MEDIA: Radio wakes up to the need for children’s appeal

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.

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

14-year-olds.



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

to them.



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

groups.



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

weaving.



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