WILL THE LAST ONE OUT, KINDLY TURN OFF THE LIGHTS

Anyone who has ever had to report disappointing RAJAR numbers up the line knows how difficult this can be. What shall we say, who can we blame?

Sometimes, you just have to take it on the chin

This has happened to me many times, once when I had to report a loss of over a million listening hours in a single quarter.

Lord Myners; Chairman of GMG at the time, reacted to the news by enquiring as to why I’d been so bloody careless? Clearly, he didn’t understand the ins and outs of RAJAR, but that didn’t stop him voicing his displeasure and to be honest, I was glad to escape with a minor bollocking.

I wonder how he’d react if I had to report a staggering yearly loss of over 11 MILLION hours and 350,000 listeners.

Spare a thought then for the head honcho of BBC local radio, David Holdsworth. He’s delivering that very message to Lord Hall right now.

Sadly, the really depressing number here is the over 45 figure – 286,000 have disappeared which account for an eye watering 9.2 MILLION hours respectively. This demo by the way is their core target market.

The Reason?

I refer you to my previous blog M’lord but this is the killer stat:

BBC local radio is losing a listener every thirty seconds of every day.

Is that not something to worry about?

Meanwhile, let’s raise a glass to KISS in London. What a performance, perhaps star of the book. Well done Bauer and Andy Roberts.

Personally, I’m delighted to see the rise of BBC6 Music – a DAB only station that is now delivering over 2 million listeners for the first time, a landmark moment for digital radio. It’s now bigger than BBC Radio 3 that comes with an FM signal so good you can pick it up with a staple gun!

While Radio 3 may be delighted to see any increase this quarter, the applause is for 6music where many will now be wondering why these two stations don’t simply switch platforms with R3 going on DAB only etc.

There is no chance of this whatsoever.

What people don’t understand is that listeners to Radio 3 are a very rare breed who write fantastic letters of complaint using words many of us have to look up. More importantly, they know which letterbox to drop them into. 6 Music listeners, however, while equally intelligent, are mostly just thrilled to wake up sober and in the same bed as the night before :)

We should rejoice in that rock ‘n’ roll fact right there!

38 thoughts on “WILL THE LAST ONE OUT, KINDLY TURN OFF THE LIGHTS

  1. Firstly thanks for your comments on 6 Music and its great result. After 13 years of hard slog, and five years since the suits of the time decided it was a dead duck, the audience has topped 2 million at last.

    I agree that it Just goes to show what can be done if you respect your listeners and allow the staff and presenters creative freedom rather than treating them like voice over artists with rigid focus-group-tested-to-death playlists.

    In other news….will BBC Local Radio management ever learn? No. Because they don’t listen. I read your report 3 years ago in full. And I wrote about this issue extensively in my book The Bird And The Beeb. Nobody who’s read either, or indeed your recent blog on the matter, can be in any doubt where the problems lie. At the top. A timely comparison would be to liken the boss to General Hague (sitting in his chateau quaffing claret i.e. running up the biggest expenses bill in the BBC) while the troops on the frontline know the strategy is all wrong and their equipment (playlists, editorial policy, managers, news gathering, websites, presenters etc etc) is not up to the job. But nobody listens. Or actually they just don’t have the guts to sort it out. Meanwhile nobody seems accountable for the declining audiences, destructive jobs for life attitude and complacency. And all this on the license fee. It’s a national disgrace.

    1. What surprises me about the decline in listening for BBC local radio is that the constant promotion on the local BBC news does not seem to have any effect. In Birmingham Midlands Today never wastes any opportunity however spurious to refer to the local stations particularly WM. I see that National Weather is now in on the act. ‘ Make sure you stayed tuned to BBC local radio as the hurricane from hell is on the way.’

      1. To be honest, I think one of their perception problems is all the local news plugging. It just makes it seem like a ‘news’ station (which it isn’t) and I bet that discourages potential samplers of the stations.

