivery.  Last year, after decades of failure to engage them, the BBC wrote off its mandate to provide radio for these deserving young listeners and abandoned them to independent players.

Currently these consist of:

  • abracaDABra! First air date: January 2002 (the precursor of Fun Radio), now broadcasting as a non-profit internet stream.
  • FUN Kids – First air date‎: ‎May 2005 (as Fun Radio) broadcasting commercially on a DAB London licence with a complementary internet stream.

2a.Through our public rallies; Children’s Radio Days and wide media coverage we have attracted hundreds of supporters including MPs; Peers; parents and grandparents; carers; teachers, child-care professionals; writers; musicians; broadcasters (including empathetic BBC executives); Trades Unions in the education sectors; family focused charities and, of course, children.

We have responded to many public consultations including:

Generated EDMs:

Tabled Questions in the Commons and the Lords:

 The first two placed a national network for children above all the BBC’s five DAB services, the third joint top with R4Extra [then scheduling children’s content] and the fourth at third place.

4a.With evidence of such marked public preference for a DAB radio network for young children and their families, compared to the consistently low placement for the Asian Network,  Sound Start responded to the BBC Trust’s Review of the Asian Network proposing this narrowcast Service Licence should be rewritten to serve and support young children and families across all ethnic groups, in order to increase listenership and encourage integration, as reported in the Telegraph.

The Network was reprieved and continues to target young Asians aged under 35.

At £10.7m in the last Annual Accounts the format cost more per listener than any other national DAB network and we hold to our proposition that this bandwidth could economically and beneficially target young children and families and forge greater social cohesion.

5a.In partnership with abracaDABra! we run an all-day non-profit internet service of stories; songs; rhymes; music; games and information for listeners aged birth to 10 and their families to showcase what can be achieved, even with very limited funds.

Future of the BBC – Children’s Radio


Culture, Media and Sport – Fourth Report: Future of the BBC – Published 26 February 2015

Written evidence submitted by the Sound Start Group and published in this report [P.162]

After decades of failure to attract young listeners to sporadic content hidden away in adult speech schedules the BBC mistakenly surmised that UK children may no longer be able to listen without visual stimulation and, in February 2011, the BBC’s Strategy for Children’s Audio wrote off its core remit to provide non-commercial radio for them. The same Strategy axed all BBC radio for children aged under seven and replaced it with 12 minute daily downloads that require parental supervision and are unavailable in homes without internet access.

Last month, following three years of procrastination and copyright problems, the mitigating plan to release BBC Children’s Radio Archive to interested 3rd party broadcasters was scrapped. Years of licence-funded Children’s and Schools content now languish redundant and unavailable to those professionals who, unlike the BBC, believe that children as well as adults can greatly enjoy and benefit from well produced public service radio made for them. 

Government must not influence broadcasters but makes our broadcasting law. During its consultation about the future of the BBC in the run up to Charter renewal we ask the Committee to take note of the widespread concern about this damaging cultural neglect of children, which breaches the current Charter requirement that licence fees be invested to benefit all communities across all available platforms of delivery.


February 2014


Sound Start [FBB00118] P.162


BBC Radio flagship station seeks a younger audience: Toddlers!

 “But is this the right platform for our youngest listeners?,

asks children’s radio champion”, Susan Stranks.

BBC clips of 2 yr old Daisy singing along to the ‘Mayo, Mayo’ theme on Simon Mayo’s Drivetime have prompted R4’s launch of ‘My Baby Loves PM’ to build a toddler fan-base for Eddie Mair and the show when he returns next week.

Starting Tuesday this week [24/06/14],  a ‘Pips for Toddlers’ jingle, provided by a listener, was shoehorned between news headlines and a 2012 clip  of Charlie Brookes complaining of the aggressive police-raid which searched his baby daughter’s cot for illicit ‘phone tapes. Listeners are invited to try out the Pips on their toddlers.

On Wednesday [25/06/14], PM majored on the many victims of paedophile Jimmy Savile. Pips for Toddlers, which resemble a humorous mobile ‘ringle’,  followed a sad and harrowing interview with the wife of a disabled man seeking the right to end his own life. Eager listeners tweeted to say their small charges were dancing along.  No surprise there, as American child psychologist, Linda Blair, had advised PM that young children delight and benefit from sharing repeats of fun-sounds and songs with their parents and carers.

