Broadcaster Roger Bolton has suggested the BBC is “spooked” by the decline in young audiences to traditional radio.
Bolton, 76, was speaking after being dropped as host of Radio 4’s Feedback after 23 years.
“If you were running Radio 4, you must be worried by the fact that not many young people are coming to listen to you,” Bolton said.
A BBC spokesperson said the station had always “kept up with the fast changing broadcasting landscape”.
After his exit made newspaper headlines at the weekend, Bolton told BBC News he did not hold a grudge and understood the corporation’s drive to attract new audiences.
‘They have to be careful’
“The BBC is spooked, generally, by the fact that younger people are not coming to broadcast programmes, so they’re investing very heavily in podcasts, and hoping that that way, they’ll attract younger people,” he said.
“At the same time, they have to be careful that their presenting team aren’t all of a certain age… So my guess is, and I’ve no first-hand knowledge of this, that this [decision] is part of the process. They’ve looked at the presenters, people who’ve been here for a long time, and they’ve decided to make some changes – not an unreasonable thing to do.”
A spokesperson for the corporation told BBC News: “Throughout the decades, Radio 4 has kept up with the fast-changing broadcasting landscape by occasionally refreshing its programmes and team of presenters, creating new opportunities along the way.
“We’re hugely grateful to Roger for being a brilliant presenter of Feedback for nearly a quarter of a century. He’s been a champion of our listeners, asked incisive questions of programme makers and helped the audience understand more about BBC radio.”
The statement concluded: “We will announce the new presenter in due course, who will serve all our audience and ensure Feedback maintains its important job of demystifying the world of audio and holding programme makers and executives to account.”
Bolton noted that another BBC station, Radio 2, is also currently making significant changes to its schedule.
Some presenters, such as Vanessa Feltz, have left voluntarily for new jobs in the commercial sector, while others, including Steve Wright, Craig Charles and Paul O’Grady, have been removed or demoted.
Many will argue that chasing younger audiences is precisely what the BBC should be doing as it looks to replenish its existing audience in the future – something Bolton accepts.
This debate has been gathering momentum in recent months against a backdrop of doubt over the BBC’s future funding – Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has said the current licence fee settlement will be the last, and it is not yet certain what the funding model might be in decades to come.
Bolton acknowledged: “I do think that the BBC will have to find younger broadcasters in their attempt to reach a younger audience and ensure the BBC continues. So there’s a general policy which you’d applaud, of course. But individually,” he joked, “it’s a pain in the backside.”
Speaking about the process of his departure, he explained that the contract to make Feedback is put out to tender every three years, with production companies invited to apply.
“Until now, when that advert has gone out, my name has been on it,” he said. “So in other words, they’re saying effectively that the presenter will be Roger Bolton, so don’t bother thinking of anyone else. But this time, it was different.”
He continued: “To be fair, the [Radio 4] controller asked me to come and have coffee with him, and he said that this time they would not be putting my name on the tender document, and were looking for suggestions for alternative presenters. And so it’s pretty clear what that meant.
“But I was never formally told that I wasn’t going to do it, and nor was I given any reasons. On the other hand, if you’ve been as fortunate as I have to do it for 23 years and you’re knocking on a bit, they have to think about the future.”
Feedback airs complaints, praise and other views sent in by listeners about BBC radio programmes, and is broadcast on Radio 4 on Fridays. It is produced by an external production company, partly for reasons of editorial independence.
Production company Juniper has produced the show for the last three years, but the next series, which begins in October, will be made by Whistledown Productions after they won the contract back.
Bolton said he was given about three months’ notice of the change, and his final programme was broadcast on Friday. He does not know who the new presenter will be.
He added: “There’s no reason that’s been given to me, and they’re keen that the programme be produced outside of London… and presumably also they want different-sounding voices.”
Bolton confirmed he was paid around £1,000 per programme, a relatively small sum compared with other BBC presenters, and his name has never appeared on the annual list of stars’ salaries.
“I’m not complaining about the amount, but anyone who thinks we’re talking about massive sums of money here is bonkers,” he said. “And if you look at Feedback itself, I know the budget is not more than £5,000 a programme.”
Bolton said he “would have loved to have gone on, but it has to end at some point… I’ve no grudges about the basic decision, I’m disappointed because I’d have liked to continue”.
“Traditionally, however, the BBC is not a sentimental organisation. For whatever reason, it can be, occasionally, quite cold.”