    2. Whilst driving across the Country I tune into various BBC Local (traffic updates) and recently heard some excelent voices like Simon Bates & James Whale. However the majority of the voices sound amature. BBCLancashire sounds like it’s coming from a front room in Coronation Street. However when voices like Bates and Whale flow through the speaker you wonder why the other presenters can’t be of that level? Local BBCRadio is in a time wharp and sinking.

  2. Hi John

    I resisted the temptation to reply to your last blog as I currently work in BBC LR. I’ve worked at several of the stations and ILR before that. I do hope you can respect why I post this anonymously.

    To say times are depressing for staff on the ground floor of BBC LR would be a great understatement.

    Outside of weekday morning shows, everything is being run into the ground. No interest is shown by managers into programming at other times on the schedule. The managers on site are very happy to spend their days on ebay and researching their next holiday, while waiting for the eventual time when they will have to retire.

    As far as concerns the whole station (and network) there is simply no vision. We’re told to tweak small parts of bulletins, packages and reports… but nothing is said regarding who we are speaking to and what the core plan (if any?) for local radio is supposed to be about. At the risk of sounding sycophantic, we need a Myers to come in and tell us “do this, do it well, and let’s be proud of it”. Instead most staff who currently feel completely directionless and embarrassed at what goes out on air.

    We’ve had editors from a commercial background who have used and abused the station to employ their mates and get them the next “gig” up the ladder without a single thought to motivate staff and actually solve the diminishing audience figures. We have also had plenty of ‘corporate clones’ who religiously follow the dangerously bland (lack of) action from the senior English Regions managers – achieving absolutely nothing.

    Occasionally one of the “senior managers” from English Regions will come down to the station (once a year if lucky) and will spout a rehearsed ‘old Mr Grace’ speech that “we’ve all done very well” without actually saying anything of note at all – often in the face of another plummeting rajar. They even have to provide free drinks and food to encourage staff to turn up to these meetings! Such is the contempt for the non-leading leaders that people wouldn’t usually bother.

    Everyday I walk through the doors of my BBC local radio station to start work I think “just how long can this go on?”

    1. Thanks for the post. You paint a worse picture than I’ve done but this, and others, tend to support some of your comments.

      I have nothing to add except that I know many, many people within local radio that love their job and are doing great things every day. I’ve always thought that in life, sometimes you work for people you like and respect, other times you don’t. I hope you manage to have a good day!

    2. This makes for very sad reading.

      When I worked in BBC LR – for some 17 years – I had a great time. It wasn’t without its problems, and people moaned – even in 1989. However in age when we are over-diagnosed, over-analysed and over-managed, I am not surprised to hear about the despondency.

      It seems many of those trying to run BBC LR – from them upstairs, to them down the corridor – have rather lost sight of what it’s all about.

      My simple suggestion is they just need to get back to basics. Stop fussing around social media, stop producing news straight off the press release, stop the endless, going-nowhere meetings.

      Instead, get out there, get out there, and then get out there some more.

      Ingratiate yourself with every known organisation you can – from councils to community groups. Go and talk to them, go and have a coffee, shake their hands, leave an impression, show them you’re bothered.

      Most importantly, stop reading books about “How To Manage A Radio Station”, stop over- analysing RAJAR, stop over-diagnosing the problem and just get out there.

      Radio has been ruined by an industry of over-rated consultants who have somehow convinced the decision makers that radio is a precise science. It isn’t; it’s a brilliantly simple communications tool, designed to help one person reach several more all in one go.

      Considering how radio started (an invention looking for content), we’ve got ourselves in a terrible mess.

      May be we just thinking about it a bit too much; after all, as someone said to me, it’s only rock and roll (with some speech content) and nobody dies.

  3. “listeners to Radio 3 are a very rare breed who write fantastic letters of complaint using words many of us have to look up. More importantly, they know which letterbox to drop them into. 6 Music listeners, however, are just thrilled to wake up sober and in the same bed as the night before.”

