Sunday, 12 November 2017

BBC DG Tony Hall detonates a small but positive earthquake at Local Radio. Good man!

At last, a solid and sensible move at Local Radio level!

                         Are the clouds about to lift? Very possibly...                Photo Ariane Hackbert

Last Wednesday, I was with some terrifyingly excellent Institute of Professional Sound peeps. They handle all forms of audio: film, TV, recording, live, and radio. A pet peeve was sloppy audio standards at TV (David Attenborough's Blue Planet 2 voice track got a mention...). 

Falling standards was a big topic. The web came in for a pasting. Realistically, clickbait-driven web practice is bad news for old-school craft skills, in radio as elsewhere. Ten years of web audio shout-outs have drowned out a century of good practice, and twenty years of broadcast networking has shrunk learning opportunities.

So it was an absolute joy to learn, that same night, that the Director General of the BBC, Tony Hall, has announced he is putting a stop to the ghastly decades-long policy of cuts at BBC Local RadioIt is hugely promising on many levels. 

Is this a grounds for celebration? You bet it is

BBCLR staff go mental (not really).   Photo Nichoalas Green
Not only will the planned £10 million of further cuts not apply, but the ill-advised network-wide 7pm to 10pm weeknight show is to go; local programming returns in its place. 


Now, you may not find this that exciting. It's only local radio after all. Maybe you no longer listen to BBC Local Radio – like all local stations, BBCLR has suffered a twenty-year historical decline in listening as more competition takes to the airwaves, on analogue, and now on digital. 

But this is why it's big news. Restoring local programmes in off-peak hours to BBC Local Radio is a massive step to creating a clear career path for new talent. Maybe, just maybe, promising newcomers can now learn their trade at BBCLR, possibly graduating to daytime, or even, as in the past, moving to national networks as they work up that steepening career path. This decision reinforces BBCLR's old role as a training ground. 

I'm not saying that this one move from the DG will fix everything. Of course it won't; there's an awful lot of thinking that now needs to take place. Local Radio is looked down on by many at network level – I became brutally aware of this when I landed at Radio 2's Overnight shows in the 90s after twenty-plus years in local commercial radio. I wouldn't be surprised if that same disdain exists at BBLR towards the army of new Internet stations. Those attitudes need to break down. 

A simple sensible step

But in taking that simple, sensible, step for BBC Local Radio, Tony Hall has opened up a world of potential. Like everything else, the 21st century broadcast world is different. Those precious extra fifteen hours a week can be put to use in all sorts of ways. 

This is what Hall said in his Gillard Awards speech on Wednesday:
“Local Radio is in the DNA of our communities. I think that is more important than ever. England’s changing. It’s always been a patchwork of communities, with quite distinct identities. While Newcastle’s population is getting older, Bradford’s is getting younger and Birmingham is becoming one of the most diverse cities in Europe.”
I emphasised that last bit, of course. Gloriously, this is now acknowledged at the highest level. Over and above Brum Grime - there's a bit of 'me-too' here, but some of it is excellent - the big new trend I've spotted in the past two years, is the emergence of hugely talented, young, witty and articulate female artists on our patch; Jorja Smith, Lady Leshurr, Mahalia, Call Me Unique, Judy Blu, Bear, This is Elektric, Lady Sanity and more have joined Laura Mvula, for me one of the most exciting and capable talents of the past ten years. They are all making vital music, and collaborating across genres. They deserve support. 

Simply recognising and supporting local talent – for me, a must for local radio – is just the start. And it really shouldn't just be the youthful trailblazers, bearing in mind BBC Local Radio's audience age profile. Picking out the higher profile social media-savvy noisemakers is relatively easy; digging out the deeper, often much older, talent is a must too. 

Fresh ideas abound - go grab them and put them on air

There are other examples to draw on: ideas now flow freely to audiences in podcasts, bypassing on-air channels with aplomb. You'll find story-telling, deep interviews, comedy, drama, and many innovative approaches. You'll also find a whole lot of tripe, but, hey, that's the web for you. Great ideas cost very little on radio or podcast. And they can travel. That's the huge strength of radio and audio production.

Good idea, then? Hell, yeah! Well I think so... 

So, yes, I am very pleased to learn the news, as, it seems, are many of my colleagues and friends in the industry. Since I posted, I have noted a number of radio pundits and experts - some with decidedly patchy track records - who think it's a really stupid idea, but I think they are missing the whole point of the exercise. It's about futures, it's about doing it right.

Now comes the hard work at BBCLR management level: the sifting of ideas, the risk-taking, the degree of experimentation, and of course, the balancing of books. I wish everyone involved in all this the greatest of success. And I really hope to hear fresh ideas and new talent, and to see that revitalised career path work for newcomers to our industry.

Read Tony Hall's full speech from the Gillard Awards in Coventry here.  

See more radio and broadcasting posts on Radio To Go


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1 comment:

Unknown said...

Freedom Robin, freedom