18/12/2011 : Yeovil Town Blog : The Future Of BBC Local Radio
18 December 2011 : The Future Of BBC Local Radio
On Wednesday, the BBC Trust will bring to a close their Service Review Consultation into the future of BBC Local Radio. This is a review that has been running since October 2011, and is designed to consider whether local radio stations are getting the best value for money for the licence fee payers and listeners who use the station.

This is a review that the Trust undertake on a regular cycle with all aspects of the BBC, but is particularly of relevance given the pressure upon the BBC to scale back its spending. The Government have frozen the BBC licence fee until 2017. However, given inflation will make that pot of money go a smaller distance, it is currently necessary for the organisation to rationalise some of what it does.

Whilst the focus of a football website will be upon the effect that might have upon its sports coverage, it's worth reminding ourselves when we tend to tune into local radio - bad weather, strikes, the summer riots, local schools, traffic accidents are all examples of where a national radio station programme may not be good enough, with the tendency of the nationals to be either London-centric, or concentrating upon major motorways or events that affect us across the whole country.

Then of course there's the sport - something that BBC Radio 5Live couldn't come within a mile of trying to replicate. The majority of us do not do all home and away Yeovil Town matches, and so tune in, either via the standard radio frequencies, or the internet, to find out how our team is doing. We are served by local commentators who know the team, know its style, and thus when a player picks up his fifth yellow card of the season, they can slip that into the commentary, because one of their team probably saw the other four yellows earlier in the season.

The BBC Trust consultation makes a number of proposals that they intend to implement, subject to feedback from listeners. One of the ones under discussion for BBC Somerset is the closure of it's 1566 Medium Wave frequency. The nationwide proposal is that all BBC local radio stations that carry an FM frequency should now have their MW frequency closed, which seems fair enough, were it not for the fact that on the far side of the Quantocks and Blackdown Hills it is believed that 30,000 people cannot receive the FM frequency. You'll therefore find that BBC Somerset are running regular bulletins asking its listeners to contact the BBC Trust if they struggle with the FM frequency within the intended broadcast area.

There are a number of other proposals on the table. You can read these as part of the BBC Trust consultation survey, but the intention is to concentrate local radio output over the 'breakfast' and 'drive' parts of the day, whilst at other times, these 'local' radio stations may share coverage with other stations (much in the same way that BBC Somerset and BBC Bristol often do) but on either a semi-national or national scale - e.g. there may be a programme that is broadcast across all South-West BBC local radio stations at a given time. Weekday early afternoons, weekday evenings after 7.00p.m. and other off-peak times are under consideration. Overnight, all stations would carry BBC Radio 5 Live.

The BBC Trust have suggested that local sports commentaries would continue as planned. However, there is still a question mark under what terms that would be done. At the time that the Trust launched their consultation, the Northern Echo, which covers the BBC Tees and BBC Newcastle areas and teams such as Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Newcastle United, Hartlepool United and Darlington, voiced their fears over what the future could hold.

Over the weekend when Yeovil Town played Rochdale, those of you who tuned into BBC Somerset will have heard BBC Somerset reporter Pete Simson, along with local freelance journalist Chris Spittles. At the other end there will have been probably another pair of reporters from BBC Manchester giving a spin from the Rochdale perspective. Each pair is able to largely focus upon their own 'team'.

The Northern Echo said that one proposal was for those commentary teams to be rationalised, so that a single pair covered the game for both stations. Clearly in those circumstances, the commentators would need to make their views more 'neutral' - almost impossible to do given that the commentators are often supporters of the team they're watching. On the odd occasion I have tuned into an opposition radio frequency, the mentions of Yeovil Town players are vague and almost incidental.

Going back a number of years ago, I got a taste of what that future might sound like. In November 2004, Yeovil Town played Darlington in an FA Cup match. I was 'between cars' and the lack of notice on the cup draw meant that I was quoted a daft price by the rail companies to take a train up there. In the end I decided to stay at home.

I'm not sure why we didn't get one or two of our usual 'pool' of Somerset/Bristol commentators, but on tuning in, we got a commentator who sounded like he'd been drafted in off the set of When the Boat Comes In (younger readers, just think Byker Grove here). I suspect he had been drafted in at short notice, but his consistent mispronounciation of Bartosz Tarachulski, Andrejs Stolcers, Adrian Caceres, Andy Lindegaard and Yemi Odubade had me screaming at the radio. To make matters worse, he was the only commentator, and there was no-one to correct him. He stumbled his way through the problem of describing "Errr ... No.6 ... errr ... Darren Way ... passes the ball to ... errr the right-winger". That was if you could get past the Tyne accent and occasional dialect.

I'm probably being very unfair on someone who agreed to do a favour as a one-off, and as someone who has done local radio 'match updates' for a commercial radio station, I know how difficult it can be to talk coherently for 90 seconds, let alone 90 minutes. However, there was no doubt that it affected the quality of the broadcast.

I've heard the odd BBC Somerset commentary when they've thrown in even a local commentator who is not one of the more 'regular' ones, and certainly you hear more stumbles as they try to recognise players they are not overly familiar with. It's a different kettle of fish if you are Alan Green on BBC Radio 5 Live - you're a 100 percent full time commentator covering players who we struggle to get off our TV screens, and where recognition is far more straight-forward than picking out Yeovil Town's 35th player to be used of the season, as he warms up on the sidelines on the other side of the pitch.

Those of you who rely upon the local radio commentary (which includes the PTV/World subscription package that broadcast the BBC feed) please put in the effort to complete the BBC Trust survey, which is linked below, along with a couple of other articles, you may find useful reading. Obviously put in your own views about non-sport coverage as well.

The proposals detailed are not a done deal, and we shouldn't assume that the Northern Echo's prediction of the future will come true. Recently a campaign by listeners of the BBC 6 Music station managed to prevent its closure, whilst there has already been plenty of opposition to the current proposals from local MPs and organisations, and speculation that the BBC may be seeking to perform a full or partial u-turn on the plans. But neither should people be complacent about such matters - those who value local radio should look carefully about the effect it may have upon the service you listen to, and give your views back to the BBC Trust via their survey below.

Link: BBC Trust Website: BBC Local Radio: Service Review Consultation Survey.

Link: BBC Somerset: Councils' Plea To Save BBC Somerset's Medium Wave service.

Link: Northern Echo: BBC Local Radio Consultation.

Link: The Guardian: BBC Local Radio Cuts: Interactive Graphic.

Link: The Guardian: BBC Local Radio Cuts 'A Crippling Blow', Says MP.


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