    John, so much of what you write is spot on, but the part I’ve quoted is a serious departure from your regular high standards. You will of course remember the campaign against 6 Music’s closure in recent years, which was seen as a massive success (and, of course, resulted in success given that the station is still open). I have also read commentators suggest that the campaign against BBC Local Radio cuts were not as digitally savvy, meaning their campaign was weakened. As your article is so focused on BBC Local Radio, I feel it’s perhaps a little abhorrent to suggest 6 Music’s listeners would be incapable of mounting a campaign. And perhaps they’d use some newer words that haven’t made it into the dictionary yet too.

    For the record, I never listen to 6 Music. Not my cup of tea, but delighted it’s there. Anything that broadens choice is more than welcome in my book. I will, however, admit to listening to Radio 3, so apologies if people have had to consult a dictionary to understand any of my post 😉

    1. Apologies Michael. My last para was written with tongue firmly in my very large cheeks and clearly, that has not come over as well as I had hoped. Such is the art of humour!

      I will get back in my box.

  4. “A staggering yearly loss of over 11 MILLION hours and 350,000 listeners”.

    Eeeh !! Who would have thought…?!

    Well you and me to start with John! :-) But there’s not really an amusing side to the decline of BBC Local Radio – you offered the solution 3 years ago – the ‘BBC suits’ (via the public) paid you, but ignored your wise advice.

    Sadly by the time it IS sorted the ‘suits’ will mainly have retired on their large BBC pensions, and a whole generation of radio presenters and listeners will have been abandoned/lost.

    Are the presenters to blame? NO.

    I’ve written at length about using hastily-trained women to present breakfast (and pushing better qualified male colleagues sideways) but I don’t blame them for wanting a career- radio can be a magical industry if done right. Sadly with journalistic values FORCED on to all shows they don’t stand a chance.

    Is the (forgettable) guy who does the network show in the evening to blame? NO.

    But was he wise to take on a role that everyone in the industry knew would be a thankless task – particularly when littered with endless dull football coverage?

    SOLUTIONS:

    Close down the 13 worst performing stations*, use the spare funds to IMPROVE those still afloat!

    * BBC Radio Wiltshire/Swindon (down 62%) BBC Radio Cambridgeshire (down 50%) + Somerset, Radio Newcastle, Coventry and Warwickshire, Radio Tees, Radio Nottingham, Radio Newcastle, Radio Lancashire, Radio Kent, Radio Humberside, Radio Gloucestershire and Radio Bristol (all have lost at least 25%)

    OR

    Do as I suggested in a blog THREE years ago and bring in an old (heritage) ILR dj from the 70s or 80s to do SINGLE-HEADED breakfast shows of 85% music 15% speech.

    http://lengroat.blogspot.pt/2012/02/radio-royalty-to-save-bbc-local.html

    ….and move the journalist types to a (mainly) chat show ( such as Jeremy Vine’s show)/b>

    Easy peasy!

    Oh, and John, I must be an old sod, as I won’t “Spare a thought for the head honcho of BBC local radio David Holdsworth” – he’s been told many times BBC Titanic was sinking…

    ….. but just kept on arranging the ‘news’ deck chairs as the BBC Local Radio journalists ‘played on’….

    1. Can’t agree with you there – BBC Wiltshire once enjoyed a reach of 29% – admittedly recorded by BBC Audience Research. Even in the early RAJAR days the station enjoyed figures in the high teens.

      Listeners to once successful stations like BBC Wiltshire shouldn’t be denied access to BBC Localness. They haven’t done anything wrong. It’s simply down to poor management.

      So, sack the management responsible for the steady decline in listening figures and replace them with common sense and give the audience the BBC Local Radio they TRULY deserve.