The respected MAYO clinic – not related to Simon – also highlights the importance  of children learning to listen in order to understand, behave and cooperate.

Children’s radio advocate and former Magpie host, Susan Stranks says, “Daily radio can enhance leisure and learning from our earliest years but placing content for children and toddlers in an adult news context potentially breaches Guidelines and also fails to attract young listeners in the long term“.

In 2011 The BBC Strategy for Children’s Audio wrote off a mandate to provide children’s content and listening for under-sevens was relegated to internet-only downloads, drawing complaints from frustrated parents that these needed extra supervision, kit and knowhow, compared to a pre-set push-button radio that a toddler could tune to.

 “A two minute slot on ‘PM’ isn’t the best platform for BBC children’s radio content“, says Stranks, who has long argued for a public radio network for young children and their families.

Mayo clinic:

Susan Stranks

Coodinator, Sound-Start Group


T: +44[01273 777489.

Stranks Speaks to the Westminster Media Forum

Westminster Media Forum Keynote Seminar.  The future of children’s media – multi-platform delivery, public service broadcasting and economics 1st May 2014.

Children’s programming and public service broadcasting Susan Stranks, Director, Abracadabra Radio and Coordinator, National Campaign for Children’s Radio.

Sound track – Joseph, aged four, sings’ Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’
Nursery rhymes teach us to sing, rhyme and use our imagination They improve our vocabulary and counting skills and teach spatial concepts like up/down; in/out; over/under; right/left, round and round the garden – and so much more.

But many parents today, including those learning English as an additional language, don’t know our traditional nursery rhymes. Teachers are concerned that increasing numbers of children join reception class without the listening and talking skills to express their needs or understand what is asked of them. Many young offenders have such poor communication skills that they are unable to take advantage of the education offered to them in prison.

Radio can help!

In particular, Public Service radio made for UK children. But this vital component of our culture was finally killed off in February 2011 when, as guardian and sole provider, the BBC, published its new Strategy for Children’s Audio … note ‘audio’ not ‘radio’.

Abolition of this core public service was argued on three counts:

1. that today’s children prefer to access their audio via computer and other personal devices.

True, children may like their audio via personal devices but so too do adults, who can also enjoy they

programmes delivered on traditional radio, which offers more consistent quality.

2. that for years the BBC had failed to attract children via a succession adult-speech networks.

True children were not attracted by content hidden on adult speech networks, which tend to be middle-aged and middle class and often include very distressing news.

3. that today’s children may no longer be able to listen without visual stimulation.

The BBC seems oblivious of any blame were this dreadful surmise to be true. It had the funds, expertise and duty to deliver the life-long joy of radio to our children but has consistently failed to do so.

So 75% of children’s miniscule radio time was axed and 50% of their meagre budget passed to adults. The cuts were immediate and compared most unfairly with the 16% average savings across all BBC departments … amortised over five years.

All radio for the under-fives was banished to daily internet downloads averaging 12mins duration. Parents complained this needed extra kit, technical knowhow and adult supervision compared to a pre-set pushbutton DAB radio, that even a toddler could turn on. Indeed some had bought sets especially for BBC children’s content.

The scant remains for listeners aged six to 14 were rebranded ‘family content’ and re-scheduled as ‘The 4O’Clock Show’ on adult speech network R4 Extra. Amazingly, this network is also licensed as the home of horror, sci-fi and adult stand-up comedy – creating a scheduling nightmare.

Radio has no watershed, and concerns were logged about content containing offensive and racist language; sexual and violent scenes, including murder, suicide and the occult, at times children may be listening. In response the BBC Complaints Department confirms that R4Extra is an adult network carrying some unsuitable content and advises parental supervision.

So busy parents are expected to police a network officially licensed for ‘family listening’ or restrict their kids to The 4O’Clock Show – making radio a place of conflict rather than a shared family experience.

‘The 4O’Clock Show’ airs from 4 to 5pm on weekdays with a repeat of ‘Best Bits’ on Sunday. It consists of clips gleaned from R4, World Service and other adult networks linked by occasional quiz and science series and a 10 minute serialised children’s story ends the hour. Some 500 Words stories from the Hay on Wye Festival feature annually – due on air soon. On Saturdays – weekend family time – this slot is usurped by sometimes very adult plays.

