Day three of The Bookseller’s Children’s Conference ended on an exceptionally high note with industry case studies from Giles Harris and Kay Hutchison. Both reflected on how COVID-19 lockdown restrictions have put a spanner in the works for publishing, but the industry is pulling out all the stops to ensure business as usual. Kay Hutchison of Belle Media was my favourite of these case studies with her discussion about the Captain Bobo series and the production of radio broadcasts. I had never heard of Belle Media or the Captain Bobo stories before the conference, but this fascinating introduction to both has sparked a keen interest in the world of children’s audiobooks and radio broadcasting.
The process of producing a radio play is a tough and lengthy one, filled with lots of paperwork and waiting. With COVID-19 striking in the middle of pre-production, Captain Bobo was put on hold. During her presentation, Kay Hutchison expressed the value of radio broadcasting which is often overlooked in the publishing industry. Specifically, if we are looking at work intended for a child audience, the added immersion of a radio play seems like a no-brainer, and yet it is a rare occurrence. Before, when I thought of a radio play, I was reminded of the likes of The War of the Worlds broadcast in the 1930s. But what Belle Media has produced is so much more than just a radio play. This lighthearted journey around the British Isles via radio is paving a new way of delivering children’s literature to its audience. The Captain Bobo series began its broadcast on September 24th, the time of Lockdown Limbo. While this must have been a production inconvenience, I feel that it is also a benefit for engagement. Belle Media indeed took the bull by the horns in terms of production, from getting John Sessions to be the English language narrator to translating the stories into Gaelic. The emphasis on audience engagement on a local scale makes this a unique series in the radio play sphere. Not only does this allow children to engage with a traditional language, but it also allows those with reading difficulties to be involved with the stories. I would argue that this is the core benefit to investing in radio broadcasting: a level of inclusivity that would otherwise be unachievable.
This talk was a great way to end a day at the conference because it leaves us with things to consider. Will we see more audiobooks on the radio? Will this branch out from children’s fiction? Is audio content going to develop a new identity within the publishing industry? These were only a few questions I began to ask, and I would encourage readers to do the same. The success of these paddle steamer stories on the radio has truly opened a new door in the ways of children’s content, and I cannot wait to see where we go from here.