July 20, 2010

Posted by in Broadcast at 9:47 am
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I have a vested interest in local radio, that I should make clear.

On first hearing about the news of Heart (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/jun/21/heart-global-radio-restructure), Smooth (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/jun/29/smooth-radio-merge-regional-stations) and even Gold reducing the amount of local and regional programming I was more than a little upset.

So why do I like local and regional radio programming?

Firstly it allows us across the markettiers4dc Group, including Sound Creative in particular, where I work, to upweight local messages across any number of the campaigns we deliver.

Secondly it was responsible for some of the greatest days of my life as a child. You see, it was local radio, in my case Reading's 210 FM, that at the slightest hint of snow we would gather round the radio with a view to establishing if school was cancelled and we had a day of placing carrotts on the faces of snow men.

Local radio is at the very heart of many communities and is not purely responsible of alliviating children of their educational duties.

A prime example of where local radio was placed at the very heart of a community can be found back in 1997 at the Grand National. The event was cancelled after an IRA bomab scare threat (http://www.bbc.co.uk/liverpool/content/articles/2006/12/01/local_history_aintree_1997_feature.shtml). I have never been lucky enough to go to Aintree but I am assured by friends that the car park is in the middle of the track. So you had a large number of people in Liverpool without anywhere to stay, without their bags, cars and belongings. You also had the added headache of most hotels completely full because it was Grand National season.

A combination of the people of Liverpool's good nature and BBC Radio Merseyside offered a response to be remembered: The radio station set up a sort of 'crisis swap shop' (my term, not theirs). Those stranded in Liverpool were able to call into BBC Radio Merseyside and station what they needed, “ …… we are two couples after a bed for the night - our car is stranded in Aintree, you see- and listeners from BBC Radio Merseyside would call up and offer spare rooms, lifts from Aintree and even a change of clothes for the destitute race goers.

So what will happen now local radio is being reduced?

Well let's be clear, whilst the amount of local content is being reduced local radio is not being taken away completely. Heart will still give us 18 Regional Stations and of those all will have a local Breakfast, Afternoon DriveTime show and a weekend breakfast show.

Further to that those stations that aren't owned by Global Radio and GMG are sticking slightly more rigidly to their original promise of local performance.

The changes will result in more 'networked programming', however. This is where 'less local radio' should reap rewards in the form of large audiences, particularly for commercial radio. The Big top 40 is a networked show that runs across 145 local stations and still reaches more adults than the top 40 countdown on BBC Radio One.

Networked programming allows commercial radio to secure national big name talent and deliver it to listeners on a local level.

Costs of local radio should be reduced and, once we are out of the current economic situation, commercial radio should be able to use this money to invest in better programming.

It is also worth noting that there are ways to use regional radio on a local level that we have been employing for a little while: My colleagues within markettiers4dc will talk to you about local newsrooms which all feed into regional hubs. In Sound Creative we are able to employ local transmitters for pre-recorded trails to drive listeners to an event or make listeners aware of a localised message. Even with national commercial station Classic FM we have placed trails on the London only transmitter to drive footfall and traffic to the website of a London only store.

So is the demise of local radio such a bad thing?

We may get better programming and commercial radio should get stronger. The markettiers4dc Group may have to work harder to secure effective localised coverage, something we are not adverse to.

I feel most for kids waking up in the morning when there is the slightest hint of snow on the ground, however. You see 210 FM was changed to Heart Berkshire and this station has subsequently merged with what was Fox FM (now Heart Oxfordshire) to make Heart Thames Valley and now has to cover an area twice the size of what it used to. I know from experience how agonising the wait was before the breakfast show presenters told me if my school was cancelled. Now there will be at least twice as many schools to go through.


  1. July 20, 2010

    Dominic Parker

    I think that you are looking at this story with a very Londoncentric focus. There are still many local stations servicing their communities across the country.

    Local radio is not dead and in fact there is a very strong arguement that the more Global Network their stations the stronger smaller groups like Orion Media, who recognise the value of being as local as possible, will become as we offer something that Global cant provide

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