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Future of Sunday Half-Hour: Radio 2 controller’s justification for rescheduling

01 February 2013


From Mr Bob Shennan
Sir, - Why would anybody mess around with a much-loved radio programme? Surely something that has lasted in the schedules for decades, and to which the listeners are so devoted, should be kept in its traditional slot for ever. So why move Sunday Half-Hour on Radio 2?

First and foremost, let me say plainly that Radio 2's commitment to religious broadcasting is undiminished. In fact, I believe that the recent changes have created a stronger three-hour zone of programming at a time when more people listen to the radio. Together with Pause for Thought and our special programmes at Easter, Christmas, and Faith in the World Week, the new Sunday Hour and Good Morning Sunday programmes offer an unrivalled service on UK music radio.

Yet, despite this, I must say that the move of Sunday Half-Hour has been a very difficult decision. I have been contacted by people who have emphasised how important the programme is to them or their relatives.

Although many people have catch-up services such as iPlayer on their TV, phone, or computer, I do appreciate that not everyone will have this technology. One of the issues that most trouble me is the fact that elderly listeners in particular do not always have access to the internet. My decision has upset some people, and I regret that. But my responsibility is to everyone who listens, and everyone who pays their licence fee. It was for that reason that I felt I had to make the change.

As the controller of BBC Radio 2, I have to make choices that affect our listeners daily, and these decisions are not always easy. They are, however, done honestly and with the best interests of the station and, ultimately, the audience at heart.

An easier course would have been to do nothing. I appreciate that many people would prefer this. But I think that to do nothing might have been very damaging to Sunday Half-Hour in the long term. The simple truth is that the programme has been in decline for many years, and the number of people listening has halved in the past decade.

Some people have written to me to suggest that they consider the early-morning slot to be an example of our demoting the programme and marginalising religion. In fact, the slot from 6 to 9 a.m. is peak listening time in radio, and early Sunday mornings actually reach a much wider audience than Sunday evenings - more than double.

The success of Good Morning Sunday shows that there is an audience with an appetite for faith programming at that time, and these changes mean that we are able to extend the programme to a full hour and broadcast it when there are both more people listening and an expectation of hearing faith-related output.

Some people will not like the changes, but I want to emphasise that great care was given to considering the implications for our audience. I have met people from the Christian community to discuss them recently, and they have fed back to me the views of people who have expressed concerns. I promise I will remain in close contact with them and continue to listen.

I would like to reassure listeners that we have no intention of reneging on our responsibilities or marginalising faith content. Pease be in no doubt that, for many years to come, The Sunday Hour will remain a fixture on Radio 2. The change was necessary to protect the future of the programme; so I hope that its long-standing fans do feel able to continue listening and enjoying it at its new time.

BBC Radio 2
Western House
99 Great Portland Street
London W1W 7NY

From Canon Hugh Beavan
Sir, - The BBC's claim that moving Sunday Half-Hour from a Sunday evening to early Sunday morning will attract more listeners seems difficult to swallow.

As Leigh Hatts said in your issue of 11 January, it looks like another example of the BBC's "sidelining" of religion, like making the act of worship on Mondays to Fridays on Radio 4 available only on long wave.

I wonder how many of your readers will remember that, not so many years ago, there was a ten-minute epilogue on Radio 4 at 9.50 on a Saturday evening, which, for many of us, was a very helpful preparation for the eucharist on Sunday. Sometimes this took the form of sung compline. (When did we last hear compline broadcast on the BBC, apart from a few snippets in Call the Midwife?)

Those presenting this epilogue included the present Archbishop of York and the present Bishop of Norwich. But this programme was axed a long time ago.

The great thing about Sunday Half-Hour is being able to enjoy hymns, traditional and modern, sung well by choirs drawn from churches, chapels, and cathedrals from a wide variety of denominations, and from all four constituent countries of the UK.

It does not worry me that the current presenter is not ordained (Letters, 18 January). What matters is that she seems to know her stuff when it comes to giving background information about the hymns being sung, and their authors and composers; and that the producers invariably choose hymns related to the seasons of the Church's year.

Let us hope that wiser counsels will prevail, and this very worthwhile programme will be restored to its Sunday-evening slot once again.

19 Wordsworth Road
Colchester CO3 4HR

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