New kid on the block

Rhodri Talfan Davies says the launch of Wales’ second Welsh language radio service on Monday is a vital development for audiences in Wales, and for the language.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of BBC Radio Cymru to Welsh speakers.  Forty years after its launch, it remains the most popular radio station of all among fluent speakers with its remarkable blend of music, debate, entertainment, culture and hard-hitting news.

We’ve asked a lot of it over the years. For Welsh speakers, it’s been our debating chamber, our theatre, our concert hall, our sports stadium, our chapel, our town square, our library, our comedy club, and our local pub all rolled into one. For four decades, it’s been the only choice for listeners looking for Welsh language radio programming.

Well, that all changes next week because there’s a new kid on the block.

The launch of its new sister service, BBC Radio Cymru 2, on DAB and mobile will for the first time give Welsh language radio listeners a real choice in the mornings. The daily news and current affairs programme – Post Cyntaf – will continue on Radio Cymru, while the new service offers a lighter start to the day with a mix of music, chat and entertainment. It’s part of a major programme of reinvestment at BBC Wales following the renewal of the corporation’s charter.

At a time of galloping change in international media, the launch of Radio Cymru 2 could easily be lost in the noise of social media and global acquisitions. But that would be a mistake, because this is a vital development for anyone who cares about the role and the health of the Welsh language at the heart of Wales’ national life.

For me, the development and expansion of the BBC in the Welsh language is about something that goes beyond that wonderful Reithian trinity to inform, to educate and to entertain. There is an added objective: to sustain. To help sustain a culture, a community and a language.

And alongside our schools, the role of public service media in Wales becomes ever more critical in that social and cultural endeavour. In fact, as so many of the public spaces and gathering points that traditionally supported the Welsh language fade from view – whether it’s the chapel, the community hall or the village pub – the public space created by broadcasting takes on ever greater importance.

And I believe the broadcasters, both the BBC and S4C, are rising to that challenge too. In fact, Welsh language media is changing at an unprecedented speed to ensure it keeps pace with its audiences.

In the last three years, for example, the BBC’s Welsh language mobile service, Cymru Fyw, has more than trebled its audiences. It’s achieved this by developing its own distinctive voice, doubling down on news content and features that are deeply relevant to Welsh language communities. Its users now trust the BBC to produce stories and content that complement rather than replicate English language services. And on social media, both broadcasters are innovating, with Hansh (on S4C) and BBC Cymru Fyw cutting through with younger audiences who haven’t traditionally turned to the broadcast services.

Partnership has also grown between the Welsh language broadcasters in recent years – and it’s delivered a real creative dividend. Joint investment by S4C and BBC in major dramas like Hinterland/Y Gwyll – or the brand new series Un Bore Mercher and Craith – are putting Wales and the Welsh language on the global map like never before. And the launch of S4C onto BBC iPlayer two years ago has transformed the availability and viewing of Welsh language content right across the UK.

This is the context for the launch of Radio Cymru 2. At a time when audiences are demanding greater choice and control, it’s vital that Welsh language media keeps pace and adapts.

Of course, there are always the nay-sayers. The sceptics will tell you that Welsh broadcasting can’t cut through anymore in world of almost unlimited choice. And they’ll gently bore you about a golden age of broadcasting that never was.

Well, hang on a second. Yes, there’s growing competition. Yes, the growth of online and mobile services has meant radio listening among younger audiences has fallen. Yes, the challenge of reaching less fluent speakers only gets harder. But faced with all these headaches, Welsh language media still delivers a pretty powerful punch.

In fact, despite all the challenges, Radio Cymru to this day still attracts a third of fluent Welsh speakers every week. Think about that – that’s 1.4 million hours of Welsh language content consumed every week. One in three of us coming to a single radio station every week. If an English language station were to pull this off at a UK level, it would need to attract 18 million listeners. No station comes close of course. A great achievement and one we’re building on as Radio Cymru 2 prepares to hit the airwaves.

All articles published on Click on Wales are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.

Rhodri Talfan Davies is Director of BBC Wales.

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