BBC presenter Justin Webb: Flagship radio shows must not be destroyed

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Today host Justin Webb has warned BBC bosses not to destroy flagship radio shows as they target younger listeners.

The BBC has announced cuts to its news output across TV and radio as part of cost reduction plans, as well as an effort to reach the young.

But Webb urged BBC bosses to be careful making changes, saying he hopes Today does not lose its “distinct entity… character and presence”.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Radio Times magazine (Radio Times)</figcaption>
Radio Times magazine (Radio Times)

He wrote in Radio Times magazine: “When BBC bosses say the young aren’t listening to BBC radio any more and we have to treat this as an emergency and run around as if our pants were on fire, my first reaction is: ‘Hey, what took you so long?’

“My second is… Hmm. Perhaps the young will get old. It has happened before. Perhaps radio will outlive this panic, as it has outlived all others and potentially those to come.

“But it will only outlive the panic if well-meaning bosses resist the temptation to destroy the wireless in order to save it.”

He said there will be a “temptation… to reduce the funding of the core programmes and chop up its output into the bite-sized chunks those in charge think ‘yoof’ might consume”.

But “Today is at close to record levels, listened to by more than seven million people in the average week,” he said of the BBC Radio 4 programme.

And radio programmes “are as successful as they have ever been,” the BBC’s former North America editor said.

Today is one of many news programmes which will be affected by cuts.

But Webb said that he hopes, in future, it will still be “broadcast as a distinct entity with a character and a presence”.

Fran Unsworth, director of news and current affairs, recently said BBC News must be “reshaped…  in a way which saves substantial amounts of money”.

“We are spending too much of our resources on traditional linear broadcasting and not enough on digital,” she said.

Sarah Sands announced last month that she is quitting as the Today programme’s editor.

The full article is in Radio Times magazine, out now. 

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