Friday, May 06, 2011

How Fully And Completely Does Radio 1 Provide Access To Culture, Music And Ideas Specified In Its Service Remit?

Radio 1’s service remit is ‘to entertain and engage a broad range of young listeners with a distinctive mix of contemporary music and speech. It should reflect the lives and interests of 15-29 year olds but also embrace others who share similar tastes. It should offer a range of new music, support emerging artists - especially those from the UK - and provide a platform for live music. News, documentaries and advice campaigns should cover areas of relevance to young adults’ (BBC Service remit, 2010, [Internet]). This study will explore the commitments and editorial priorities across Radio 1 and examine how the station aims to deliver the requirements of the service remit. The programme policy provides an extensive overview of the target audience, key challenges facing the station that they aim to cover, and the commitment to what is broadcast, will form the basis of  this study. Consideration of how well the BBC serves younger audiences will be supported by the BBC Trust service review, which examines how well these services are performing against the terms of their service licenses.

Radio 1 reaches a large number of young people, described by the BBC Trust as having an important part of the BBC’s overall offering to young people. The service review, using listening data from RAJAR, 2008 (Younger Audiences, 2009, p. 49), states that the station reaches a considerably higher number of 15 – 29 year olds than any other radio station. The number were the BBC’s second largest service for this age group across television, radio and online, behind only BBC One. Although the review does acknowledge that many ‘listen without specifically choosing, or wanting, to listen, for example in places they do not have control of the radio such as in the workplace or in cars’ (Younger Audiences, 2009, p. 50). Radio 1 has still successfully built a strong and recognised brand throughout the country but things weren’t always that way. Pete Tong referred to the station in the early nineties as being “very uncool,” and even though he was a really big name in the south-east, the rest of the country didn’t really know who he was. He also stated that when performing he felt that “it was very much like sneaking into these clubs with a Radio 1 tee-shirt underneath, and slowly but surely over a number of years revealing more and more of the logo” (Garfield, 1998, p. 104). That’s no longer the case but Radio 1’s reach to young people has fallen slightly in recent years, particularly at the lower end of its target age group. The fall however is in line with a more general decline in listening to radio among young people. This is attributed to audiences being able to access content through a range of different media, mass consumption through MP3 players and online services, and the diversity of the audience. 

This has understandably attracted the attention of the Service Review, while they do not believe that any radio station can restrict listening only to its stated target audience, they do expect Radio 1 to focus on serving 15-29 year olds, rather than older listeners. The wording of the service remit currently states that the station should ‘embrace others who share similar tastes,’ this has been identified as open to interpretation by stakeholders. They construe the meaning could be that the station is being encouraged to target an older audience, especially as Radio 1’s mean listening age is 29 and the median listening age is 28 (Younger Audiences, 2009, p. 50). The review states that it will track the stations performance against imposed measures and if changes aren’t reflected then they will ensure to take further action.

Andy Partiff, controller at BBC Radio 1, states in the service remit that it’s his ambition for the station ‘to be a leading voice of young UK culture, delivering a high-quality and distinctive service’ (BBC Service remit, 2010, [Internet]). Newsbeat being used as an example already shaped to ‘offer a level of news provision designed specifically for our young audiences’ which he claims ‘the rest of the market is unable to sustain’. The remit identifies key challenges, outlining areas to improve the appeal of the station to the target audience. These indicate the responsibility Radio 1 has to ensure that it constantly evolves to attract the next generation of young listeners. Sunday evenings were to be extended to include a new ‘teen zone’ which would include the Chart Show, ‘acting as a bridge for younger teens’ to ease them into Radio 1. The Sunday afternoon slot, originally hosted by Jo Whiley, has recently been taken over by Huw Stephens. His show In Huw's music we trust, which introduces ‘undiscovered, unsigned and under the radar music,’ has been a feature since the beginning of April. The Welsh presenter maintains a ‘busy diary DJing and compering at gigs, clubs and festivals, his shows have been broadcast at South by South West in Texas, Sonar in Barcelona and Green Man in Crickhowell. He has also travelled to Reykjavik, New Zealand, Nashville, Los Angeles and Manchester to seek out and reflect the new music in these places’ (Profile, 2011). Tom Deacon has also joined Radio 1, following the commitment outlined for him to present a companion radio programme to his BBC Switch online show. He hosts the Sunday night slot on BBC Radio 1 from 7pm, following the Chart Show. Fearne Cotton and Greg James weekday daytime programmes introduced last autumn have been the subject of ongoing development, to ensure that they focus on serving 15-29 year olds. Radio 1 ensures a commitment to continue to work to identify potential new presenting talent for the future, fulfilling this pledge with comedian and broadcaster Tom Deacon joining the station.

