Our local media has served our community well during the Covid-19 crisis and lockdown. National news provided us with the big picture but what we have needed most is the local picture. Our local newspapers and local radio have given us that. We are coming out of the emergency in a better position than we might have done because of the strength of our local media.
BBC Radio Shropshire has fronted its breakfast programme with two presenters for nearly a decade. Eric and Clare. It proved a successful format for a programme aired when the news is at its busiest and the number of listeners is at its peak.
Today, the two presenter format has been abolished by BBC managers. Although no announcement has been made, the future for now will be breakfast with Eric Smith but without Clare Ashford as a co-presenter.
Since the start of lockdown, Eric Smith has been the sole anchor of the breakfast slot on BBC Radio Shropshire. Clare Ashford has worked alongside him. But it hasn’t felt like the equal billing as it used to be. It wasn’t equal billing. Perhaps we didn’t really notice because Clare has been busy with Make A Difference – the coronavirus news thread reporting all the great work in our community during lockdown. Once Clare entered in the studio, she has been her normal self. Banter. Laughs. Struggling to answer Eric Smith’s obscure questions. Challenging people during interviews.
Today, the BBC declared that there will only one presenter for local radio programmes in future. That national edict is set to banish the banter and camaraderie between two presenters who have worked together since September 2010. Over the last decade, Eric and Clare have teased each other mercilessly. But they haven’t shrunk away from telling us about the horrors of the world as well the great things that are happening in our county.
Eric will remain as a single presenter working a four hour stint from 6am to 10am. He is great at his job. We couldn’t ask for better. But a man who performs in pantomime every year needs someone as his sparring partner. A double act brings out the best in both presenters. Alas. Distant BBC managers have decreed having two presenters on local radio is too expensive.
I do wonder how often these managers listen to local radio stations. I wonder if they know that BBC Radio Shropshire has a similar share of the local radio audience as the revered Radio Four.
The BBC has a habit of trying to destroy local radio. Back in 2011, the BBC launched its Delivering Quality First initiative. DQF was code for swingeing cuts across local radio. I remember speaking on Radio 4 and accidently describing DQF as Destroying Quality First. That was a perfect slip of the tongue. At the invitation of Roger Fulton, presenter of Radio Four’s Feedback, I gate-crashed a media conference in Media City in Salford. As I asked questions, I was struck by how little BBC managers understood about why BBC local radio broadcasting so important.
The 39 BBC local radio stations in England are embedded in their local communities. They speak to their local communities. They speak for their local communities. They help shape their local communities.
After an energetic nationwide Save Local Radio campaign, the DQF cuts were reduced. Now we are seeing cuts again.
There seems to be a deep discomfort within the BBC about its local radio stations. But they are one of the BBC’s greatest achievements.
Television aims to make its performers celebrities. Local radio aims to make its presenters friends.
It is time the BBC recognised the success of local radio. We need local radio every day. We need local radio more than ever in times of crisis.