Monday, March 28, 2011

What next for BBC local radio?

There's a fear gathering pace about the future of BBC Local Radio. One of a number of strategic options being considered is for the stations to be boiled down to peak time opt outs from Radio 5 Live.

As a contributor to BBC Radio Manchester I see at close quarters the dedication and professionalism of the people I work with and the conditions and resources they operate in. So much that is good is down to the people who present the programmes and everything that doesn't come up to scratch is as a result of the murky BBC politics that sits on everyone's shoulder like a black dog.

Example: our programme on Monday evening features music. I don't know why, it is confusing to the listener and makes no logical sense. It should be a talk format about business in Manchester, punctuated by news and traffic. It is much more coherent as a podcast with the Phil Collins and Backstreet Boys taken out. Probably why the podcast has one of the highest number of downloads on BBC local radio.

The interviews are good, the format is relaxed and recently we've had additional items from the business team in London feeding in reports such as today's launch of a new start-up programme. However, it's being cut. I imagine the team will find a way round this, but it's another example of death by a thousand cuts.

I have no reason to believe this experience is any different on other slots. Local radio is frequently boxed into music, community, speech and talk formats because someone centrally says so. Breakfast formats are all speech, for example. Just as the drivetime slot has to have music.Yet local radio is at its best when it is closest to the people it seeks to serve. Good producers and presenters know what works and most importantly, they know what works in Manchester, Cumbria, or wherever.

You can't help but feel that the BBC unit (DQF - Delivering Quality First) which is employed to dream up new strategy ideas are re-running what happened with BBC 6 Music. Threaten to scrap it, say it's just one of a number of options - plausible deniability - watch the backlash; if it's isolated and weak, then proceed, if it's strong then retreat gracefully, saying 'look, we listen'. Remind people what they could lose - gain free publicity out of the indignation. Carry on regardless.  Frankly, I think it deserves a better level of debate than this.


Anonymous said...

Please sign and share what your station means to you. Thanks.

Lee said...

I don't think local radio is very good in this country as it is. Whenever I tune in it seems to be music, sport or ethnic programming. Local news, politics, culture and history seem to get very little airtime.

Michael Taylor said...

Lee, Thanks for your comment. I think so many BBC stations seem to operate on the same formula. It makes no sense to try and have a one size fits all structure that will apply in Cumbria and, say, Liverpool.