BBC Charter Renewal


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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.



“Providing outstanding children’s content is one of the BBC’s five editorial priorities as set out in the ‘Putting Quality First’ strategy. We believe it is very important that the BBC serves children across all its platforms as part of its public service mission”. BBC Trust Review of Children’s Services 2009

Regardless of this mission statement, by Charter Renewal 2017, young listeners will have already suffered three years without any public service radio for them.

2b.The Sound Start Group supports the principle of licence fees to fund public service broadcasting for children and grownups. The advantages include diversity; high quality; education; innovation;  entertainment; information; original productions; pluralism; accessibility; inclusion of minorities; free and free of advertising and, most importantly, independence from commerce and government. We welcome the Select Committee’s Consultation in the hope that it will lead to better understanding of what children want and also what they need from UK broadcasting services.

Charter Renewal is an opportunity to reintroduce children to the lifetime of discovery and enjoyment radio can offer, with the BBC leading the way.

3b.The loss of BBC Children’s Radio and neglect of young listeners’ rights and needs contrasts grimly to greatly increased adult choice over decades of expanding public radio space.  The BBC runs 59 radio stations, available on analogue, digital and/or internet radio but none is for the community of listeners aged under 16  who represent 18% of the population and arguably have most need of advertisement-free radio.

4b.The value of learning to listen when young cannot be overestimated. Radio fires the imagination; aids concentration; helps language and speech acquisition; develops coordination; encourages critical thinking and promotes a sense of place. Radio can greatly help sick and  home-schooled children, and families learning English as an additional language. It is also great fun!

5b.The demise of this vital element of our 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.  Successive redrafting, ratified by Governors and Trustees, systematically cut BBC Children’s Radio to zero last year. Only some schools content for downloading at 3am remains

.6b.Replacement podcasts for the under sixes – proposed as 20 minutes in the BBC’s Strategy for Children’s Audio – 2011– average eight minutes of variable quality in sound and content, mainly featuring TV characters.

A protest meeting in the House of Lords called for further review and parents complained that, compared to a pre-set push button digital radio even a toddler could use, downloads needed adult supervision, technical knowhow and internet access, unavailable to many families. The cuts were implemented with immediate effect.  Conversely R6, World Service and the Asian Network all gained reprieves

7b.Minority interests for grownups, including classical and black music; South Asian interests; cricket and so on, continue to receive millions of pounds of public money while Children’s Radio has been reduced to nothing.

8b.The BBC justified its way out of this duty with a string of hollow excuses:

Children only want TV and pop music … the rest can always buy our tapes/CDs.”

Adults like TV and pop music and can purchase CDs. They also enjoy a wealth of traditional radio choice on analogue, digital and internet platforms

“Children only want radio via computers and personal devices”.

Millions of adults access their radio via internet and personal devices. They also enjoy a wealth of traditional radio choice.

“Children may no longer be able to listen without visual stimulation.”

If this sorry scenario were true, the BBC is culpable. Children were not listening because the BBC failed to engage them and neglected to flag up the meagre content offered – as is well documented in BBC Trust and Executive Reviews.

And most self-damning of all:

 “Children aren’t drawn to our adult speech networks”.

BBC research has consistently shown this, so why bury children’s content in unsuitable schedules for so many years – the last and least appropriate being R4Extra with its Service Licence billed as home of stand-up comedy, horror and sci-fi?

 9b.R4 and 4Extra controller Gwyneth Williams announced in 2014 that BBC 4Extra would stop broadcasting the only remaining BBC radio programme aimed at children because listening by children aged 10 to 14 is so low and the station attracted a largely middle aged audience.

The 4O’Clock Show was made for children aged 6 to14 and their families but the under 10s are missing from audience figures. Might they not have been listening alongside their middle aged grandparents? In any case the BBC should not be led by audience count but rather be fulfilling public needs and setting high standards for others to aspire to.

The 4O’clock Show was a magazine format, linked by Mel Giedroyc, which included clips repeated from R4: hat making; cooking; gardening, etc., with occasional bespoke items, including a family quiz and a Dick and Dom science series. This single hour, five days a week, ended with 10minutes of serialized children’s stories, often from BBC commercial CDs. Best bits were repeated on Sundays alongside classic family drama – now also shelved.

10b.Out of the annual radio spend of £650m, the BBC’s Strategy for Children’s Audio allocated just £600k for children’s radio – less than the then DG Mark Thompson’s salary.  This minuscule budget now goes to internet podcasts and listening time goes to grownups.

11b.By way of mitigation for the cuts, leasing of archived children’s content to interested independents was prioritised in the Children’s Audio Strategy – later to be abandoned, due to unforeseen copyright difficulties.


After three years of negotiations non profit abracaDABra! contracted and paid to air some shelved stories from CBeebies and the popular 500 Words competition so that this publicly funded content can reach a wider audience, alongside the daily schedule of family friendly songs and stories.

The BBC flags up the popularity of BBC ‘Schools News Report’ and R2’s’500 Words’ competition [sadly not open to 14 year olds] but these once-a-year events represent a tiny example of radio’s potential in young lives.

12b..Having withdrawn from providing PSB radio for children there is a danger that any attempt to resuscitate it would be challenged by rivals as a new service and necessitate the following assessments:

  • Competitive Impact Principle assessment (making sure that proposals minimise the potential for negative competitive impacts on the wider market)
  • A Clause 25 Test (deciding whether a proposal constitutes a significant change to the UK Public Services)
  • A full Public Value Test (to weigh public value against market impact where the change is agreed to be significant).

If such tests were upheld, young listeners could languish un-served by the public purse for the foreseeable future – reliant on volatile commerce,  voluntary good will or the BBC’s online only delivery. This cannot be allowed to happen.

13b.The BBC  has been co-opted to spearhead internet take-up by moving its audiences to online delivery in order to free-up frequencies for lease to the telecommunications industries.

These airwaves are not the private fiefdom of governments; the BBC; Ofcom or commercial interests. They are public space and evidence shows that audiences, including children, still prefer the traditional broadcasting platforms.

14b.Had the public been asked:

“Forget Digital Switchover, the technology is obsolete.  Do you want Licence Fees deployed instead to drive Internet Switchover, which would also free up more capacity for lease to the telecommunications industries?”


” We notice your children don’t tune to BBC children’s content hidden on DAB so can you equip then with the latest personal kit and we’ll put some content there instead?”

 The public might have sucked their teeth a little. Parents of younger children don’t welcome excessive screen and keyboard activity and those who bought DAB radios for the children’s content have been short changed.  Children’s radio was a soft target and suffered first in the push. Which BBC broadcasting services will be next?

15b.Notwithstanding decisions on future BBC funding, governance and size, the new Charter must make full and fair provision for children to remain at the heart of public service broadcasting on all platforms. The BBC’s commitment to distinctive public service radio requires it.

Children are a deserving audience today and the consumers and creators of tomorrow. They may not pay the licence fee but equitable investment in them is fundamental to the purpose of the BBC.

16b.In closing we make two suggestions:

  1. Re-title the TV Licence to Public Service Broadcasting [PSB] Licence. This will properly reflect the deployment of funds to include radio, internet and future platforms.
  1. Open a public consultation on the potential for children’s radio and establish an independent body of parents and childcare professionals to work with the BBC in the run-up to Charter and beyond, with a view to protecting children’s rights and needs in all public broadcasting development.

Documents relied on:


Susan Stranks –  Coordinator.

No publishing restrictions.     .


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