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Ideas and technique to help you promote and image radio

BBC Radio 4 changing carefully

The detailed changes are on a website. And a fridge door.

If you don’t listen to the UK speech station BBC Radio 4 this audio promo might sound downright weird to you.

For a start, it doesn’t hammer home the station name (in fact, it doesn’t mention it once), there’s no epic sell and its clearest message is that the lunchtime news programme is now a bit longer.

[audio:|titles=The World at One promo]

Radio listeners generally dislike change to their favourite stations and you only need to read the comments on its blog to see how this is particularly true of Radio 4.

For its audience, Radio 4 is as much an institution as it is a radio station. It attracts 10.5 million listeners every week, each tuning in for an average of more than 12 hours a week. Many of them do not take kindly to having it tinkered with. As Stephen Fry observed:

“Radio 4 is radically reinvented every five years or so, fortunately with no result whatever.”


One of BBC Radio 4’s former chiefs, James Boyle, described modernising the station in terms of carrying a Ming vase across a polished floor. Now its current controller Gwyneth Williams is carrying that vase into new territory, supported by some careful on air communication.

The audio was produced by Stan Was, one of a small team of producers who specialise in making trails for BBC Radio 4, guiding listeners through its deeply layered schedule and keeping its presentation relevant and fresh.

It’s unlike anything you’ll hear on radio anywhere in the world but distinctiveness is seldom a weakness in radio and, by and large, for the target audience it works.

Stan shares the brief in a nutshell: alert people to the World at One changes which are central to a wider and more complicated series of schedule moves. Then point people to the website for detailed information of the knock-on effects.

That’s a sensible use of the different communication media available: simple messaging in the on-air promos, using the network’s friendly announcers to hold the listener’s hand as the individual changes appear and putting the heavy textual information in a blog post that can be printed out and put on the fridge door.