Thursday, 24 June 2010

Global Radio: has the Heart gone from local commercial radio?

Global, the parent company of your local Heart radio station has announced plans to reduce 33 to 15.  Having worked in commercial radio for 10 years, I felt I had to say something to someone (or no one in the case of this blog!)...

In 1999 I entered the world of commercial radio, after completing a postgraduate diploma in broadcast journalism. I spent a hugely happy 10 years of my life pretending I was working, when really I was getting paid (not very much) to do something I loved.  I interviewed pop stars, politicians and plethora of inspirational, devastated or crazy members of the public. We laughed a lot, we cried sometimes and we had some incredible opportunities and experiences. I went to Kenya with 800 paratroopers, I watched murderers plead with the public to help find the family member they'd just killed, I broadcast live from outside Harold Shipman's surgery on the night he was convicted, Trinny and Susannah scarred me for life and made great radio when they destroyed what I was wearing on-air. See, I said I loved it, and I really did.  I feel incredibly blessed to have so many wonderful memories, which is why I was so sad to read the about the changes Global will be making.

I am very clear in my head while I type this, that it isn't some bitter rant at Mr Tabour (or any past CEO, and there have been a few!) I hope it doesn't read like one. I am not bitter. I loved my time at what was Capital Radio and then became GCap and then Global. I am sad for my ex-colleagues and friends who've been put at risk of redundancy, for some of them the third time in less than eight years. But I also recognise that many listeners have noticed no discernible difference between what they listened to when I first started broadcasting in 1999 and now.

I notice, of course I do, to me it's so easy to hear.  In 1999 your local radio station broadcast live 24 hours a day 365 days a year, usually from an industrial estate or shopping centre just down the road. Invicta FM (now Heart Kent) broadcast from the John Wilson Business Park, Whitstable, but listeners in Canterbury, Maidstone, Margate and Dover all thought the station was based in their town. 

There was an on-air team of around:

  • 15 DJs, the jocks (known internally as The Talent, to be said with tongue firmly placed in cheek!)
  • A breakfast show producer
  • A station producer
  • Between 6-7 in the news team 
  • Traffic and travel reporters (isn't traffic and travel the same thing?!) 
  • The guy or girl in the plane (yes, there really was someone in a plane) 
  • And numerous work experience wannabes
Now, the breakfast show is local and live and so is drivetime, but everything else is "networked" from London and sometimes pre recorded, and the newsroom has a staff of two. 

Does the listener notice? Can they hear:

  • The telltale pauses coming in and out of ad breaks 
  • The pre-recorded news bulletin which is slightly clipped at the start
  • The presenter who name checks the wrong station or website
  • The dead air at 3am
  • The generic weather bulletin for the entire South coast, recorded on a Friday night to be broadcast across the weekend
  • The local murderer found guilty at 11am, who you won't find out about till the next local news bulletin at 4pm 
  • The pre-recorded show mistakenly broadcast in it's entirety again the next week 
The RAJAR (Radio Joint Audience Research) figures would suggest not. And it is because the listeners don't notice, or don't care, and keep listening, that it makes financial sense for Global to do this.

I don't have some big point to make, I don't blame one person or group of people, industries change and evolve, and that isn't a bad thing. I just wanted to tell you how wonderful local commercial radio was to work in. And what a shame it is that so many fantastically talented and passionate people risk losing the job they love. I can say with confidence and from experience though: the world outside of radio is scary, but it can also be enormously rewarding and occasionally even a little bit fun!  

To read more about the Global changes:

  • The Guardian's John Plunkett wrote an article, complete with lots of comments
  • eRADIO, a weekly newsletter, dedicates their latest version to the changes
  • Some local papers, like the Crawley News, have covered the closure of their local station
If you work in local radio and want to comment below please do, alternatively if you listen to local radio and have or haven't noticed changes please let me know.