Friday, 14 October 2011

Does Regional Exist?

Alan Towers; Broadcasting Icon
I was born and brought up in Nottinghamshire. Not an exciting way to start a post, but it's true. When I was growing up we watched 'Midlands Today' with the great Alan Towers and Kay Alexander. We watched it because it was the 'local' news and it was the only place to get TV mentions of Nottingham. However it mainly talked about Birmingham, and Warwickshire, and Staffordshire and eventually Nottingham.

Then the great day came and in 1991... East Midlands Today was born and I realised that I lived in The East Midlands. That knowledge in the head of a 17 year old meant nothing. I lived in Nottinghamshire and that was an end to it.

I tell you this because after the DQF (Delivering Quality First) dust has settled and the BBC have their proposals on the table a friend and highly respected former colleague voiced his concern about 'regional' he said to me that regional doesn't exist and we are either Local or National.

He has a point.
A version of The East Midlands

In Nottinghamshire we were grouped into 'The East Midlands' which is very different from 'The West Midlands'. In The West Midlands there is Birmingham the countries second city that sprawls across county lines and into other cities, Coventry, Wolverhampton, towns of Dudley, Solihul etc. To an outsider it's very difficult to work out where Birmingham begins and the others end (OK Coventry is a bit split off but you know what I mean). 'The West Midlands' like it or not filters into Birmingham.

So let's look at 'The East Midlands' shall we?

Where is it?

It's Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, and Leicestershire... plus Rutland, Northamptonshire (not in the broadcasting area 'East Midlands'), Lincolnshire (not in the broadcasting area 'East Midlands') maybe some of Staffordshire around Burton On Trent and for some reason according to the map the south banks of The Humber. Emotionally you can exclude Northamptonshire as they are in a floating alliance with Bedfordshire. You exclude lots of North Derbyshire and a bit of North Nottinghamshire as it's more aligned to 'the North' than 'The East Midlands'. There's the problem that some people even add Peterborough into the mix and North East Lincolnshire is more or less Hull and Humberside... Can you see the problem with regionality? It's ill defined and woolly. If you get to the edges it means nothing. If you're in the centre it means little.

For all the years that I lived in Nottinghamshire I never shopped in Derby, Leicester or Lincoln; why should I, we had all the same stuff in Nottingham and Nottingham was bigger and better than those other places. If I felt giddy I may motor to Birmingham for a shop or go up to Sheffield's Meadow Hall, but never to the closest cities.

No one did.

Very few people do.

If I were going all the way to Leicester from Nottingham (25ish miles) I may as well go to Birmingham (50ish miles) and make a day of it.

If it's not Local it may as well be national.

So where does that leave the BBC? Their plans for Local Radio rest on regional shared programmes all afternoon. Why would anyone living in Chesterfield care about Market Harborough? It's 70 miles away, if you went in the opposite direction you'd get beyond Harrogate in North Yorkshire; they may as well listen to a national programme.

Regional is a handy thing for local government but slightly irrelevant for anything else.

The West...
I now live in The West; Gloucestershire to be precise... no actually it's The Forest Of Dean to be precise. I shop in Gloucester, Cheltenham, Monmouth, Bristol, Birmingham, Worcester, Ledbury and Cinderford. I live my life in an hour radius that takes in Cardiff, Newport, Abergavenny, The Cotswolds, Warwick... etc. etc. How do you define my regional loyalties... I'd probably say, average.

It's not just broadcasting that has a view of 'Regional' that doesn't tally with how people live their lives. Business clings to regionality like a standard in the march against the recession; groups of like minded individuals work to secure the health of regional business and it's a wonderful thing! However, does the customer / service user care? or has no one asked that question before?

'Local' has become more important as 'Local' services are cut and 'Local' shops and businesses go under it matters to us, but if we can't get a service or a product locally do we then try to go regionally? No we go on the internet and we don't care where it comes from just as long as we get it.

'Regional', with old inter city rivalries, communities being governed from a city to which no one goes, with a poorly defined identity or boundary doesn't work. 'Regional' as a group of distinct and proud local communities pulling together for the greater good just might... now lets see someone produce a radio station that covers that concept. Oh yes, it's the local radio network.

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