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Last Updated: Monday, 24 September 2007, 07:41 GMT 08:41 UK
How will Radio 1 retain its youth?
By Kevin Young
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

When BBC Radio 1 began, 40 years ago this week, it was billed as "the swinging new radio service" for the UK.

Pop fans, who had few opportunities to hear chart hits, found it essential listening. But can it still attract young people who now have so many other distractions?

Radio 1 was not always exclusively aimed at young people.

DJ Mark Goodier recalls ratings of "20 million plus a week" when he joined in 1987, a total which meant listeners of all ages were tuning in.

Chris Moyles
The overwhelming majority of the material that Chris broadcasts is within the guidelines
Controller Andy Parfitt defends breakfast DJ Chris Moyles
"There was still [Simon] Bates, Steve [Wright], Gary [Davies], really iconic figures. That was still a very big radio station."

He was working with presenters "who were as famous as pop stars", he says, and admits he could not eat his Christmas dinner that year because he was so worried about his debut on Boxing Day.

Current controller Andy Parfitt says Radio 1's dominance in those days came because commercial radio was "very small", before "a sudden explosion in choice" meant audiences went elsewhere.

The well-documented overhaul of the station in the mid-90s also played a part, with veterans such as Bates and Dave Lee Travis suddenly replaced by younger talent.

Types of fan

Now Radio 1 finds itself approaching middle age and trying to lure listeners under 35 who have endless other distractions, including games consoles and the internet.

John Peel, date unknown
The late John Peel was one of Radio 1's launch disc jockeys

Mr Parfitt identifies "three discrete groups of listeners", starting with a general audience for whom "music is important but not a whole chunk of someone's life".

The "classic" Radio 1 listener is "much more actively a music fan, probably at university with a group of friends who like particular genres".

And finally there is "deep scenester, who thinks they know as much about the genre as the DJ".

The latest ratings show 13 million listeners aged four and above still tune in to Radio 1 each week.

But Nathalie Schwarz, director of radio at Channel 4, fears that for many of them, "radio doesn't play the same part in their lives as perhaps the generation before".

Her company is set to launch E4 Radio, a national youth-oriented digital station which will "encourage its audience to shape its content".

"Internet and mobile phones are playing far more a part of young people's daily media consumption.

"For us, it's a real drive to provide something fresh and alternative in radio to hook them," she says.

"It has to be driven by interactivity, a commitment to new talent and new music."

Internet 'vital'

Mr Parfitt agrees that "the thing never to underestimate is the dramatic impact of the web".

Andy Parfitt
Mr Parfitt, controller since 1998, was once an arts producer for Radio 4
He says that while the internet is a relatively recent addition to many people's lives, for Radio 1 listeners it is often "not something that's new, but part of their life for as long as they can remember".

"Fast internet connections, either at school or at home, mean that [online] penetration is virtually 100% for under-16s", so Radio 1 must "really focus on being part of the web".

How and where young people listen to the radio has moved on as well, says Mark Story, who is managing director of radio at Emap and oversees stations such as Magic and Kiss.

"We've moved from being in the radio business to being in the audio business," he says. "It's about any time, any place, anywhere.

"We need to think of making audio that will be compelling to young people, whether it's listening on the Tube, or [giving them] an audio guide which they keep until they go to Ibiza."

Nathalie Schwarz
Nathalie Schwarz's Channel 4 Radio is launching 10 digital stations
But targeting a younger audience means care is needed with the material broadcast.

And Sunday Times radio critic Paul Donovan argues "there is a lot on Radio 1 which is not suitable for children".

"It wants to use children's enthusiasm for Radio 1 when it comes to showing how popular it is, but doesn't want to make any mention of when it gets reprimanded for using foul language at times when children are listening."

Last year the station was criticised by Ofcom when Moyles accidentally swore at a listener during a live phone call and used a derogatory term about women.

But Mr Parfitt dismisses the criticism, insisting the DJ is "very sensitive to the time of day he's on and the people who are listening".

Pete Murray in 1967
0700 Tony Blackburn
0832 Leslie Crowther
1000 Keith Skues
1200 Emperor Rosko
1300 Jack Jackson
1400 Chris Denning
1500 Pete Murray (pictured)
1600 Pete Brady
1730 Country Meets Folk
1832 Scene and Heard
1935 Million Dollar Bill
2015 Spotlight 1 and 2
2115 Caterina Valente Sings
2200 Pete Murray
0000 Sean Kelly
Some shows simulcast on Radio 2
Source: Radio Times

"The overwhelming majority of the material that Chris broadcasts is within the guidelines.

"He is funny, irreverent, cheeky - a very warm broadcaster for anyone who spends any time listening to the show, and a great young broadcaster."

As for the future of youth-targeted radio, Mr Parfitt says presenters provide "companionship, friendship and aspirational qualities" which he believes will remain in the coming years.

And Mr Story believes that whatever approach broadcasters take, they must never make sweeping assumptions according to age, especially when it comes to music.

"Magic has been a radio station that is extremely successful right up to 60, but actually it's successful among 15- to 24-year-olds as well."

Research conducted by Emap found White Stripes and Radiohead fans in their fifties, while Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles were equally popular with those under-25s, he says.

"Judging radio by age alone is becoming slightly old-fashioned."

Footage of Radio One DJs


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