The importance of keeping local radio programmes on air

This week the BBC announced that it is proposing to launch a new charity to fund local news reporting across Britain, which has come about in response to some commercial news outlets announcing that they are unwilling to continue investing in regional journalism.

The new organisation called the Local Democracy Foundation, will fund the cost of local journalists to report on council meetings, crime stories and other regional news stories that used to be the mainstay of local newspapers.

The BBC’s proposition, which is a breath of fresh air for many, was revealed shortly after Global, which is home to some of the UK’s leading radio stations including Heart, Capital, and Smooth, announced that it is implementing the biggest shake up in local broadcast for decades. At the end of February, the media giant declared that around 100 regional presenters and staff were at risk of redundancy, as almost 60 local radio programmes from across the UK face the axe.

Global has made the controversial decision to replace the local breakfast and drive-time shows for each station to a single, national show fronted by celebrity presenters by the end of 2019, and close numerous regional stations completely.

The changes have come as a result of broadcast regulator Ofcom relaxing the requirement on stations to provide local programming from seven hours a day to just three. However, the company said the decision to cut the local shows was made in order to provide a more streamlined and centralised service broadcast from London.

According to The Guardian, Heart will have its 22 regional breakfast shows slashed to one national broadcast, Smooth will lose regional shows altogether, and London output will replace Capital’s 14 regional morning programmes.

The paper also states that the move has been criticised by shadow culture secretary, Tom Watson, who has said “Replacing local voices with London-based presenters will be a terrible loss to communities across the country” and we couldn’t agree more.

With regional newspapers already under extreme pressure to withstand the current economic uncertainty and many smaller town editions already closing down rapidly, we need local news outlets now more than ever; whether that’s in the format of print, online or broadcast.

As well as reducing the level of local content required per day, Ofcom has also removed a requirement on local stations to produce their own breakfast show, which many would agree is the most listened to and sought after programme on any station.

Local breakfast presenters are in some ways, the voice of the region. Not only do they wake people up every morning, but they also get them to work on time with the travel, cover important local issues and in many ways shape the identity of the station.

Take for example our local breakfast show, which thankfully seems to be safe for now. The team at Big John at Breakfast on Hallam FM have for many years been the voices of the station, and active members of the community. The show often brings together the people of Sheffield, Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster for many reasons. Whether that’s to support a local charity, hosting a big regional Christmas lights switch on or appealing for people to share their views on what’s happening around the world and locally.

These shows aren’t just there to bring us up to date with the latest news, they are there to bring the community together. Sometimes these local voices may be the only ones some people hear for the entire day and may be all they look forward to, so to take them away and nationalise them would be devastating.

Without local radio, other regional news and media outlets will also be put under even more pressure, businesses will lose their local advertising platform and local people will lose their community voice.

It’s fair to say many people across the UK will be sad to see the loss of these shows and their station, including many people working in the public relations industry, like us, who work closely with the news presenters on a regular basis. This really is a sad time for the industry and as shadow culture secretary Tom Watson also stated, an absolute travesty indeed! 

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