Local No More

In a move I partly predicted back in December last year, Global, owners of Heart, Capital and Smooth, yesterday announced plans to network breakfast across their respective stations and consolidate drivetime programmes.

It’s clear that Global are moving away from being local and relevant in favour of bolstering up these already semi-national brands.

As a brief overview, Capital will get a single breakfast show across its frequencies based in London, replacing 14 local breakfast programmes, while the larger approved broadcasting areas will mean nine drivetime programmes will be provided, instead of the current 14. Though it is understood that Capital Cyrmu will keep local breakfast (6-10am) and afternoon/drive (1-7pm).

For Heart, a single breakfast show from London will replace 22 breakfast shows across England, Scotland and Wales and under the changes, 10 drivetime programmes will cover larger areas instead of 23 separate ones. 

Smooth will too get one national breakfast programme and 7 drivetime programmes as stations merge to larger broadcast areas.

RadioToday have the full details of the story and whilst this is a major change to Commercial Radio in the UK, it’s clear the focus is more on delivering a brand, instead of local content. 

Whilst it’s a great loss to loose localness and talent, listeners these days want radio that’s relevant to them. Someone, somewhere in Scotland has the same thoughts about news and entertainment as someone in Essex, someone in Wales, Brighton, Manchester… you get the idea. So to have a national breakfast show on three major commercial stations makes sense, especially when you have to compete with BBC Radio 1, BBC Radio 2 and commercial competitors.

Reality speaking, whilst Heart Breakfast where I live are very good at mentioning names and locations “Steve in Wallingford” “Diane in Cowley” etc that really is the only bit of presenter led localness you get. Throughout the day, it’s very rare you hear a place-name check. You do, however, hear listeners winning in competitions you’ve entered and think “Why not me?!” – again, the same thoughts someone in Wales, Scotland, Derby, Oxford has.

Equally, let’s not forget that most of the output of these stations currently comes from London from 10:00-16:00, 19:00-06:00 weekdays and the majority of the weekend. These changes would see the only ‘local’ output being a three hour Drivetime programme, but broadcast to a much wider area thanks to Ofcom’s deregulation announcement, which is also the reason why these changes are happening. You’ll still hear local ads and travel information though.

Ultimately, this is a business decision. It’s far easier to sell advertising nationally and reap the benefits, both from a broadcaster’s and advertisers’ perspective, just look at The Chris Evans Breakfast Show on Virgin Radio, with a twelve-month deal with Sky. One sales team for the national programmes based in London, who can reach national brands listeners know and love.

It’s unlikely these stations will lose listeners. From reading comments on newspaper websites who have reported their local hosts are leaving, a fair few actually didn’t realise most of the output comes from London anyway, though on some sites, people have misrepresented articles to read Capital, Heart or Smooth will cease to exist on their local frequencies.

With Bauer’s recent acquisitions, it probably won’t be too long until they consider something similar with their range of stations. Hits Radio breakfast to go national and up against Capital, Free Radio turning into Hits Radio but in consolidation to larger areas and similar as their Greatest Hits network continues to expand.

For listeners that do want localness, BBC Local Radio is always there and there are a few groups still providing local stations and content, including UKRD, Quidem and Oxis Media (Jack FM).

However, this is an opportunity for Community Radio to shine – raw, local talent to shout about their communities, reach new listeners and go to new heights with their programmes and think outside the box (but within broadcasting and in some cases, charity law).

It’s a real shame though, to be losing talented presenters, producers, marketing staff across the UK. RadioToday analysis suggests up to 100 people will face redundancy. But, let me echo what has already been said.

You are an excellent communicator. You’re a creative, you’re passionate. No one can fault your dedication, you get up ridiculously early and put over 100% into everything you do, you have great attention to detail, superb people skills and a love for what you do. Your skills are transferable in so many ways. No matter how hard it is to leave your programme and teams, you’ve made some incredible friends for life and your next adventure will be just as fun and fulfilling. 

Ian Pinnell, 27th February 2019.

Wednesday 27th February 2019

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