As the BBC considers big cuts in its local radio services in England, Radio 4’s Feedback programme has done an excellent job in highlighting the strengths of stations like Radio Cumbria, which reaches a third of its target audience. However the programme also reported the poor performance of BBC local stations in many urban areas.
The proposal to reduce local output to morning and evening drive-time shows with other airtime filled with a relay of Five Live, could involve the loss of 700 jobs according to the unions (see report in Media Guardian).
Feedback heard suggestions that the BBC could operate local stations on a much leaner basis and heard from a successful commercial station Jack FM in Oxfordshire, as well as an innovative suggestion from the head of Radio Cumbria himself.
But does the existence of Radio Wales and Radio Cymru (along with Radio Scotland and Radio Ulster) undermine the arguments in favour of BBC local radio in England? Or should we in Wales be concerned that we do not have the public service benefits of a station like Radio Cumbria (as highlighted on Feedback – including the popular Lamb Bank?
The BBC did run local radio stations in Wales during the 1980s – Radio Clwyd in the north-east and Radio Gwent in the south-east. They fell victims to an earlier round of cuts. There’s an interesting record of what was lost when Radio Clwyd closed on the BBC’s Memoryshare website.
As things stand, don’t be surprised to see the BBC Trust point to Wales in support of the argument that county-based local radio is not the only model. But that argument would only back the suggestion for mergers or shared programming between adjacent stations (e.g. Radio Cumbria and Radio Lancashire), not the splicing on of a Five Live spine.
The longer-term worry would be that Radio Wales (though surely not Radio Cymru) could also be cut back – perhaps first in the evening – again with Five Live to fill the sandwich.
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