I’m concerned now more than ever before about the future of local radio. Not only for how it sounds and where it stands in the current market, but also where aspiring radio presenters can start a career they so wish to embrace.
Let me explain why. Earlier this year, Ofcom, the governing body of radio announced the approval of radio deregulation. This allows radio stations to broadcast from areas outside of their local area, which they were not allowed to do before. There is still regulation in terms of competitions, fairness and broadcasting limits but broadcast locations are now much more relaxed with stations being allowed to broadcast just 3 hours of local content a day*.
What it essentially does is save a lot of money, because radio stations can broadcast from one area and put that show across a group of stations, rather than individual local shows. Now, I am not totally against networking because in a lot of cases, the quality of a radio broadcast can be improved because of better investment to making better radio, however I believe that some decisons do not put the audience first, or consider devloping new talent.
A few years ago, there were a lot more local radio shows coming from different areas, meaning that they were a great place for new talent to shine. It wasn’t so far to travel and there were more jobs. They may not have paid as well, but they were great openings. Many people start in hospital radio, online radio and then work their way to small commercial stations to then gain experience into what it’s like to do the job in a professional and paid environment. I started on a local radio station in Telford, reading travel bulletins and working my way up. That radio station is now part of a bigger network, so getting into radio for me if it was today, would be a little harder.
Many radio stations that could survive very healthily a few years ago are now being sold to bigger organisations. It’s not as a result of networking directly, it’s also due to many economic and social changes. Our listening habits are different now, because we have so much choice with DAB, streaming and downloading. It’s often easier and you can choose your own music on some of these platforms.
That said, commercial radio listening according to Rajar (a listening measurement organisation) is still very high.* Competition SHOULD be encouraging better radio, but is it? With repetitive playlists, bland styles and very long ad breaks, will that sustain radio’s future?
The answer is no. What will save radio is entertainment and giving listeners a unique experience on the radio that they can’t get anywhere else. The reason they stay after the adverts could be that the radio station is doing something entertaining but local at the same time, offering a service that makes it feel like the radio station knows about them and their area. This should never be forgotten. Local radio can do this very well and having a presenter that knows the area they’re talking to is very effective. Local radio is not about reading a list of events. Radio is engaging and entertaining, whilst also giving that important information.
Despite radio making more money because of networking, high radio listening and deregulation, there is a massive problem. Although we’re fed up of hearing about it, Brexit and the future of our economy also risks local radio, with stations already taking precautions and saving money because of uncertainty. The UK is currently the EU’s biggest broadcasting hub, so the risk of Brexit makes the industry wonder what will happen next. Many local radio stations that once operated separately are being sold. For example, last year, The Bay and Lakeland Radio (Cumbria and Lancashire) got sold to Global who own various radio stations across the UK and introduced their brands Smooth and Heart to incorporate them to their brands. Brands which I think are very strong, I must add. Another example, Bauer Media bought stations in the Midlands, and shared programmes with their Manchester station.
Radio changes very often. To make good radio it doesn’t always have to be local, but opportunities are at risk and the more uncertain the economy and future is, the fewer openings for new talent there will be. Experience in everything is always the key.