  5. Interesting blog John – fair though? I work with a lot of LR Editors who are talented, care deeply about their audiences and work bloody hard. I also know David Holdsworth and there are few people I’ve ever met who work harder, travelling huge distances to meet and talk to and worth with teams who are hundreds of miles apart (hence the exes bill, Liz. Not sure I’ve ever seen him seriously hit the claret). Sure let’s have a debate about LR, let’s look at future strategy (like your last blog did John) but to do it intelligently and without rancour driven by personal grudges. That’d be good.

    1. Thanks Cannylass,

      I know David too. I would agree with you that he is indeed one of those likeable people with a strong work ethic. That said, we live in a world where results matter. If you feel that this was not a fair blog then so be it and I am happy for you to say so.

      I am honestly not driven by any personal grudges whatsoever, I can perhaps see how that accusation can me made, but believe me, it is driven out of nothing more than sheer frustration at the decline in audiences and a belief that it is relatively easy to sort.

      For note, my previously linked blog on BBCLR was enormously positive on the talent within local radio, but that is not the issue. It is all about the vision. These numbers suggest the vision is way off mark.

    2. It would be very nice to have a serious debate done intelligently etc. however the spokesperson for the BBC quoted in John’s last blog made it quite clear they weren’t really interested.

  6. It sounds like BBC is like a snuff movie. Starring its own management.

    But think out of the box and there are more culprits for the decline of Local Radio (BBC). The Director General and the lethargy of the senior Board of Management, and also the BBC Trust, which is supposed to be looking after the listeners and licence fee payers interests.

    Perhaps Rona Whitehead should be banging a few heads together. The silence (irrelevance?) of the Trust is astounding.

    As Liz K rightly suggests “It’s a national disgrace”.

  7. It’s all very well to raise the counting of raw numbers for Local Radio audiences but I fail to see how you can do that without referencing your full history here not just your last couple of posts.

    Let’s not forget that your report into Local Radio correctly identified some of the problems the network of 40 stations face – under-investment in its technology which constrains its ability to deliver content effectively and efficiently; under-investment by the BBC to maintain quality across the schedule to meet its objectives. And yes a particular point of view on management.

    You appear to fail to accept that the BBC had a right to review your work and accept or reject individual recommendations. In particular you seem to believe that it had no right to conclude that local management with specific responsibility for each station, its output and resources WAS and IS an appropriate way to ensure accountability for performance – someone on the ground in the locality accountable to the audience for the output and to the BBC for performance.

    It seems to this reader that since the BBC chose to adopt only some of your recommendations that your view of its output quality, audience performance and management both locally and at more senior levels of the BBC is tainted by that response.

    Of course lower audiences must be disappointing for the BBC, challenging even as regards a future direction for the network. But those problems of under investment have not been resolved, there is less not more money in the BBC to address all its quality gaps. Against this background BBC Local services must resolve how to provide valuable local news and information that is engaging, entertaining and valuable to an audience that has exponentially increasing options available for how it spends its time on alternative suppliers of content particularly online.

    Local Radio must do its utmost to maintain its reach and of course a loss of audience compared to 12 months ago has to be addressed but within its resource constraints and let’s not overlook the fact that reach is stable on the previous quarter and that RAJAR measures over such specific periods is notoriously peaky . Loss of listening hours though as a major concern? Really? Yes if it was a commercial service. But a reduction in time spent per user is no bad thing for Local Radio and for other commercial providers of content. Local Radio can still provide the key local news and information and the BBC and Local Radio can direct and guide its users to other sources also and support and help a struggling local marketplace.

    It’s in no-one’s interest in the commercial world for Local Radio and other BBC local and regional services to whither on the vine, the commercial world is not going to replace that content and audience and revenues will consolidate nationally.

    So come on. Review the audience by all means. Suggest and support how its reach can be maintained and grown, look at how other BBC services should change to properly support local and its demograph (R2, 5Live). But a bitter sulk over past interaction and a rant with no aim – no thank you.

    1. I’m not sulking or even grumpy about them not using my recommendations at all. You can argue that of course, but other than saying I’m not, I’m not sure what i can say to prove otherwise.

