What’s your earliest radio memory? It’s a question that the print edition of Radio Times regularly asks in its Face Behind the Voice column — a Q&A with a radio presenter — and the answers add up to a snapshot of radio history. But it’s striking how often the Radio 1 chart show crops up, usually tape-recorded for repeat enjoyment.
The best pop will always appeal to children, so it’s no surprise that, over the years — from Alan Freeman to Bruno Brookes — the Top 40 countdown has provided an entry point for the young listener.
But what of radio programmes specifically aimed at children? CBeebies consists of radio as well as TV, but Radio 4’s Go4It — aimed at slightly older children — ended in 2009 after eight years, and the attention of many a young pair of ears remains to be captured. That’s where Fun Kids radio comes in.
This column’s fortnight off included an introduction to Fun Kids radio, just because of the time of year. Even though we can all now listen to what we want in our own private space, the summer holidays do open up other possibilities. A long car journey, for example, might be a time when all the members of a family will listen to the same thing. And when everyone’s bored of the same audiobooks, that might mean Fun Kids radio.
As well as its all-day schedule of programmes — from 6am to 9pm with chill-out music for the grown-ups through the night — Fun Kids radio has since 2009 also created podcasts, and lively, intelligent offerings they are too. Programme-length podcasts — 25 minutes to 40 minutes — include Fun Kids Science Weekly and Fun Kids Book Club.
And then there are lots of shorts — three to four minutes on subjects that range from Age of the Dinosaurs to Amazing Inventions. Podcasts of the Beano with Dennis the Menace and Gnasher are a big draw. There was an eight-minute interview that the Book Club’s Bex Lindsay did with celebrated children’s author Jacqueline Wilson recently that I found very interesting.
Of course I am not exactly part of Fun Kids’ target audience, so I enlisted the help of two eight-year-olds — James and Hebe — and invited them to listen. “Quite good,” was James’s verdict on an edition of the Science Weekly podcast that went on a tour of HMS Belfast. And if I know James — who lives in Plymouth and is mad on ships — that counts as high praise.
Hebe, from south London, emailed to say she had listened to an edition of the science podcast about whale hearts, and about why people need to drink so much water. “My opinion is that the podcast should be a bit shorter and have a larger range of science subjects,” she wrote. “I personally think that there should be multiple presenters, maybe one for each subject. But I really liked the awesomely vast array of podcasts.” Dan Simpson is the very excellent presenter of the Science Weekly podcast. But maybe he should look out.
With very little competition from within the UK, Fun Kids radio has an audience of 290,000 but deserves its success. Partners it works alongside in making programmes and podcasts include the UK Space Agency, the National Gallery, the Bank of England, the Intellectual Property Office and the British Heart Foundation.
When I approached Hebe’s father – my friend Mike — he reacted by saying how much he wanted his children to get into listening to radio, and Fun Kids can clearly play a role in that. I asked James what radio he was aware of and the programme he mentioned was Radio 4’s Just a Minute, which he’d heard on the family radio in the kitchen.
I guess radio is something that reaches you by osmosis as you grow up. For me it was doing the washing-up to the accompaniment of I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again, and that process isn’t going away. Latest figures from JAMJAR, which monitors listening among nine- to 14-year-olds, reveals that 74 per cent of them listen to radio every week, and 18 per cent listen to podcasts. Which is really encouraging.