Local Radio Day shows power of radio working together
A new initiative is gaining cross-industry support in the UK: hoping to promote local radio
By James Cridland
Posted 15 May 2016, 8.34pm edt
In many radio markets, there appears a lack of working together. Companies fight between themselves, instead of act with one voice about radio’s benefits.
There are lots of benefits in working together. By its nature, radio is made up of many different companies, and any opportunity that radio has to promote itself should be welcomed. In South Africa, the RAB closed in December 2014, robbing the country of a strong voice for radio advertising. In the UK, Global has stopped helping fund the Radio Academy, and the Wireless Group pulled out of RadioCentre and the RAB a while ago. The Australian radio market, as far as I can see so far, consists of three different radio industries who don’t talk to each other.
However, something appears to be changing, at least for smaller stations in the UK. The industry is kickstarting a special Local Radio Day, to be held on May 27th - celebrating all that is good about local radio.
In part, this is a crafty way for organisers UKRD - a hyper-local radio group who own a number of small radio stations - to promote their differences. Unlike industry leaders Global or Bauer, UKRD does little networking, preferring to act as distinct local radio stations in their areas.
Nation Broadcasting, a similar company based in Wales, has already pledged to join in, as have Anglian Radio, based in East Anglia. Quite a few community and student radio stations have, too; and two BBC Local Radio stations, BBC Sussex and BBC Surrey, have also pledged their support.
John Whittingdale, the government’s Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, has also come out in favour of the Local Radio Day initiative, and has recorded a YouTube clip saying so. It’s a clever campaign to enlist the support of the person you’re trying to impress. (Oh, and they’ve even got Rick Astley’s support.)
The initiative has a website of its own at http://www.localradioday.co.uk/ - with a slightly barbed history section, pointing out that:
The original [commercial radio] legislation specifically stated that local radio stations should not: “consist of identical or similar material to an extent inconsistent with the character of services as local sound broadcasting services.” Local advisory committees were also legislated for, meaning that local voices from the communities these stations were to serve would be heard and, importantly, listened to.
While all the stations involved so far in Local Radio Day have a market share of under 1% nationwide, it’s clear that this event has the capability to make some noise on the day.
I’m not sure that “local” content is automatically good, though both UKRD and Nation Broadcasting’s output is high quality and connects with local audiences. While others espouse the benefits of “live and local”, I prefer to talk about “real and relevant” content instead.
However, an anti-consolidation event in a month that has seen more radio consolidation is interesting; and can’t help but remind audiences of the benefits of radio that comes from their town, rather than from hundreds of miles away.
Just broadcasting from a local area isn't enough - to actually be regarded as local you need to have your pulse in the local community and broadcast items that are of interest to them.
This could include for example - Outside broadcasts from local events, fetes, festivals,etc : Coverage of local elections and matters of local controversy; Interviews with local leaders and Organisers; Promotion of local charities ; Offering exposure to up and coming local bands, theatre or art groups etc etc
It is not enough just to read out the local traffic and travel feed from a - not always accurate - national monitoring service - or read out the met office weather forecast - which anyone looking out the window can tell you is not always relevant to the actual Broadcast area...
Sadly, despite talking a good game I fear my local UKRD station doesn't actually do many (if any) of these things and the only local thing about most of their output is the large number of small local adverts between the safe and fairly predictable pop music that is played most of the day....
There's nothing that UKRD provides outside of the core local elements that to me that is really local, with the exception of Juice 107.2 which has a different format to the other stations and screams Brighton.
In a way, it's a cut down version of the GWR format of the 90s, sharing the same playlist, programmed miles away from the stations, yet has automation instead of sophisticated networking.
Even the 'Oldies' network of DAB stations while the playout is local, the programming of those stations is from UKRD HQ in Redruth.
The same company which is promoting 'Local Radio Day' is about to close one local station to merge with another in Lancashire and has also done the same thing in NE England with Star Radio, which was three stations.
I know some people really love what UKRD provide and is old school radio to an extent, but I find the whole thing hypocritical and crass, when they like Bauer and Global have merged stations and have a central music log.
Local radio, of the kind espoused by stations such as Stray FM and Yorkshire Coast Radio, do visit local events with their Road Shows be they the Knaresborough Bed Race or Sewerby Fair in Bridlington as well as having a focus on a local street in their breakfast shows and actually talking with local listeners where they live.