      The figures don’t lie though. Not the ones from this quarter, but the ones over the past 5 years. I have not put those up because it really would look shocking.

      For the record I love local radio, I admire so many people within it and my track record of support for the staff is always good, but if the numbers keep falling, someone, somewhere must start asking searching questions. Uncomfortable as that might be.

      You never review Q on Q, the only measure that matters is Year on Year. If you think loyalty to a radio station is the concern of just a commercial environment, then your view of success is clearly different to mine. What you don’t comment on of course is the sharp decline over many years (hardly peaky) and the fact that most of the loss comes from your core audience of 45 plus.

      You blame funding as a reason for failure? That is a cop out. It is not a funding issue, it is a creative and management problem, and to suggest otherwise – is perhaps one of the reasons why the decline is not being addressed.

      If I post a blog, the of course I am happy to be attacked but I will also defend my corner.

      There is already dozens of comments on my other blog about LR that suggests management have a head in the sand situation. I also know a large number of Managing Editors have raised these concerns directly, but nothing appears to be done.

      The audience figures should be making everyone as mad as hell. Take it out on me if you want but the target for any anger is clearly much closer to home.

      I am grateful for your post though and you are quite right to have a go if you think I’ve crossed the line.

  8. I joined a BBC LR station not long ago. (I hope you understand why I don’t want to use my actual name!)

    In that time, I’ve seen the number of journalists cut, but never fear, the number of senior managers has grown by one.

    There’s been no change to the station following the arrival of said senior manager, who contributes very little to the running of the station. The only difference is more staff have to be spread more thinly.

    This morning I looked at our RAJARs and it was grim, but not surprising. Another fall.

    The status quo is preferred by senior to middle management, most of whom are just happy to get through the day without complaints or cock-ups.

    Some of the content we put out is great. But a some of it is also formulaic, bland, filler rubbish that, for the ordinary casual listener at home, is impenetrable and boring.

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a manager sit down for an in-depth feedback session with presenters or the producers running the show.

    I’m also struck by the lack of local. By that, I mean the amount of times bulletins start with a mediocre national story, or the breakfast/drive shows run national stories which are of little to no interest to the local listener. If a listener wants a national story, they’ll listen to 5 Live. Yes there’s a place for SOME national stuff, but local bulletins are dominated by it. Why? Because when you’ve got a lot to do and not many staff to do it, it’s easier to copy and paste stuff across that’s sent over from network. It’s not right, but that’s why it happens.

    5 Live do a phone-in 9am-10am. The amount of times the station I work for does a phone-in at the same time on the same topic is unreal.

    What’s more frustrating is that, in the region we broadcast in, our commercial radio competitors sound very much alike. There’s an open goal for us if we do something different, innovative and interesting. It’s a missed opportunity.

    And don’t get me starting on the networked 7pm to 10pm slot. It’s entirely the wrong idea in the wrong slot and the woeful listening figures reflect that. And putting that show in that slot then affects the rest of the schedule.

    But I agree a lot with that’s been said on LR – less emphasis on news I’d agree. We also need characters presenting. Too many are pleasant but dull, generic and forgettable. Too many fragile egos wanting to please everyone. The best presenters are the ones disliked and loved in equal measure.

    But more than anything, the culture of caution needs to be dispensed with. Too many manager/senior news editors/producers want you to shy away from controversy, purely so they don’t have to deal with complaints, or take any responsibility for it.

    And likewise, too many presenters/producers/journalists pick the easier, less controversial option in order to make their lives simpler.

    Getting complaints isn’t always a bad thing, and in a weird way, I’d like to see us get more, if that doesn’t sound too odd. Listeners will always find something to complain about anyway, so you might as well give them something to talk about.

    I should stress, it’s not all bad and I work with some fantastically talented people who create some excellent radio. But the way LR is run makes it hard to consistently do this and rebuild the dwindling listening figures.