As a national network based in London, Radio 1 must fulfil the requirement to ensure that it equally serves audiences across the UK. The live music schedule is important, covering a range of music events from across the country as well as weekly ‘opt-out’ programmes for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Radio 1 also locates its own live event, Radio 1’s Big Weekend, outside London, choosing Preston, Dundee, Maidstone and Swindon in previous years (Younger Audiences, 2009, p. 64).  With many organisations covering live music, most recently the Coachella festival streamed through YouTube, the station needs to ensure that it remains distinct, offers depth and provides a range of coverage. A strong reputation has been built for supporting a wide range of new music relevant to young audiences, although the Service Review identified that ‘Radio 1’s reach to ethnic minorities has fallen significantly over recent years’ (Younger Audiences, 2009, p. 54). This reflects the broader trends in listening to any radio among ethnic minorities, and can be partly explained by the launch of 1Xtra and Asian Network in 2002, greater competition from niche commercial radio stations in urban areas and because the station reflects ‘trends in popular music tastes which in recent years have tended towards indie’. Despite these factors, the remit states that it should ‘engage a broad range of young listeners’ and this includes white, black and minority ethnic listeners. The Service Review were concerned that this disparity could become more pronounced and will monitor listeners closely. 

The speech show The Surgery with Aled (formerly known as the Sunday Surgery) has been allocated an earlier timeslot and briefed to become more journalistic in its approach of relevant topical issues. Documentaries and volunteering initiatives were to be introduced such as the experimental ‘The Art of Noise’ and campaigns were devised to include travel and relationships but have also covered the effects of alcohol consumption, mental health and bullying. BBC’s management aims to increase campaign impact, and have the support of the Service Review who approve of presenters being used to deliver messages to the audience (Younger Audiences, 2009, p. 61). DJ’s have an important role; the station broadcasts significantly more speech than most music radio stations with the vast majority designed to entertain the audience. An analysis of presenter speech (Younger Audiences, 2009, p. 60) suggests that this speech does serve the purpose of stimulating culture and creativity, although given the strong brand recognition the Service Review believe that the station could be more ambitious.

The key challenges outline not only the need to support emerging music and speech but also improve the online interactive and visual experiences of Radio 1 as so to ‘keep pace with audience expectations’ (BBC Service remit, 2010, [Internet]). It’s acknowledged that younger audiences are technologically efficient and that the station needs to meet the changing habits of listeners. For this capturing key moments visually, filming a selection of Live Lounge sessions and other significant programme features are seen as fulfilling the requirement. There will be improvements to the Official UK Chart online presence, and updates to the Greg James's show were outlined to celebrate UK chart history and culture. Building on the Access All Areas experiment in 2009 which demonstrated how the audience participated and interacted with the network. The station has explored ways in which users can personalise how the Radio 1 homepage appears to them, becoming more streamlined and providing the listener access to additional features including video, podcasts, games and social media content. The popularity of social networks is the ability to connect with others, and demonstrated by new and regular audience members extending the listening experience and interacting with their favourite presenters. Allowing the audience to be part of the show gives them the chance to enhance the whole experience. The internet being core to this convergence and becoming more than just ‘pictures of DJ’s, interviews with performers or places for listener chats’ (Chignell, 2009, p.124). It has become the gateway for listeners to access their favourite shows either on-demand or from a live stream.

To conclude, Radio 1 does provide significant access to culture, music and ideas specified in its service remit, although audience diversity, listener participation, brand association and technological advancements have an impact on the overall reach. Radio listening has declined over recent years and the format faces many fresh challenges, but Radio 1 continues to stay relevant and able to accommodate new technologies and methods to engage with listeners. A combination of the key challenges outlined in the service remit, the service review and controller ambition, indicate the long-term commitment to improve the station and recruit new listeners at the younger end of the target audience. Representing the UK’s nations, regions and communities is essential to achieving this vision and reinforced with the presenters, speech shows and supporting a wide range of new music relevant to young audiences. There will be challenges ahead but Radio 1 still has an important role and is heading in the right direction to achieve its objectives.

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Chignell, Hugh. (2009) Key Concepts in Radio Studies. London: Sage. p.124.

Garfield, Simon. (1998) The Nation’s Favourite. London: Faber and Faber Ltd. p. 104 

Huw Stephens Profile. BBC. [Internet] < > [accessed 5 May 2011]

Service Review. Younger audiences: BBC Three, Radio 1 and 1Xtra. BBC Trust. [Internet] < >   [accessed 5 May 2011] 

Statements of Programme Policy. Radio 1 Programme Policy 2010/2011. BBC [Internet] < > [accessed 5 May 2011]