It is these and other connections with local listeners that keeps people listening as well as having a good local news service and playing the genres of 'popular' music that most people want to hear.
If I want to hear specialist music I can always listen to 6Music, Classic FM, Jazz FM Stereo or Premier Praise.
Josh: Real local radio, the kind espoused by Stray FM and Yorkshire Coast Radio, provide an excellent service of local news, information and 'popular' music. However if I want to listen to specialist music I need to re-tune my radio from my local radio station to one that provides the genre of music that I wish to hear. Outside the metropolitan areas I do not find any stations that mix good local news and specialist music so I need to listen to a national station to provide me with classical music or jazz.
I like UKRD and I like what they do, but I agree with the consensus that it doesn't matter particularly where a local radio station is based. I mentioned on the RadioToday article that Rutland Radio is a case in point - it's based right in the middle of Oakham but out of breakfast it's automated content, albeit bespoke for the Rutland TSA, recorded in advance from Lincs FM Group studios in Lincolnshire or Yorkshire.
Would it be better to have the studio site move from Oakham into Lincs FM's complex if that meant that Rutland Radio got a bit more live (and local) programming - as it's technically not being "made" in the TSA, just played out from there.
I'm of the opinion it doesn't matter. The content is what matters. Who cares whether it was done in the TSA or at the group's HQ 70 or 80 miles away? Does it sound good?
When we had Litt Corp running 'local' stations from another part of the capital for my area. There was minimal local content with a wishy washy music policy. The station sound was poor and had very little input.
After the company closed those stations, those frequencies were allocated to community radio stations which are providing the right local output for niche audiences which wouldn't have been served by a UKRD style station.
It's always astounded me how Eagle Radio in Surrey is so popular and beating better produced London based stations, but UKRD have a decent local news service alongside the cheesy sung adverts circa 1992 and the odd Heart lite music policy. The BBC don't help either with BBC Surrey only having 5 hours of local output on weekdays with the rest networked with BBC Sussex.
BBC Surrey is one of the stations celebrating Local Radio Day, incidentally.
So Perhaps Local Radio day is for stations that are just a bit local and for some reason feel they need to remind their listeners of that - certainly the station I'm involved in which is VERY local, with a deep involvement in local community groups; 17+ hours of live local broadcasting a day with regular local features and covering all major local events etc - can see no benefit in taking part - our listeners KNOW we are local....
BBC Surrey don't exactly hide that they're not broadcasting from the local area half the time. The networked shows are Brighton centric and the travel news has traffic issues in Eastbourne and Hastings which aren't there during local hours. They do however have split news bulletins.
So you have a cheap and cheerful UKRD station being local, alas with a 90s cheesy sound programmed from Cornwall, despite not having the resources that BBC Surrey has from public funds, while the BBC in the county (which also serves NE Hants) is Brighton and Sussex centric.
So I wonder what actually is going to happen as a result of "Local Radio Day" other than these stations telling the listeners that they are local because they are part of it... Will there be more local coverage as a result or, is it just a PR exercise because market research says people like the idea of "local" radio?
What is it for really.....? I can't see it being for the listeners benefit.
When was playing the same song at the same time across all your stations classed as not being networked. UKRD do this all day everyday...
It is surely what the presenters say about their local area and not the songs they play that makes it LOCAL radio.
I have lived in a couple of areas covered by UKRD stations and their local radio staff know these areas of North & East Yorkshire and get out of the studios to visit the local towns and villages. I do not hear of a 'network presenter' sitting in a London studio, on a branded quasi-local network, visiting a local fair or visiting streets in Wessex or Yorkshire.
Global and Bauer stations also attend local events despite being part of a quasi national network as part of their promotions department, yet it can be argued that UKRD 'sound' more local on-air. It also helps that Stray FM and YCR are the only ILR in their analogue TSA's which allows them to play the local card more.
However, there are some small scale radio stations which would tick the full range of being local. Radio Jackie in London super-serves their audience despite the quasi-national local rivals on their doorstep. Central FM and Kingdom FM in Scotland also have larger budget rivals, but are fully local.
So what should 'Local Radio Day' celebrate? Lidl radio from UKRD, networked BBC locals such as BBC Surrey or those small operators such as Jackie and Kingdom FM who just get on with it without any fanfare or merging of stations?
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