    1. This is the star post so far and thank you Pete. Critical, yet supportive, ideas led, experience to know why some things work and some don’t. If you are not in a part of management tree right now, you should be.

  9. I think BBC Local Radio will bounce back from this – as will most of the commercial stations with a poor run of figures. I`m sure that commercial radio also has its bad managers, as well as good.
    I worked in BBC Local Radio and saw some really good managers – and some who shouldn`t have been in the job.
    So, what`s wrong at the moment? I decided to leave last year, because I felt stations were losing control of the output. People were sent out from the Centre, to tell staff how to run breakfast shows, and mid morning. Instead of reporting what`s going on, they had to do `big stories` and these took up the bulk of the breakfast show. the first hour of mid morning would be a phone in – another big issue. This sucked up production at the expense of local news, which in my view is what`s missing. Then there are the Social Action campaigns: you have to do them regardless of their relevance to your patch. I`ve been in meetings where morale has sunk on hearing the next campaign – why can`t we do a local series on the local NHS instead?

    Management: I never had a problem with local management .. it was the next level up. Why have the local tv boss running local radio – I never met one who really had empathy with what we were doing.

    So, I recognise some of what is being said here – it`s not that difficult to fix. Run Local Radio – errrr locally.
    I`m proud to have worked in BBC Local Radio … I would have liked to have worked in what ILR was .. but not now, unless I was an accountant. BBC Local Radio will bounce back.

    1. Another brilliant post. You are absolutely right on so much of what you say. Thank you for posting. I agree, the audience figures may well bounce back a little, but considering the decline over the past 5 years for example, (not just the last year) they won’t do unless they fix the underlying problem. There is more right than wrong in BBC local but the things that are wrong are big ticket items.

  10. Hi John…

    What would a more-targeted-at-over 65s station sound like?

    The reason I ask is because Heart has added about the same amount of listening in that demographic as BBC LR has shed over the past two years. (The pattern is replicated with Smooth in the 75+ bracket) (figs RAJAR Q412 v Q414, BBC LR England TSA). Radio 2’s done OK too. All of these, I’d venture, are ‘younger’ stations than BBC LR. Meanwhile, a fair selection of speech and non-pop services have flatlined or gone down for 65+.. R3, R4, R5, Classic, Jazz etc.

    I appreciate your recipe wouldn’t be to ape any of those stations which fulfil a very different remit. And I get the ‘not so driven by news’ thing, and I understand that as RAJAR’s not a static panel, these aren’t actually the same people each quarter.

    But given those stations are the ones attracting 65+ at the moment, I’m really interested in what would be in your recipe to pull them back.

    For me (you might have guessed), the current 50+ target isn’t a bad one. Radio for grown-ups, many of whom still work, older kids starting their own families, parents still around – and actually a view of life and taste in music which isn’t toxic to listeners from 40 to 70-odd. The moment these stations super-serve a pre-pop generation, the BBC’s local output will become pretty inaccessible to under 65s. If that audience is to be properly served with musical and lifestyle stuff, it needs to be at a national niche level.

    Cheers!

    1. Tim, you make some wise comments and your top line might make for another blog.

      I wonder if the BBC might test out a new format within a couple of stations before applying it to a national network? Run that for a year, test it, examine it, research it and tinker with it all until you get the sound and service you feel is right. What are those really successful stations in the network doing and what can we learn from them? All this is low risk, high potential. I have to say, changing some of the things is easy, changing the attitude of people is much harder. No station will ever succeed if there is not a willingness to accept new ideas.

      To answer your question, I honestly believe that while there might be a ‘common thread’ of format across the network, each station should have a flexibility to be different in order to properly serve the respective region/town/city they broadcast too. I don’t think that happens right now and there is no such thing as one serving for all. That’s the beauty of knowing your patch, understanding your listeners. For example, BBC Cumbria listeners are not like those at WM. So much is the same but so much is not.

