BBC Radio Scotland to shift focus to news and sport

Picture: John Devlin
Picture: John Devlin
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The head of BBC Radio Scotland is to step down ahead of a revamp of the corporation’s flagship station in Scotland, which will see it become dedicated to news and sport.

Jeff Zycinski, head of radio, will depart his role next year after nearly a quarter of a century with the BBC, amid plans to create a new station focused on music.

Former Head of RadioScotland Jeff Zycinski. Photographer: BBC/Alan Peebles

Former Head of RadioScotland Jeff Zycinski. Photographer: BBC/Alan Peebles

It comes as the BBC’s plans for a new television channel for Scotland have been put out for consultation as part of a public interest test, ahead of a referral to the regulator, Ofcom.

Donalda MacKinnon, who was appointed director of BBC Scotland last December, has recently overseen a restructuring of her senior management team, with Ewan Angus appointed head of multiplatform commissioning, and Pauline Law becoming head of multiplatform content production.

The overhaul essentially takes responsibility for commissioning away from the head of radio, who is responsible for scheduling programmes for the station.

Mr Zycinski said it was a “very good time” for him to explore other possibilities outside the BBC and expressed confidence that the station he has helmed for the past 12 years had a “great future ahead”.

His decision to depart the BBC coincides with ongoing discussions at Pacific Quay concerning a second Scottish radio channel.

A pilot pop-up station, Radio Scotland Music Extra, was well received last autumn, and Ms MacKinnon told MSPs in February she was keen to launch a second national station on a permanent basis.

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It is understood the existing Radio Scotland would focus on news, features, magazine discussion formants, and sports coverage, while the new station would become home to existing presenters such as Vic Galloway. Nicola Meighan, and Bryan Burnett.

No decision has been taken on whether the new station would be digital-only, and it is expected it would not be introduced until the first quarter of 2019 at the earliest, subject to Ofcom’s approval.

In his email to staff, Mr Zycinski, 54, said he was announcing his impending departure so that “Donalda, Ewan and Pauline can make progress with their plans for a new commissioning and production structure and can start advertising any new posts that are to be created.”

He wrote: “The BBC’s emphasis on contestability between in-house and independent suppliers – especially now in this multi-platform environment – doesn’t allow for a traditional head of radio with responsibilities for both production and commissioning.

“For me, therefore, this seems like a very good time to look for other opportunities. It’s been said that you can’t discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore, so that’s why I’ll be pursuing those opportunities outside the BBC.

“I’ll be saying goodbye in January or February and in the meantime I’ll continue to steer through the existing commissions and deal with all the regular station management and scheduling issues.”

When Mr Zycinski was appointed as head of radio in January 2005, Radio Scotland had an average weekly audience of 1,069,000. The figure currently stands at 952,000, the highest audience since 2013, RAJAR figures show.

Ms MacKinnon paid tribute to Mr Zycinski , describing him as a “passionate leader and advocate for radio broadcasting, as well as a generous and supportive colleague,” whom she would “very much miss.”

In an email to staff, she said that her “advocacy of and commitment to radio for and from Scotland remains firmly as strong as ever,” adding: “In the meantime, Jeff will continue to work with Pauline, Ewan and I as we progress our plans for a multi-platform organisation and transition to a new structure for the future.”