The BBC started broadcasting in 1922, and its audience grew exponentially, but there was no audience research. It wasn’t until 1939 that the organisation dared ask its listeners “What do you like?” So for almost two decades, the nation’s only broadcaster worked in almost complete ignorance of its public.
This was a deliberate and determined ignorance. Lord Reith hated the idea of audience research, believing that the broadcaster’s aim should be to educate listeners, providing them with the sort of programmes they didn’t even know they wanted. Asking people what they enjoyed was a slippery slope to lowest-common-denominator programming: “He who prides himself on giving what he thinks the public wants is often creating a fictitious demand for low standards which he will then satisfy.”
We listen between the lines to radio archive from the past and uncover a complicated relationship between the BBC and its audience.
Saturday 7th June at 8pm, BBC Radio 4
Produced by Hannah Marshall
Presented by Matthew Sweet
Executive Producer Elizabeth Burke