      BBC local must be a full service operation offering information, entertainment and good local or locally aware presenters who can engage listeners while backed up with the very high standard of local news and reporting the network is known for. The music mix is just appalling if you ask me. Last week, I heard Uptown Funk at 9.20am. If that is regarded as the best song to play for a service aimed at the over 45s (yes I know some will like it) it underlines that music, talk and content is not thought through properly. Everything must work together. Music selection is an art in itself.

      In every station, there are people who listen through default. ie. Take BBC R2. They have over 15m listeners, of that (I am guessing here) they might have 3 or 4m listeners who listen out of default at times because they can’t find a better station on the dial. When I’ve launched radio stations in the past in new areas, I take the view that I won’t be able to get the P1’s of the competition, (their biggest fans) but there is every chance I might persuade those who listen out of default to try us instead and from that we build the base for our own operation.

      The big problem with BBCLR is not that they are struggling to replenish younger listeners into the network, it is the fact that they are losing those who already listen and have done for years. Not only that, people who still listen have actively decided not to listen for as long as they used to do. There might be some social reason for that such as life and other pressures and the fact that the digital world is pulling people away from radio overall, but the level of loss and the speed of decline is surely a programming issue and not anything else.

      While some are clearly very good, overall the service is not mirroring the world of the listener. Believe me, the most successful radio stations on the planet not only have great programming and presenters but they have a knack of connecting to their audiences through humour, intelligence and debate and despite the dark clouds we live under at times, it is hugely important to make listeners feel good and smile. Silliness, humour and laughter is just as important as news, worthy content and debate. It is part of the full service.

      A long answer to a great question but what should a local radio station clock or sound be like. I will give that some thought and will blog about it soon. Thanks Tim.

  11. Well for what it’s worth, I love BBC 6 Music, and I’m delighted to see it flourishing. 6 music are getting it right and BBC local radio – and indeed any other station – bosses might want to consider that even 45+ audiences prefer their presenters to be intelligent, well informed, witty individuals with a real love of and knowledge about music.

    Just because I’m over 50 it doesn’t mean I’ve started to atrophy – my love of music is just as keen now as when I discovered Bowie in 1972 or The Smiths in 1982. And I’m pretty damned sure I’m not alone – most of my middle aged friends are listening to bands like First Aid Kit, The War on Drugs, Catfish & the Bottlemen and Kate Tempest. If we can’t get what we want on other stations, we’ll hop off to 6 Music – and we might even find time to climb out of someone else’s bed to pen an erudite letter or two to Bob Shennan!

  12. Let’s not dismiss all BBC local radio. Someone should be knocking on the doors of BBC Surrey and Sussex, and asking what they’re doing. Their figures have gone way up this RAJAR, measured year-on-year, which is remarkable given what the rest of the country has seen. Three out of the six quarter-on-quarter measures show a drop, but that may be merely seasonal.

    Something I remember from my earlier career was that a station’s presence among its listeners was paramount and, within that, locally relevant and well-curated speech generated many returns to the station’s programmes. Until the 1990s, the BBC local station kit for each of the (often smaller) areas contained a radio car, liveried reporters vehicles and plenty of Glensound outside broadcast kit or even a multi-track recording van. And the station’s engineers would often create other portable transmitting apparatus e.g. BBC Radio York’s “Radio Shoes”, a back-pack transmitter that could be cycled or walked into the city’s pedestrian centre. These devices, fully branded, allowed properly-trained reporters and broadcasters to be both visible and audible to large numbers of people at public events, shopping centres, transport hubs, etc. On a typical Monday-to-Saturday breakfast show in the 1980s and 1990s, three stations that I personally know of would think nothing of getting four different locations on the air from the radio car with properly-researched reports or colour pieces. Now that regions are generally larger, the smaller staff surely cannot maintain the same quantity and quality of physical presence?

