Refreshing BBC Radio 2

Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas (Head of Content Commissioning at BBC Radio 2) and Jeff Smith (Head of Music at BBC Radio 2) discussed how to effectively make changes at a market leading radio station. 

They questioned when the best time to refresh a station is – and the dangers around turning off loyal listeners with change.

Helen pointed out that sometimes change isn’t called for, but needs to be handled regardless, as is the case with the Chris Evans’ breakfast show. She framed the experience as an opportunity to look ahead as a station and said “always, always have a contingency plan.”

And they talked about the new breakfast show on BBC Radio 2, presented by Zoe Ball. They highlighted the “family vibe” of the show and the station, and how important that is for listeners. And Jeff talked about his changes to the music selection, which he said is led by listener feedback as much as his own choices.

They also discussed how quickly you can know as a programmer whether a presenter or show is ‘working’. Jeff suggested that you need a couple of books to judge it properly.

Helen spoke about the gender balance on BBC Radio 2 – and how they chose to have both a female Breakfast presenter and female Drive presenter in Sara Cox. She said that they chose both presenters on their merit but that she’s proud to see women taking prominent positions.

The conversation moved to other parts of the schedule, from Rylan to Will Young and Graham Norton. Helen said that “the key quality of a Radio 2 presenter is warmth” and that a mix of talent, from through-and-through radio guys to presenters from different backgrounds, builds the strength and depth of a station.

This session provided one prominent example that schedule changes can be a really positive move for a radio station.

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