Symbolically. at any rate. the nadir of the station's fortunes was reached over the unfortunate ‘Oueen is Dead' affair. What was really the intention ofthe message. stating just that. that reached the continuity broadcaster on air at the time still remains a mystery. But whether a test of procedures that highlighted their inadequacies. or a joke that went badly wrong. the incident led to the resignation of the station's Controller. .lohn Pickles. The message. which said the Queen was dead was never actually read on the air. and Pickles later successfully claimed unfair dismissal. but the damage to the station‘s news authority had been done.
The climb back to viability probably started with BBC Scotland Controller Patrick Ramsay's ‘Second Blueprint' for the station. In it the re-establishment of the R4 origins was made and enshrined in the curt "l‘here will be talk and conversation and less blether‘. But the real credit for what may yet be seen as one of Radio's greatest success stories. belongs with the programmes themselves. Series like Billy Kay's Odyssey and the now to be highly respected (iood Morning Scotland. together with a strong strand in drama. have helped to establish Radio Scotland‘s reputation and audience.
The significance of the success of Radio Scotland lies in what's happening to local radio in the rest of Britain. Radio London was reborn last month as ( ireater London Radio
and a similar exercise is intended for Radio Manchester. Faced with falling ratings for the predominately speech-based output of these stations. the revamps will rely on a more overtly music-based formula. BBC local radio is being forced to compete more directly with the commercial stations just at a time when deregulation is going to lead to a superabumlance of local commercial stations. An increasing number of BBC watchers believe that BBC local radio. with its public service remit will simply become too expensive to survive.
But the position for Radio Scotland is rather different. ‘lt would be a cool wind tndeed.’ says Dan .‘ylacleod. Lecturer in Media Studies at Stirling t'niversity. ‘that would result in the repeal of Radio Scotland.‘ Macleod believes that while Nationalism may not be as politically dominant as in 1978 there are still ‘very strong cultural undercurrents of Nationalism' which would result in an outcry if the BBC tried to abolish Radio Scotland. “What could they offer as an alternative‘.’ Paradoxically. it would probably be more economic after ten years to leave Radio Scotland as it is rather than attempt to set up some other model‘.
Neil i‘rascr. l lead of Radio Scotland. agrees that ‘We’re hell ofa lucky to have Radio Scotland and particularly lucky that the philosophical decision was made to maintain it as a speech based station’. Fraser does face cuts in
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expenditure and many BBC Scotland employees have been saddened by the decision not to build the new Edinburgh broadcasting centre. ‘We've got to reduce our operating costs by 1"} per annum over the next five years. but that doesn't mean that we won't be able to improve the service at the same time. It may be possible to shed some jobs in radio and convert that money into programme finance . . .' Such are the harsh realities of financing broadcasting in the eighties. Currently Fraser has undertaken a major shake tip of the schedules (see Radio in Listings for details of new programmes) based on the theme of evening broadcasting. but he sees it. as much as anything. as an attempt to identify where the future audience for the station will come from. ‘We have had a lack oftools to determine
our target audience‘. Fraser told me. ‘Partly I see the approach as an . experiment which allows us to do a piece of market research.‘ says Fraser. who will be carrying out audience research in January to assess the success of the programmes and the strategy. Fraser agrees that Radio Scotland didn't have the sort oflistener loyalty that “R stations were able to command: ‘I don‘t think it does have that kind of loyalty and we are going to have to work much harder at selling the concept of Radio Scotland.‘
Fraser also has the task of reversing the trend of an ageing audience profile — hence the emphasis on youth programmes in the new schedule -- but partly he sees his battle as a technical one. ensuring. for instance. that for the growing number ofcar listeners the station is actually receivable on motorway journeys. In this task he will have to convince the BBCin London. for while Radio Scotland has complete editorial control on technical matters it‘s often London that makes the policy decisions.
lfNeil Fraser is able to ‘restore the art of radio' in his programming of Radio Scotland — and that is. he says. oneofhisintentions~ Scotland could find itselfas it enters the leth century in the enviable position of possessing its own national public broadcast station as well as a myriad of new community stations. Without devolution that‘s something Scotland‘s never likely to achieve for its television service.
the list It 724 November 19889