    In my opinion, solutions will be much more difficult than my harking back to the olden days. Budgets are massively stretched, and the market fragmented to an extent we never imagined. Yet someone at BBC Surrey and Sussex likes to get the local issues on the air, and follow them seriously, as I have observed. And the figures go up from one year to the next.

  13. It’s worth restating that some BBC local stations are consistently getting it right.

    The people at those stations have an incredible commitment. Commitment to the area they serve. Commitment to making great radio. Commitment to each other.

    Creating heart-stopping moments, laugh-out-loud moments, and ‘treating the listener as a grown-up’ moments.

    At those stations much thought goes into making each on-air minute count; managers are supportive, and the audience – by and large – appreciative.

    Stations where staff are also learning to do more with less.

    To the person above who says most staff feel directionless and embarrassed at what goes out on air – do something about it. Tell someone. Don’t rant anonymously.

    To Pete (above) – if you’re not having regular show-reviews – do something about it. E-mail David Holdsworth if you have to. He will sort it out.

    I am fortunate to work where I do, and with the people I work with. I work hard, feel appreciated, and hope I end up having had a “job for life”.

  14. As usual you hit the nail on the head John. Perhaps I could add to your strap line “ …..and put the closed sign on the door”.
    In my opinion BBC Local Radio is an outdated concept because of how we listen to radio and the sheer number of stations available. It certainly has nothing to offer me as I listen to a number of stations, Radio 2, Radio 5 and 6 music with a bit of Radio 4 for good measure.
    Since the inception of BBC Local Radio the BBC has spread its limited resources ever thinner, opening new services. Unless there is a realistic licence fee settlement, unlikely, something has to go.
    I have resisted posting anything in this discussion because I worked for BBC Local Radio for eighteen years, so anything I say could be seen as if I have an axe to grind. Indeed my former Managing Editor branded my views as misguided. Mind you, I had just emailed him to say, based on his woeful listening figures, how long would it be before the BBC pulled the plug?
    The only useful function for BBC Local Radio is its role in BBC Introducing but it that sufficient reason to keep it open?
    The BBC should get out of local radio – it’s a waste of resources. The reality is they won’t as it would cause uproar in Parliament, simply because local radio is the only forum for backbench MPs to make their voices heard, after all they will not be invited on “Today” or “PM”. Of course local radio has the backing of Tony Hall but, how long can that continue? How many more quarters of poor listening figures does there have to be before he calls time?

  15. Is anyone asking about the accuracy of RAJAR’s figures?

    I’ve heard some very apocryphal stories of only a “handful” of diaries being sent to relatively small numbers of the population , of misrepresentation of station names leading to confusion and even diaries ending up in the hands of people connected in someway with a local station.

    We seem to be very quick to go along with these figures, but nobody else appears to be doing any comparable survey work (as far as I know) so there’s nothing to measure RAJAR against.

    After all, how trusting would we be of the accuracy of Ipsos MORI if it was the only survey company operating within the UK.

    The response to this serious question is always that RAJAR’s techniques are scientific and proven.

    I’m sure they are, but let’s face it, whether the figures are good or bad, we who’ve worked in the industry tend to remain cynical about their accuracy – and I repeat, whether they’re good OR bad.

  16. I personally feel the time has come for Radio 5 Live and the Local stations to be merged, providing the best and dumping the rest. This new station ‘Radio 5 Local’ would provide International, National and Local News and Views throughout the day with Breakfast, In my plan Breakfast, between Breakfast and Lunch, Drivetime and local Football/Sports would remain Local with the rest becoming National. When there is no Local Football/Sports, the station would either have another big Football/Sports game from elsewhere or whatever is playing Nationally. As stated previously by another poster quite often Radio 5 are talking about the same stories as the Local stations and I suspect many listen to both stations anyway. Another bonus is ‘Radio 5 Local’ would be on FM which along with added localness to the National station would surely strength it’s position against the likes of LBC and Talk Sport before DAB switchover. As for the station’s music…there wouldn’t be any just like Radio 5 Live currently.

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