The BBC’s provision of radio for children has been criticised in an open letter to new DG George Entwhistle from Baroness Warnock, chair of Sound Start Group.
The letter is also signed by long-time children’s radio campaigner Susan Stranks.
The letter lists concerns about the BBC’s Strategy for Children’s Audio which last year wrote off a core remit to produce and provide radio for children aged 14 years and under and passed 75% of their air-time and 50% of the budget to grown-ups. Signatories say the instant cuts compared unfavourable with general savings averaging 16%, amortised over five years. The annual domestic radio budget of £640.1m per annum reserves less than £1m for BBC children’s audio.
The letter states that children have less radio than ‘Children’s hour’ provided in the 1940s when the Home Service was the only platform of delivery. The letter recommends an in-depth evaluation of children’s radio, with published outcomes to inform the BBC and the wider industry.
Lead signatory, Baroness Warnock, said: “successive government reports show increasing numbers of children arriving at school unable to listen, concentrate or express themselves which greatly hinders their social, educational and working lives. This poverty of language is a serious concern and we believe radio can play a key role in improving things.”
Susan Stranks – who runs the runs the non-profit internet radio service abracaDABa! said: “Executives suggest that today’s children may no longer be able to listen without visual stimulation – seemingly oblivious of any blame were this dreadful surmise to be true.”
However, Matt Deegan, Station Manager of digital station ‘Fun Kids’ told Radio Today: “It’s easy to have misty-eyed views about radio for children, based on a different time. Rather than hark back to the past, it’s important to understand children’s lives today. Kids don’t think about ‘radio’ or ‘television’ or the ‘internet’ – they connect with content that’s interesting and entertaining wherever that is. They can be as engaged by listening to an audio CD as they can by a videogame.
“For us, whilst we have a children’s radio station ‘Fun Kids’ that you can tune to on digital radio, the content also lives on our website, through an iPad app, on Radioplayer desktop and mobile, through iTunes, YouTube and a myriad of other places.
“Demanding the BBC divert significant resources to support a single device – a radio – to reach children casually forgets the hugely successful cross-platform relationships (audio, video and interactive) the BBC have already created for children and families with CBBC and Cbeebies. Whilst radio as an outlet would generate some audience connection, I’m not sure a stand-alone station is the best use of their declining pot of money.”