Why BBC Radio is essential for students

BBC, Radio, Radio 3, media, audiences, Alex Veeneman, Kettle Mag
Written by Alex Veeneman

We are in a new media marketplace, and within this marketplace plenty of opportunities to consume media are made available for audiences, especially younger audiences, be it a favourite television or radio programme, or catching up with the news through an app or via Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks.

With consumption habits changing, media organisations are trying to put together the pieces to the puzzle to make their output relevant and accessible to as many people as possible, without sacrificing the values that allow that organisation to thrive among the media industry, or the mediums associated with it.

The BBC is no exception, and executives and staff are trying to figure out the best way to answer it. Those answers however come amid a debate on the BBC’s future, ahead of the broadcaster’s charter renewal in 2 years that could change how it is run and what it can provide to the public, and questions on similarities between the BBC and its counterparts in commercial radio, be it Capital, TalkSport or Classic FM.

Students and radio

Yet, as the BBC looks to answer these questions, the values of entertaining as well as educating have remain intact, especially in its radio output. The creative energy that drives its staff to give their utmost attention to each detail reflects on the work that is showcased to millions. The appeal for this work is also true for students, whose tastes are as varied as the many drinks made available at a local café. No two are the same.

But what allows the BBC, in an editorial context, to do well among students in radio is the personal one-to-one relationship, and the ability to engage students beyond radio. This is most certainly the case with the rise of social media with individual programmes, DJs and stations, allowing back and forth interaction.

This also rings true with Radio 1, as it looks to present itself as a multimedia brand for music and youth culture, incorporating online visual content with audio output, through its iPlayer channel, on YouTube, as well as Twitter and Facebook, be it an Innuendo Bingo performance on Scott Mills’ show, or a live session from a favourite band or act.

In addition, the introduction of the broadcaster’s Generation 2015 initiative, engaging 18-24 year olds on political matters ahead of May’s General Election, allows additional engagement outside the medium to an age group rarely heard from in coverage of significant political events. Newsbeat also excels at engaging younger audiences on stories, taking angles different from traditional programmes.


Outside Radio 1’s efforts, students are now able to access other services and engage with other stations on social media, providing further educational benefits alongside entertainment and culture, whether learning about a composer via Radio 3, or listening to a stimulating interview on Radio 4.


Putting the pieces together

However, the perfect solution to ensure BBC Radio’s engagement of younger audiences is far from put together.

As recently noted in the BBC Trust’s report on music services (a report on Radio 4 and Radio 5 live is due this summer), competition for time is fierce amid changing listener habits, which have seen mixed results for the BBC’s stations, including a loss in younger audiences at Radio 3, as well as Radio 1 losing some 20-24 year old listeners, with Radio 2 gaining some younger listeners, particularly at Breakfast, as well as slight gains at digital station 6 Music.

The report also noted some cuts to live music at Radio 1, from 250 sessions a year to 160, and 25 live events to 10, as well as small cutbacks in drama output at Radio 3.

Yet, in spite of those concerns, the BBC can still play a significant role for students, whether that role is being informed on current affairs, or entertained with various personalities and live music sessions, through these distinct stations.

Indeed, these distinctions aide the BBC in placing a value on trust and education with the public—a public that is informed, entertained, and on many occasions, inspired, through this one-to-one relationship with the medium of radio and its content, a relationship that the commercial sector would be unable to provide. 

However, for this to continue, students must ensure that it is protected for this generation, as well as the next. Radio itself may change, and so may the tastes of students, but the opportunities given to students in the UK by the BBC and its radio stations are endless. We must stand up to ensure these opportunities continue to be available to everyone, and don’t fade out.

Will you?

What do you think? What role do you think BBC Radio have for students compared to other platforms? What is the challenge for the BBC to engage a younger audience in the long term? Have your say in the comments section below.