21st March 2011, 3:56pm
Radio is in rude good health, says BBC boss, but loss of Wogan was hard
Bob Shennan - photo courtesy of BBC BBC Radio 2 and 6 Music controller Bob Shennan has hit out at harbingers of doom who say radio has had its day.

In a question and answer session in front of 200 University of Lincoln students and staff, Shennan denied that on demand was killing radio, quoting “very healthy figures” for stations across the BBC stable.

“People have been predicting dire things for radio for many years,” he said. “But the truth is radio is in rude good health.”

The man charged with bringing Radio 2 back from the “Sachsgate” affair also reflected on Terry Wogan’s departure, saying that restoring morale after the Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand scandal was nothing compared with “losing one of the giants of radio”.

However, he noted that Wogan had given his blessing to his breakfast show successor Chris Evans, making the whole transition process easier for him to manage.

Big personalities featured heavily in the Q and A, among them Graham Norton, who, reluctant to replace Jonathan Ross on Radio 2, was persuaded to do so after Shennan allowed two or three months’ cooling off period in between their tenures.

BBC Radio 2, Europe’s most popular station, is very attractive to high profile presenters, and Shennan says it didn’t take much to convince Norton.

“I told him it’s now or never as Radio 2 gigs don’t come along that often. People who come to us from TV don’t need the money: it’s the huge amount of pleasure they get. We offer great production and a huge reach and presenters love that.”

Commercial radio stations have such a narrow focus that they can not offer the diversity and breadth of Radio 2 content, he added.

Other big personalities, who stood out from the crowd of “good, competent but 2D presenters” were John Inverdale (“I thought my God he’s good, I’ll steer away from the broadcasting side and be his boss instead”) and Clare Balding (whom he employed straight from university because he “didn’t like to say no to her.”) He also paid tribute to Paul O’Grady, one of the “finest broadcasters” around.

It’s been a troubled few years for staff under Shennan, with the fallout from the scandal and the threat of closure to 6 Music, which he said was “very painful for the audience and very painful for staff and presenters, who behaved with fantastic professionalism and impeccably.”

But on the u-turn on the proposal to close 6 Music and the likely reprieve of the Asian network he said: “It takes a big organisation to look at itself like this and then change its mind after public consultation.”

He also acknowledged the industry was under pressure to keep younger listeners, saying: “The big challenge is engaging with younger audiences. They are still listening, but listening for less time because there are other distractions.

“Radio 1 for example is still reaching large numbers, but frankly it’s an audience that now expects its radio to come with a screen.”

Bob Shennan was in conversation with Barnie Choudhury, senior lecturer at the Lincoln School of Journalism and former BBC correspondent who first met Bob when they worked at Radio 5 Live.
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