Friday, 7 October 2011

Local Radio.

Me & Katherine Jenkins On Local Radio
Sometimes memory creeps up on you. There's a feeling more than an image, it lurks in the back of your mind waiting to mug you on Memory Lane and leave you there unable to get on with your day. It keeps happening to me and I think it's because of the BBC cuts announced yesterday and the associated blogging*

I have a complicated emotional relationship with Local Radio. I've worked in Local Radio as a traffic reporter, radio car reporter, programme assistant, broadcast assistant, marketer, presenter, producer, broadcast journalist and manager. For 16 years it was the reason I got up in the morning and the thing that kept me from my bed. When it was good it made me cry or laugh or shout or just think about the world around me... when it was bad... no one felt the fall out. 

In 2000 I was working in a BBC station that I'm not going to name. My career in commercial radio had come to a shuddering anti-climax and I'd retreated back to the bosom of Auntie Beeb. The Editor of the station (station manager) and I would often drink tea in his office and try and be creative. One day he asked me what would happen to a commercial breakfast presenter if they didn't mention the stations name on air all week and were constantly reminded. I said that they'd be replaced. He sighed and told me that in the BBC there was little chance of that as they had too many hoops to jump through even to get an official warning. The station would have to put up with a presenter who couldn't remember to say it's name.

See what I mean about memory mugging you? That was a decade ago and the BBC is so much better now; the importance of branding, of giving a message, and of identifying yourself so the transient listener knows what they're listening to has been beaten into most of its staff. 

BBC Local Radio is slick, professional and ambitious and it's still as remarkable as ever.

Then came the belt tightening. I saw it as a programme maker and a manager and now I'm seeing it as an outsider. The last time the focus moved from programme making to News (with a capital N) and at the time I thought that was a dead end of an idea... I always thought it should be stories not news... People listen to radio because of the emotional connection that you build with broadcasters who are able to tell stories. It's not functional, it's emotional. If you ask why people choose a station it's because they like it. They like the personalities, they like the connection, they like the localness.

Local Radio at it's heart is Local... stupid to say really eh? But as I blog the plans are to take away the thing that attracts an audience. I presented a shared breakfast show across 3 BBC Local Radio Stations and found it a constricting and bland experience. Part of the joy of Local Radio is that you share the lives of your listeners, you shop in the same shops, you drive the same roads, you have the same colour wheely-bins (a minor point) but for that programme I didn't. I was in a box with Schroedinger's cat and as soon as I shared something local I identified where I was broadcasting from and the localness waveform would collapse. It didn't serve anyone properly, and that is going to be the shape of afternoons on BBC Local Radio.

It's because it's the programme that gets fewest listeners through the day. So now it will be less relevant to the audiences lives and the listening figures will fall again. I know from my own experience that if you mention the idea of shopping outside your own county the calls come in thick and fast that you should be supporting local business, how dare you! Is this listenership really interested in what's happening 75 miles away in Taunton? 

Making BBC Local Radio less local hurts; not just the people who work on the programmes, or the audience figures but the wider reputation of the BBC. 

There's going to be an unforseen economic effect too. Local radio supports the economy locally just think of the Charities with an urgent need of support, the local businesses who want to challenge opinion, show that the economy is working or just become the stories themselves... They will certainly find it far more difficult to get air time... (media training would help of course. Sorry, I still have to make a living)

The wider cuts will be difficult, but I think that Local Radio Cuts will be the most difficult. 

The figures suggest that the Local Radio listenership is older... 

... that older people are the only ones who vote... 

... that the voter to the Conservative Party is older... 

Nice one Mr Cameron looks like that licence fee freeze wasn't such a good idea after all.


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