BBC Radio Shropshire this morning announced the retirement of one of the great stalwarts of local radio, Eric Smith, after almost 50 years in the studio.

For many people in Shropshire and beyond, Eric Smith is the first voice that says hello to them in the morning. It is a comforting voice. Familiar. Measured. Fun. And if you are being interviewed by him, as I know from experience, he can be challenging. That’s want we want and what we need in local radio. To be informed and entertained.

Image: BBC Radio Shropshire

In the BBC local radio network of 40 stations, only Jersey and Guernsey get a bigger proportion of the potential audience than Shropshire. Back in March, when life was pretty normal, BBC Radio Shropshire’s reach 24% of the population in the area it broadcasts. Its audience share, which is how much listening it gets against other stations, is 11.6% with people listing for an average of 9.8 hours. RAJAR, which does this research, doesn’t publish data for individual shows and has not updated data during the pandemic. On local public, radio listenership is highest in the morning. In the afternoon and evenings, people watch more TV or tune to entertainment only channels. Hosting the breakfast show for 22 years, Eric has played a major part in BBC Radio Shropshire being one of the most successful local radio stations in England.

Eric’s voice has been the one we hear first thing in the morning when Shropshire floods. When snow has clogged up Shropshire’s arteries and closed its schools, he has been there as anchor of the breakfast show.  We heard Eric when a major gas explosion hit the centre of Shrewsbury in 2010. And of course, during the eongoing coronavirus epidemic.

Local radio has lasted so long because it reaches out to local communities as a friend. TV is geared up to creating celebrities. A celebrity is not you and me. The whole idea of the cult of celebrity is that it creates people who are distant from the world we live in. That’s why so many people are fascinated, even star struck by them.

Radio is different. We don’t watch it. It permeates our lives as we go about our daily business. Local radio doesn’t create celebrities. Its presenters live lives much like our own. They are embedded in our communities. That’s why we trust them. That’s why we regard them as our friends. That’s why we need them.

A regular in Theatre Severn’s pantomimes, Eric has a synergy with his broadcast sparring partner, Clare Ashford. A daft quiz master, he has often had me stumped. He has been a major supporter of local charities, both as master of ceremonies at fundraising events and through featuring charities in the breakfast show.  

Eric Smith, along with the team at BBC Radio Shropshire, has helped us know ourselves better. That’s the power of local radio.

Have we heard the last of Eric Smith? I suspect not. He is not the sort of man to become a recluse.

BBC Press Release 9 December 2020

BBC Radio Shropshire Presenter Eric Smith to retire after nearly 49 years in the industry

Eric Smith, BBC Radio Shropshire’s Breakfast show host for 26 years, is to retire this year.  Eric’s last show will be on Tuesday 22nd December, 2020.

Brought up listening to pirate radio and BBC Radio One, he’s committed to radio as a force for good – for companionship, for information, and to share a laugh. Eric’s first and last love has been to serve his community through the power of radio. He started with BBC Radio Sheffield as a 20-year-old office boy, and held various roles at BBC Radio Cumbria, BBC Radio Humberside and BBC Radio Stoke before arriving at BBC Radio Shropshire in 1988 – the station was just three years old at the time. After a spell in charge of programmes and recruiting new talent, Eric began presenting the BBC Radio Shropshire Breakfast Show in spring 1994.

Commenting on his retirement, Eric said:

“As I retire from 49 years in radio, I look back with fondness on my 26 years presenting the Breakfast Show on BBC Radio Shropshire – eight General Elections, 16 pantomimes, 22 Carols in the Square. And a whole lot of fun!!  I’ll certainly miss my colleagues, and will miss being on the radio; but I won’t miss the early morning alarm clock! I intend to stay in Shropshire and continue to enjoy the delights of this beautiful county. I’m so grateful to everyone who’s listened and taken part in the show over the years. We’ve all gone through a very strange 2020… let’s hope we all have a brighter 2021”.

Rose Aston, Editor of BBC Radio Shropshire said:

“Eric will be missed by everyone who has ever listened to him on BBC Radio Shropshire. Over the decades he’s entertained breakfast listeners with his good humour, he’s expertly held our decision makers to account, and enabled many thousands of Shropshire people to have a voice. He likes nothing better than to celebrate the county and its people. On a personal note he’s unfailing generous. As well as nurturing so many younger and less experienced colleagues in the BBC, he’s given thousands of hours of his own time for free to local groups and charities. Eric’s commitment to local radio being at the heart of the community, is second to none. We’ll all miss him enormously and wish him a long and happy retirement”.

Eric Smith’s last show will be on Tuesday 22nd December from 6am-10am on BBC Radio Shropshire

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