Capital Radio has just unveiled one of the most interesting media
developments for some time. To its credit, it has decided, after
conducting its own market research, that there is a distinct market for
children’s radio in Britain.
That this rising age group, moulded from the baby buggy by the media
around them, are totally neglected by radio, even though their influence
extends far beyond merely pestering parents.
The appeal of children’s zones, with programmes - too often cartoons -
on tap is something the four kids’ satellite channels available in the
UK have proved beyond doubt.
In the US, Disney Radio has recently found a niche. Now Capital intends
to apply, on 12 March, for a new regional FM licence based in Newcastle,
as the test bed for its format, Fun Radio, aimed at four- to
This will be music-driven, but will contain plenty of speech: quizzes,
news, phone-ins, jokes, wake-up calls and funny cartoon voices.
Even if it doesn’t win this licence, it intends to roll out the concept
wherever it can pick up frequencies, alongside its two mainstream pop
and gold formats. Capital, seeking fresh impetus after its abortive
merger with Virgin Radio collapsed in December, has added a fresh
diverse strand to the commercial sector - it’s sorely needed. Good luck
But it has also, from a purely commercial perspective confirmed
something critics of BBC Radio have long maintained - that it is
entirely wrong for a public service radio broadcaster to turn its back
on children as it currently does, and that there is a market for
children’s radio, both specially tailored music and for speech, if done
in an accessible fashion.
In the past two years there has been a fierce lobby carried out by
Children 2000 for a family-friendly children’s radio network funded by
lottery money. Its guiding light, Susan Stranks has been vindicated by
Capital’s decision -even if its concept is far less worthy than hers,
and her victory seems to be a Pyrrhic one.
Dedicated kids stations are the way forward. Few modern children will
listen to classic drama at Sunday teatimes alongside their parents (and
grandparents) on Radio 4, but they do turn up for Radio 1 and commercial
radio’s chart and pop shows, even though they are not actively
encouraged or acknowledged. Football is also attracting up to 400,000
children a week to Radio 5 Live.
So the myth that children are lost to radio has been dispelled and the
BBC must respond. Digital radio offers more frequencies. And there is a
definite shift towards public service broadcasting for neglected
The BBC should harness its top children’s TV operators, those who know
how to attract millions to Blue Peter and Live and Kicking, and get