The end of BBC local radio as we know it, including Radio Shropshire

The BBC is going ahead with its plans to radically reshape local radio. It is expected that Radio Shropshire will only broadcast in the mornings, after which programming is expected to be subregional, probably with Hereford & Worcester and Stoke. News teams will be reassembled with a greater focus on digital content. There will still be local reporters and news readers but it will inevitably become more regionally based.

With only the breakfast and afternoon shows remaining, Radio Shropshire will only need a handful of presenters. Familiar voices will go and some have already indicated they will accept the inevitable. Other presenters, reporters and station managers are on tenterhooks. This is little more than the end of local radio as we know it.

Coverage of local football matches is unaffected.

One of the attractions of radio, local and national, is the familiarity of voices. You turn on your radio, ask your smart speaker to play Radio Shropshire, listen on your phone and you find voices that you have heard and voices that you trust. TV creates celebrities that many are in awe of. Local radio creates friends who might just be your next door neighbour.

Local radio is an essential for local democracy and local news, especially in times of severe weather or emergencies. But the local knowledge and coverage that local radio brings now end at 2pm Monday to Friday and will not be available at weekends.

The management of the BBC in London has been uncomfortable with local radio from the outset. In the early days, it refused to allow stations to broadcast their own news, but the enthusiastic teams in the new stations worked around that. The service has been our friend and a vital source of local news since its launch with Radio Sheffield in 1967.

The attempt to undermine local radio has been underway for some years.

In 2011, BBC management tried to decimate local radio. It called the cuts Delivering Quality First, which I “accidentally” called Destroying Quality First on Radio 4 Feedback. The cuts were halved after a huge public campaign. In 2021, the management of BBC Radio Shropshire was taken over by BBC Radio Stoke.

The current cuts have not generated the same opposition but they will herald the end of BBC local radio.

It has taken BBC management nearly 60 years to achieve its goal of destroying a service that had the audacity to be independent of its London-centric views. It seems like it is at last succeeding. Delivering Quality First has been resurrected as Destroying Quality Forever.

The redundancy process for reporters, presenters and producers has been underway for some months. We can except some well known names in Shropshire to go.

Folk music will also go, with Genevieve Tudor’s Sunday Folk an obvious casualty. There will be an opportunity for new folk acts on BBC Introducing but Introducing will also be shared, perhaps between Shropshire, Hereford and Worcester and Stoke.

The BBC is replacing local radio with a digital first service. That makes some sense but alienating your existing audience does not. And a digital service is almost by definition not a local service.

The BBC is as always too obsessed by itself and not the communities it serves.

4 comments on The end of BBC local radio as we know it, including Radio Shropshire

  1. Andy, are you aware if there is any sort of analysis of the cost per listener or watcher hour of the various BBC outputs revealing the cost of a local radio listener hour versus their other forms of output. The killer will be the central overhead they allocate to each type of output. It should obviously be v low for local radio.

      1. With reference to Shropshire Councillor Andy Boddington’s blog dated 26 February.

        Mr Boddington’s heart is in the right place in trying to understand the disastrous changes the senior BBC management is forcing through – changes that in effect will lead to the closure of BBC RADIO Shropshire as it becomes a part of a regional and national service later this year.

        On reflection Mr Boddington’s points, while totally valid, are over fifteen years late. Listening to BBC Local Radio has been in decline for two decades and it is increasingly being shunned by its target audiences – nationally. It is easy to see and hear why.

        If we take BBC Radio Shropshire as an example, in the 80s and 90s the service took pride in being competitive in every sense and the then incredibly high listening figures were a fully deserved reward. It was a fantastic public service providing entertainment and information and yes education too.

        More recently it has fallen short. The Shropshire public noticed and have found alternative radio services to listen to.
        Shropshire disappointments include the “gun incident” in Tesco’s in Shrewsbury in January 2020. Radio Shropshire was way behind in covering the incident in which a major police cordon was placed around the Harlescott area. The “Shropshire Star” and “Shropshire Live” digital outlets gave the concerned public an excellent and fast service. Not so the BBC who caught up later, and on BBC1’s Midlands Today – the following day.

        The Shropshire floods a year ago also come to mind. The BBC did not even update its online coverage for two full days at the height of the flooding in Shrewsbury and Ironbridge. I had a chat with a senior person at Radio Shropshire at the time. I had sympathy by the end of our conversation after I was informed that it was BBC Birmingham that had control over the digital news services the BBC provides locally. Of course the BBC keeps telling us that “digital is the future”.

