Choosing the news

Liza Tarbuck said something quite interesting when interviewed by Fi and Jane on the Fortunately podcast last week. She presents a Saturday night show on Radio 2 and she is not a fan of the news:

I have made a request about whether we could drop the news in the middle of the show. Because on a performance level, if my listeners’ energy goes, I have to work harder at the beginning of the second hour. I don’t watch the news and I don’t listen to the news. It actually is quite blandy bland and not the sort of news I’m after. I kind of want to know about science departments in the universities. What are they coming up with? Exciting stuff, that’s actually relevant to me and mine or might even punch some sort of use, thoughts of what could be, rather than ‘this’ [meaning lockdown etc].

The news in her show, like other Radio 2 shows, follows a similar pattern and structure. It’s Radio 2’s news brand. Just like on most stations.

It did make me think though. Why?

Liza’s show is a specialist show. She chooses, as also mentioned on the podcast, all the music directly as well as the content of the programme, which is driven by text-in topics. So why should the middle two minutes be off-brand for her, to stay on-brand for R2?

I can understand that R2 listeners like being connected to the world and are used to the regular bulletins, but what if the news team were given a different request for those couple of minutes. Headlines from around the world and as Liza mentions, big stories about positive change? Yes, it’s a faff to do. But would the R2 brand lose out much? It would still be driven by the BBC News staff, under their editorial control, but there would just be a slightly different style guide.

News, travel and weather are such formulated parts of radio, are we perhaps wrong to not give them a second thought?

Over on Radio 1, its news service – Newsbeat – has always been a good listen, trying to provide content of interest to Radio 1’s listeners. What I’ve always found strange is that the bulletins are BBC Newsbeat ones, and not Radio 1 Newsbeat ones. Due to BBC-ness the news is sort of outsourced to the BBC News team. Whilst I’m sure the Radio 1 bosses can give the Newsbeat management lots of thoughts, the editorial seems to rest with BBC News. I understand this sometimes causes some tension.

If Liza Tarbuck’s annoyed, just think what Radio 1 management feel.

I think though that the more competitive radio is, and the more important the radio brands are, the more essential it is for stations to really think about all the elements that contribute to their output.

When so much time is spent on the musical output and the presenters, do news, travel, weather and for commercial stations ads, get forgotten? Depending on dayparts it could be 2% to 15% of output – surely something to pay close attention to as well.

Audio Content Fund

I was incredibly disappointed yesterday morning to hear that the Audio Content Fund has lost its government funding, and they won’t, right now, be extending the three years of its initial run.

The funding for the pilot was made available as a result of unspent funds from the previous BBC licence fee settlement, originally intended for the purpose of broadband roll-out. So, a top-slicing of the licence fee.

The ACF has delivered amply for its small budget. 128 projects from 76 suppliers on 329 radio stations. You can read all about them here. It provided public service content, to large audiences, though commercial and community radio.

However it, alongside the funding of the Young Audiences Content Fund in television, have somewhat been at the mercy of government machinations around licence fee discussions.

The somewhat crazy thing is that the ACF and YACF were Conservative government creations, that provide public value outside of the BBC in an efficient manner. Both had strong diversity and regionality elements, especially with out of London production – so were all very ‘levelling up’.

What seems to have happened is that the discussions of the mid-charter review were dragged forward by the DCMS and its new minister Nadine Dorries. She caught everyone, including the BBC, by surprise with her tweet of a Mail on Sunday article, allowing her to provide input into Operation Red Meat – a desire to give Tory MPs some Conservative-style positivity to ward off Partygate shenanigans.

Nadine was also keen to trumpet saving ‘hard-working families’ 40p a week from freezing the BBC licence fee. Whether that’s of much help to the people who have lost £20 a week from Universal Credit cuts or those who have to cope with increasing energy bills and National Insurance rises will, remains to be seen.

It seems everyone, particularly the BBC, thought that licence fee discussions were still on-going. With this not to be, any hope of a well choreographed announcement looking at the licence fee, the spending review and issues with S4C and The Funds somewhat going out the window. And with the BBC suddenly saddled with £1.5bn of cuts, I’m sure they weren’t that keen to offer much respite for schemes outside of their direct control. And who’s to blame them?

Up to this point, there seemed to have been strong support for the ACF at DCMS – particularly as it had a great impact at little cost. It’s current position is that:

“This three-year pilot scheme to test a new way of financing public service TV and radio content will finish in March as intended and we will conduct a full evaluation. We are undertaking a wider review of public service broadcasting to ensure it remains relevant and can continue to meet the needs of UK audiences.”

The DCMS has a number of broadcasting issues on its plate – the new way the BBC is to be funded, the Government’s desire to sell-off Channel 4 and now the ACF and YACF too. It’s hard not to look at this all together and think that the current government doesn’t have that much faith in public service broadcasting. Hopefully I’m wrong.


The BBC and public service broadcasting was often remarked upon in the special Predictions episode of The Media Podcast which dropped on Friday. A stellar range of guests including Hannah Russell from Mags Creative, The Guardian’s Jim Waterson, media writer Maggie Brown, Dan Taylor-Watt, who was Director of Product for iPlayer and BBC Sounds until late last year, The Times’ Jake Kanter, Faraz Osman from Gold Wala and Ann Charles from Radio TechCon (amongst other places).

Get it wherever you get your podcasts, or by clicking here.

I’m also excited/nervous to announce that the podcast is going weekly from next Friday (4th Feb). So get subscribing!

What do we put in bulletins, and what’s happening with the ACF? (6min read)