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Nick Grimshaw (c) BBCWhat can BBC Radio 1 teach the church?

With a teenage daughter Rev Suzanne Cooke inevitably listens to BBC Radio 1 and thinks that the church can observe a thing or two from breakfast presenter Nick Grimshaw on how to attract and interact with young people in 2013.

I have a teenage daughter, she’s 14.  This means many things, some good and some not so good.  But one thing is pretty much unavoidable and that is our choice of radio station, which is now consistently tuned to Radio 1.   Mostly this is not too arduous, I have fairly eclectic taste when is comes to music, and actually enjoy a lot of what I hear. 

In terms of age range Radio 1 seeks to attract listeners between 14 and 29 – it would be fair to say, therefore, that I am a good deal older than the listener they are seeking to attract.  However, as someone who is always interested in cultural expressions that try to be at the cutting edge of what is new and innovative, Radio 1 interests me a great deal. 

A year ago the breakfast show host Chris Moyles was replaced by a younger presenter, Nick Grimshaw.  The station made the change in an attempt to reduce the listening age of the audience which previously had been around 33.  Apparently on taking over the role the listening figures dropped by around 900,000 - Chris Moyles obviously had his fans.  However, after the inevitable nervous beginnings figures have apparently rallied somewhat and the average age of their listeners has now reduced to 29, the lowest for some years. 

The task of trying to discern the wants and needs of this younger age bracket is of course notoriously slippery.  The speed of technological change and the fluidity of social media trends must make the job of the bosses at a giant organisation like the BBC nearly impossible – what is super popular today is old news tomorrow.   However, some of the differences between the Chris Moyles breakfast show and the Nick Grimshaw breakfast show seem to be reflected throughout the presenters and shows at the radio station. 

Gone are the lengthy conversations between the presenters and co-hosts with little or no music and limited interaction with listeners.  From the first morning Nick Grimshaw was talking to younger listeners, affirming the small details of their lives, reacting and responding on the level of friend and confidant.  Similarly the relationships between the presenters are increasingly being emphasised.  Whatever the truth might be, there are great efforts made to present the Radio 1 presenters as a big happy family that works and plays together.

I think it would be fair to say that even though they might be struggling, along with the rest of us, to make ends meet the BBC’s resources for discerning the social trends of this age group must be considerable.  Bearing that in mind I find it interesting and encouraging that an atmosphere of friendship and collegiality is what seems to be ‘fashionable’ in the studios of the UK’s leading radio station.

These of course are just my observations and I am sure there are many people who would not want to understand the underlying message of Radio 1 in such a positive way.  However, at a time when we as a church are struggling considerably with connecting with our young people, where most of us are trying to make those connections on limited budgets with limited resources, I would encourage you to put aside your personal preferences, likes and dislikes and try and engage, even a little bit, with those parts of our culture that are more successfully connecting with our youth. 

First-hand experience is always more valuable than someone else’s opinion and there is always something to be gained from dipping our toes into unfamiliar waters.  All that is needed is an open mind, a humble heart and a willingness to learn.

Rev Suzanne Cooke is the Priest in Charge of the Upper Tas Valley Benefice and the founder of Soul Circus, a regular creative, experimental service supported by the Diocese of Norwich and the Youth Task Force.  You can find out more at www.soulcircus.org.uk

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hoto: Nick Grimshaw presents his Radio 1 Breakfast Show - Photo by Mark Allan © BBC Shared by James Cridland on Flickr under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

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