        Meanwhile a few weeks ago I gave Radio Shropshire an exclusive story that had been given to me by an insider in a Shropshire company. I also gave the Shropshire newsroom a direct link to a Law Society report that had full details of the story. I was informed that the story was “too complicated” and that they did not have anybody free with the time to unravel the complex story. I asked to speak to the acting news editor. I was informed he was working from home. He never called me back. The Shropshire Star led their front page with this important scoop a few days later.

        As far back as 2006 BBC Nations and Regions management had the chance to experiment with alternative formats to stop the decline but this was halted. A year later it became obvious as to why.

        In 2007 the BBC effectively announced the future closure of BBC Local Radio by moving most its local reporting online with its My Local Now plans. This good plan – if not for Local Radio – was, in turn, stopped in its tracks with a fight back from local newspapers. BBC Local Radio appears to have become complacent from this point and yet subsequent BBC speeches and press releases gave enough hints that the move to prioritise digital outlets remained the way forward.

        And now we have a number of BBC local radio stations with almost unsustainable listening figures thanks not to just poor news services but also the BBC’s continuing chase of younger audiences at the cost of the loss of the formerly loyal 55 to 75 year old listeners.

        Recently the centrally controlled management of BBC Local Radio, with its varying target audiences and music policies which have alienated so many people, has found new ways to make BBC LR even less relevant by making stations regional or national for most of the day. The BBC senior management are weirdly still calling this “Local Radio”!!
        The BBC appears to have no plan to increase its number of listeners and to keep them listening longer. The decline in listening can only get worse from this point as its knowledgeable staff are openly pointing out.

        The future is grim for the likes of stations such as BBC Radio Shropshire, which is not alone in seeing its listening collapse. BBC stations in Leeds, Nottingham, Somerset, York and especially Swindon/Wiltshire for example have disastrously low listening.

        BBC Radio Shropshire had 1,594,000 listening hours per week in 2000. It is now 392,000 hours per week. So where has that fall of around three-quarters gone? (Figures from RAJAR and the BBC).

        The BBC might argue that it is short of money. It has an income of £5 billion a year with BBC Local Radio in England getting something in the region of £200 million to operate.

        The TV Licence Fee is on its last legs as the BBC and the 2007 Labour Government agreed. They were both at that time attempting to find alternative funding – suggestions included a lower compulsory digital tax and possible add on subscriptions for the specialist TV services. Meanwhile, there’s been another wasted fifteen years with no decisions being made for the future of the BBC.

        There are alternative ways of improving local broadcasting though.
        Shropshire Councillor Boddington should be aware that his own area of Ludlow has been awarded a small scale DAB+ licence by Ofcom. It is to be run by Murfin Media. Other parts of Shropshire including Telford, Shrewsbury, and Whitchurch are on the Ofcom list for future local radio services, as are most parts of the UK.

        Perhaps the BBC should now concentrate on its Digital Strategy from here onwards and “save” some of the Local Radio funding to help news and information provision at Community Radio services with the balance helping the likes of BBC “Midlands Today”, and “Look North” etc etc.

        Graham Hughes
        (A Shropshire Lad and former BBC staffer)

        PS the the BBC does do a cost per listener hour analysis. They no longer publish them for obvious reasons

  2. Don’t forget we have seen commercial radio fall wayside to more networking and group takeovers.

    We lost Signal 107, The Severn, Telford FM and The Wyre in recent years. Why on earth have Ofcom allowed these ‘local licences’ be given to big national groups and broadcast programmes from London and Manchester which have no value or relevance to Shropshire?

    We are lucky in Ludlow to still have Sunshine Radio which still continues to broadcast local news and information from Burway Trading Estate.

    Last year it switched on another FM frequency from Clee Hill and it still maintains the 855AM frequency for those of us who still can’t even get an FM signal in rural areas.

    It will be interesting to see if any new local services will be launched on the much needed DAB transmitter when its launched by Murfin Media – the owners of Sunshine Radio.

    As for the BBC – how many journalists, assistants and producers are there at Radio Shropshire? We’ve seen the new BBC Local Radio format of more music and less talk rolled out in the last year. No more debates and the rarity of callers making it to air.

Comments are closed.