A controversial ‘dumbed down’ new morning programme on Wales’ only national English-language radio station which has secured record-breaking low audience figures was described by listeners as “awful”, “abysmal“, and “one of the worst programmes I have heard in a long time” The Eye can disclose.
An audience member also said ‘Breakfast with Claire Summers‘ which began yesterday, sounded like community radio and that lines were fluffed.
A leading former presenter on the station, BBC Radio Wales (RW), has already complained to Ofcom that it had “declined”, and a prominent politician has spoken to the regulator about his ‘concerns’.
One contributor to the Digital Spy online forum has now said: “(The) New Breakfast Show, sounds like a community radio station bloody awful. Woman presenter has a grating voice and is fluffing her lines. Morning news programme should contain news”.
A further comment on the forum was also heavily critical: “No longer ‘Good Morning Wales’. There seems to be some sort of posse. Hmnnn”
Another regular RW listener said: “(It was) one of the worst programmes I have heard in a long time”.
A leading commentator wrote: “Frankly, I thought it was abysmal”.
Even before the programme aired, the axing of its predecessor Good Morning Wales (GMW) came under fire, and a clue was given to the disastrous listening figures for RW.
A radio listener wrote to the South Wales Echo: “I haven’t listened to Radio Wales for more than a year – why? It’s the old boy/girl network of TV/radio presenters”.
The ‘magazine-style’ of programmes in the new RW schedules has had a difficult birth.
A few weeks before the ‘dumbed down’ line up was to hit the airwaves we showed how the Editor of RW Colin Paterson had to apologise after making incorrect assertions about Ms Summers on Twitter.
He said she would “… be the only female journalist anywhere in the UK to take on the role of solo presenter for a national breakfast news programme”.
Yet the extraordinary statement immediately drew a response from Julia Hartley-Brewer of Talk Radio who tweeted ironically: “I guess I’m just the wrong kind of woman”.
Other shocked radio listeners also pointed out Mr Paterson’s mistake and he then said: “Amended now, quite right. Apologised to Julia.”.
Contentiously the new breakfast programme was ‘all-speech’ without reporter ‘packages’, while Good Evening Wales (which was presented in the early 2000s by our Editor Phil Parry) was to be replaced by a shorter drivetime news programme from five pm to six thirty.
Commentators have noted the particular skills of the ‘breakfast’ presenter Ms Summers, and it has been recorded: “In 2005 … Summers had to lead a Welsh Black cow called Ceridwen at the Royal Welsh Show”.
But the headline-grabbing new programmes will have an uphill task in countering the falling listening figures.
The weekly audience ‘reach’ for RW, stands in stark contrast to what Mr Paterson had proclaimed he could achieve.
For the station’s 40th birthday commemorations last year, he had told media executives it would be approaching 500,000.
In fact it is more than 180,000 below this figure.
A leading former presenter on RW for over 10 years (who has been described by Wikipedia as one of the ‘main’ presenters at the launch of the station) Mike Flynn, was heavily critical of ‘Breakfast with Claire Summers‘ telling us: “I’ve heard better community radio than this.
“£18 million a year for audio garbage.”
In the past he has also warned the regulator Ofcom that the audience figures for RW are “dismal”, and has linked to one of the stories on The Eye.
Mr Flynn has also written to the Director of Ofcom in Wales Eleanor Marks saying: “I am dismayed at the way the station has declined over the last few years to the point where it now scores the lowest audience figures in its history. Radio Wales has just over 4% of Welsh ears while Radio 2 has a massive 40% reach. Clearly something is seriously wrong. By comparison Radio Ulster has 20% and Radio Scotland 10%”.
He has already called for the resignation of Mr Paterson, along with that of his superior, the Director of BBC Cymru Wales (BBCCW) Rhodri Talfan Davies stating to us: “Paterson has not responded to my demands to resign or indeed had the decency to discuss where this strategy is leading. He is a public servant not some cavalier local businessman running a chip shop. £18 million in the kitty and the listeners are deserting in droves. I really believe Rhodri Talfan Davies (the Director of BBCCW) needs to consider his position as well.”
The alleged ‘dumbing down’ of RW has also been heavily criticised by prominent politicians.
The Deputy Economy Minister in Wales Lee Waters AM has said publicly he is worried by what is happening and that there should be ‘serious’ and ‘challenging’ journalism.
Mr Waters used a meeting with Ms Marks to object to the decision to drop the Good Morning Wales (GMW) programme.
Mr Waters (himself a producer on GMW in the past) said the changes would mean there would be “no serious news programme” broadcast at breakfast time.
His comments echo statements on Twitter when he has called for more ‘challenging’ journalism.
He quoted approvingly a call for “… serious, challenging journalism and consistently high-quality radio programmes which make politicians nervous…”
He has tweeted to BBCCW after the new schedule was announced: “Really concerned about this – absolutely nothing against Claire, but plenty against magazine format. We need agenda-setting news & scrutiny in this slot. You’re a national public service broadcaster. Where else are we going to get it?”.
The objections of Mr Waters have now been adopted by the Welsh Government.
He has expressed concern at the changes to Ofcom, which is the external regulator of the BBC’s television, radio and on-demand programmes.
He said: “We feel that as a public service broadcaster, with a duty under its latest charter to reflect the nations, that they have an obligation to provide serious news and scrutiny. Just as BBC Scotland and BBC network do.
“I understand they feel the need to build an audience and to go after the audience that had previously been listening to commercial radio, but in the Welsh media scene they are the only outlet providing serious news in the breakfast-time slot.
“Their obligation to public service broadcasting goes beyond chasing audiences”.
But BBCCW remains fully behind the controversial changes to the RW schedule, saying it was “committed to delivering news to the widest audience”.
Yet it seems that some in that audience think their new morning programme is ‘awful’ listening…
Our Editor Phil Parry’s memories of his extraordinary 35-year award-winning career in journalism as he was gripped by the incurable disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major new book A Good Story’. Order the book now. The picture doubles as a cut-and-paste poster!