Radio boon for young London

21st September 2001 at 01:00
Campaigners accuse BBC of turning a deaf ear to calls for a national station for children. Helen Ward reports.

A NEW children's radio station for London could be a boon for schools, but campaigners are furious that plans for a national service have been dismissed by the BBC.

Susan Stranks, former presenter of Magpie, the 1970s children's television programme, has been campaigning to improve children's radio for more than 10 years.

Now Digital Radio Group (DRg), a consortium that has won the right to broadcast 11 services in London, is to air music and stories for children under 10-years-old on a new service, with the working title Abracadabra.

The children's station will feature mostly singalong music, such as Ten Green Bottles, Runaway Train and Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport. There will also be stories and quizzes. It will be on air between 6am and 7pm, seven days a week, from January. But Ms Stranks, who is already working on the output for Abracadabra, is angry that there is no children's broadcaster in the BBC's proposals for five national digital radio stations.

She said: "Radio offers something distinctly different from television. It develops imaginative, communication and concentration skills. Television imposes the producer's view of the story being told. If children hear a story, their imagination is stimulated. It is much more reactive and interactive.

"We see a digital service for London as a first step towards a national network,'' she said. "But Abracadabra is for children in Greater London; children throughout the country need this."

Another hurdle is the lack of digital radio sets. Ms Stranks is hoping that Children 2000, the campaign group of which she is a founder director, can gain lottery funding towards providing every nursery and primary school with a digital radio.

Sue Palmer, a literacy consultant, said: "I think children need to learn to listen, and radio is an ideal vehicle. Children are coming into schools with very poor listening skills, which means teaching them to read through phonics is very difficult."

Chris Davis, of the National Primary Headteachers' Association, said: "I think things have swung too much to the visual. School radio broadcasts seem to have almost gone, which is a disappointment. There is a very strong place for radio or a sound medium, in particular in things like creative writing.''

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