Switched on radio

If your idea of radio broadcasting for children is nostalgia-tinted episodes of Listen With Mother, or imagination-boosting adaptations of the The Chronicles of Narnia, then be prepared to have your expectations blasted into the ether. Capital Radio is behind a bid to bring children's broadcasting out of its worthy past and into a high-energy future.

Fun Radio describes itself as a "really awesome, fun-filled radio station", and if the Radio Authority grants its licence next January, it will be buzzing through the airwaves of central Scotland in summer 1999.

A music and speech station aimed at children from four to 14, Fun Radio will be breaking new ground, as the first station in Europe tailored to the interests and needs of children and their parents.

Richard Park, group director of Capital Radio, says: "There is lots of programming aimed at the 16-30s and at the 30-plus market, but in the fragmenting market there is nothing for children."

Looking at the bids for the new Central Scotland licence, it is hard to disagree. Out of the 12 other bids, six are in the hot new sounds for 15 to 29-year-olds category; three seem to be going for the middle-aged music market; one is aimed at the Asian population; one is 24-hour news; and one plans to deliver "a relevant, life-enhancing Christian message".

Mr Park adds: "We couldn't look at the success of the Cartoon Network on television and ignore the message for radio broadcasting." Fun Radio aims to broadcast family-friendly breakfast shows, move into mother-and-toddler mode while the kids are at school, then shift up a gear or three for the teen and pre-teen market in the afternoon and evening.

The cyncial might recognise a captive audience for advertisers of everything from baby monitors to Nike trainers, but Fun Radio intends to be more than a music and marketing slot. In among the promised music countdowns, animal features, and interviews with pop stars, the Fun Radio promotional material gives prominence to social issues.

It says: "Increasingly, anti-social behaviour, such as bullying, smoking,vandalism and drug abuse, among the young has become commonplace. Issues such as these, and the growing problems of under-age drinking and sex, mean that we have to act to educate children to be responsible for their actions, while taking care not to be patronising."

Quite a lot for a radio station to take on, but Mr Park backs up his blurb:

"The social issues are part and parcel of the tapestry and style of Fun Radio's output. It is mixed in with the flow, in a non-patronising, entertaining way. There is nothing more likely to turn young people off than preaching at them."

Mr Park is a Scot, and as a former broadcaster with Radio Clyde, feels he knows his target audience, but Fun Radio has also done its research. Selected schools in the central belt have been issued with questionnaires in an attempt to find out what kids and teachers would like from their radio station. Fun Radio also plans to set up two Radio Cafes, in Glasgow and Edinburgh, where listeners can become broadcasters, both in extended interviews and in "snippets".

Mr Park says: "We'll be meeting masses of our audience every day." He also has plans for Fun Radio roadshows which will go into schools and introduce children to broadcasting "in a very touchy-feely way".

Park guesses that Fun Radio should reach from north Fife to the Borders, but, he adds: "If we prove ourselves, it will be the forerunner of great expansion. We expect to take financial losses in the short term, but we know that this is the format of the future. "

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