The BBC Trust has approved a move to rebrand Radio 7 as Radio 4 Extra and also agreed to plans to create a permanent on-demand archive of Radio 3 and Radio 4 programmes.
In addition, as part of the review of Radios 3, 4 and 7, the Trust has given the go-ahead to a new strategy for audio content aimed at children and families on the new Radio 4 Extra.
The BBC Trust concluded that, 'all three stations are high quality and offer truly distinctive public service broadcasting. Their challenge is to gradually extend their core appeal without jeopardising their distinctiveness.'
The report added: "Radio 4 should aim to broaden its appeal amongst different demographic groups, such as those outside of London and the South East. As part of the review, the Trust has approved the BBC Executive's proposal to reposition Radio 7 as Radio 4 Extra in order to raise awareness, bring more listeners to the station and promote DAB radio."
4 Extra will have more comedy and drama programming, and the terms of its service licence with the Trust will put a restriction on the number of hours of Radio 4 catch-up programmes that are offered.
Today's report also finds that children's programming on Radio 7 hasn't served audiences well, so the Trust supports the BBC's new children's audio strategy. This includes plans to reduce the overall number of hours of dedicated kids' programming from 1400 to 350 a year. The Beeb will instead create of CBeebies pre-school audio available for download from the CBeebies website, and release children's radio content for third parties to broadcast.
[b]Tim Davie, the BBC's Director of Audio and Music[/b], says: "We welcome this report and the Trust's recognition that listeners enjoy these distinctive services which also represent value for money. I am pleased that the Trust has approved the rebranding of Radio 7 as Radio 4 Extra and hope we can build on the success of Radio 7 and bring its content to an even wider audience.
"We also welcome the Trust's recommendation that we continue to build the appeal of Radio 3 and Radio 4 amongst potential new listeners in a way that preserves the quality and distinctiveness of the services and considers their existing, loyal audiences."
[b]Roger Wright, Controller, BBC Radio 3 and Director, BBC Proms[/b], says: "We welcome the Trust's recognition of Radio 3's distinctive music and arts output and support for the current direction of the station. The Trust Service Licence Review confirms that BBC Radio 3 makes a significant contribution to British culture and endorses the station's unique commitment to live music as well as the range of musical genres and depth of its contextual programming.
"The review also notes the role Radio 3 plays as the most significant commissioner of new music in the world. The Trust confirms that Radio 3 represents excellent value for money. We welcome the Trust's recommendation that Radio 3 continues to build appeal for potential new listeners whilst, vitally, maintaining the station's unique music, arts and broadcast features of the highest quality."
[b]Gwyneth Williams, Controller, BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio 7[/b], says: "I warmly welcome the results of the Trust's very thorough review of Radio 4. The overwhelmingly positive feedback they received from listeners is a tribute to all the programme makers across the UK on whose creativity and high standards the station depends.
"I am also encouraged by the Trust's endorsement of our continuing work to extend the appeal and accessibility of the station while remaining true to our values and our very loyal audience."
But not everyone is happy about the Trust's report today. RadioCentre – which represents commercial radio in the UK, says it will be seeking a meeting with the BBC Trust as soon as possible. Chief Executive Andrew Harrison told us: "The BBC Trust’s call for Radios 3 and 4 to extend their appeal, whilst retaining their distinctiveness, is a contradiction in terms. It's like asking a station to become more popular and less popular at the same time. Radio 3 and Radio 4 should be proud of their unique character and do all they can to retain it."
He added: "The re-brand of Radio 7 as Radio 4 Extra may well prove to be an important step in the radio industry’s drive to digital. However, by not following due process, the BBC Trust has undermined its own governance framework. We therefore call for an open and transparent consultation, in order to understand the nature and impact of these proposals."
Matt Deegan, Creative Director at Folder Media – who own digital station Fun Kids – told RadioToday.co.uk he hoped today's announcement means some BBC programmes would now be able to be broadcast on his station. "The BBC makes excellent radio programmes for children, but haven't, in BBC7, had the right platform to broadcast them on," he said. "Today's proposals by the BBC Trust means, for the first time, there's direction to the management to engage with other UK broadcasters to licence their content. At Fun Kids, we produce 13 hours a day of children's radio and will work with the BBC to now try and host some of their great, contemporary, kids content on our radio station."
Matt adds: "Whilst we're waiting and seeing what Cbeebies has planned for it's 20minutes-per-day download, we hope that it (like any othe radio content) will be accessible in the UK RadioPlayer. RadioPlayer's search engine will help bring UK listeners to kids radio content whether it's from the BBC, Fun Kids or community radio stations like Takeover – this can only be good for getting little listeners into the radio habit early on."