Beeb magazine keeps listeners in touch
By CHRIS CHAPEL
BBC World Service relies on its monthly BBC Worldwide Magazine to help its radio listeners keep track of schedules, which now differ around the world.
The English radio service used to be a 'one for all' product which resulted in odd schedules in many time zones.
Then, in April last year, the BBC split the service into five streams: Europe and the Middle East; Africa; South Asia; Asia Pacific; and the Americas.
The magazine carries all the reformed programme schedules and reports from BBC correspondents around the world.
'It was a challenge for us,' said Steve Weinman, the magazine's editor.
'World Service had been going 60 years with one main stream in English. That is now, suddenly, split into five streams.
'Before, we had a day-by-day guide and a blurb in The Times but we had to find a way to cater for all the streams. In the regional editions, we include all streams because so many readers are people on the move.' Under the old system, the BBC relied on repeats to ensure programmes would reach listeners around the world at convenient times.
'Inevitably, it ended up with programmes going out at awkward times for people,' Weinman said. 'They had become used to the inconvenience over the years and are only now getting used to the new formats.' Although BBC radio is under siege in Britain from commercial competitors (I learned this from BBC World Television on Cable TV), the World Service has a huge following - its audience response centre receives nearly one million letters a year.
The magazine also carries programme schedules for the television product, which is gradually increasing its penetration around the world.
Weinman said: 'When we set up the original BBC Worldwide Magazine three years ago, we did it because TV was just starting to come on stream outside Europe and we knew it would get bigger and bigger.' The magazine is available - and popular - in countries where World Service TV is unavailable, including Singapore and Malaysia.
The original BBC Worldwide Magazine replaced London Calling which had been running since 1939 and continues to exist as part of the present magazine.
'The old London Calling really didn't reflect the fact that BBC World Service is so strong on news and current affairs with the mix of programming in between. It was hard to reflect that with 16 pages of print. But with the magazine [currently running about 85 pages an issue], we can reflect far more what the correspondents do.' Dedicated BBC listeners buy the magazine both for the schedules and the correspondents' stories and Weinman said the fact that the magazine was designed for reading at leisure had proved attractive to advertisers.
Typical readers were well educated, well travelled business people, he said.
'In Asia, they are not [British] expatriates, although there is an element. It is overwhelmingly Asian readers.' So is it hard work commissioning print stories from the BBC's high-calibre broadcast journalists? 'It is difficult stopping them,' Weinman said. 'They love writing for the magazine. In fact, when we started off, for many of them it was the only time they had really had a chance to stretch out. We were giving them the chance to do 1,200 words in a different medium. It is more reflective stuff.' Rather than following the broadcast arms, the magazine has a strict policy of independent commissions.
Weinman said access to correspondents and programme guests was 'a huge resource'.
The magazine's circulation is 110,000 world-wide, including 20,000 for the Asian edition.
The magazine, as part of the World Service, is funded on a three-year basis by a government grant. However, it is expected to break even from advertising and subscriptions.