An hour of family drama, plus an afternoon repeat, airs on Sundays. Last Sunday this included ‘The Three Musketeers’ and ‘Oliver Twist’, enthusiastically introduced, alongside a plug for ‘The Price of Fear’ at 6pm – the designated Horror Hour. As I say … a scheduling nightmare!

Initially, BBC savings proposed axing R6 and also the Asian Network – the most costly radio format per listener hour. A number of Asians find the segregated listening rather patronising and old fashioned but a proposal to adjust the Service Licence to serve all families, including Asians, failed, and both networks were reprieved.

Of £640.1m the BBC spends on domestic radio services less that £1m now goes on content for children aged birth to 14, who are over 17% of the population. We have yet to learn the structure of BBC funding for Charter 2017 but an annual cost of a penny a week per child yields £5.7million per annum – enough for one, even two, dedicated age-appropriate radio networks with substantial internet support – drawing on BBC and independent talent.

I challenge you to find a more accessible, effective and efficient focus for public funds.

– Response to Questions from the floor.

“In mitigation of the cuts the BBC pledged to release children’s radio archive to interested third parties, including commercial station FUNKids, , community network, Takeover Radio and our non-profit abracaDABra! Due to a maze of copyright problems [and in spite of strenuous efforts by Jo Godwin] over three years later we’ve only succeeded in acquiring use of 26 CBeebies stories.”

Population Projection 2015

Ages attained (years)Population % of total

0–4 3,914,000 6.2

5–9  3,517,000 5.6

10–14  3,670,000 5.8

1p a week per child yields £5.72 million per annum.


S.S. 01/05/2014.

BBC Trust Review of Children’s Services 2013


The BBC Trust Review of Children’s Services  2013 will be published next week, on Tuesday, September 24th. A meeting to review this Review will be held on Wednesday, September 25th.

Date(s) – 25/09/2013
6:00 pm – 8:30 pm

The Boardroom, University of Westminster

Full details and registration forms can be found here.

All interested parties are invited to participate and It would be helpful if those against BBC withdrawal from children’s public service radio [as authorised in the BBC’s Strategy for Children’s Audio – 2011], and those in favour of a publicly funded radio network for children would attend in order to represent and reinforce these views.

Further information can be found in the Sound Start Group Response to the BBC Trust Review and a Press Notice about EDM 378, tabled last month by John Leech MP, recommending a BBC Children’s Radio Network.

Contact Susan Stranks – Co-ordinator, Sound Start Group..

IMPORTANT NEWS! John Leech MP has tabled EDM: 378

If you support this important cause, please ask your MP to sign EDM 378.

Below is a Press Notice and hyperlinks to this EDM and other documents relating to children’s diminishing rights in non-commercial radio broadcasting. The BBC Trust is due to publish its findings late Summer/Autumn.

Thank you,

Susan Stranks

Contact Susan Stranks, Coordinator, Sound Start Group

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The BBC Trust’s Review of Children’s Services – 2013

The public consultation to inform this Review closed on May 31.  Views were invited on the BBC’s provision of television, radio and online services for children.

In their responses, campaigning organisations Voice of the Listener & Viewer and the Sound Start Group both condemn the marked lack of UK produced children’s television and express concern about the BBC’s policy for children’s radio provision.

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BBC Children’s Service Review

On March 4th, the BBC Trust announced a Review of Children’s Services, to include changes to public service radio provision. A public consultation will gather views on BBC children’s services and suggestions on how they can be improved. We urge individuals and organisations concerned about BBC children’s radio provision to respond by the deadline on May 31st.

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Scheduling of family radio content on the BBC’s adult speech network, R4Extra, continues to be of concern.

In February 2011 the BBC’s Strategy for Children’s Audio wrote off a core duty to provide children with public service radio and all content for listeners aged under-seven was replaced with 15 minute podcasts. This disadvantages those in homes without the internet, who may be the most needful group of listeners.  Remaining radio for children aged seven to 14 years was re-launched as ‘family hours’ on R4Extra – the official home of horror, sci-fi stand-up comedy.  Of the £640.1 million annual budget for BBC domestic radio, under £1million is reserved for children, who now have less licence-funded radio than ‘Children’s Hour’ provided in the 1940s when the Home Service was the only delivery platform.

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