UK Local Radio to Change

A shake up of the UK’s radio industry is on the way in the latest review by the industry regulator, the first review of the industry in over a decade.

Ofcom today confirmed the changes it intends to make in terms of local radio production as the organisation continues to ensure that stations provide an appropriate amount of local programming and content, despite a change in the way we consume media.

In the proposals, if a commercial station is providing local news at peak times (breakfast and drive), they must provide a minimum of 6 hours local programming, whereas if they are providing local news hourly between 6am-7pm, they will soon be required to only broadcast local programming for a minimum of 3hrs a day.

They also don’t expect stations to provide a locally made breakfast show or locally made programmes at the weekend or on public holidays.

I’m a stickler for ‘the good old days, but this will surely result in job losses across the country and commercial radio sounding even less local than it already does now in some cases. Local news on the hour isn’t even that local on some stations, one or two stories followed by a batch of entertainment news.

There are still a handful of local commercial stations around the country that provide local programming throughout the core daytime hours, but this announcement from Ofcom could cause those stations to rethink their output, especially as a form of cost cutting.

Sure, the way we have consumed radio has changed. We no longer listen on just traditional FM stereos in cars or the kitchen. We listen online, on mobile, on DAB digital radio. We don’t always listen live, we like to catch up and we often like to listen to it in the background. Regardless of our listening habits though, surely, we can all appreciate local radio?

The only benefit I can see for these new guidelines are the larger commercial groups and their advertisers. It’s easier to sell a national brand on a local level with national personalities.

If you were to ask me what I think will happen in the future under these new rules, I’d have to say perhaps some of these things:

  1. Free Radio Breakfast shows to broadcast Hits Radio Breakfast from Manchester (Local drive)
  2. Heart Breakfast to network London Breakfast with Jamie & Emma (Local drive)
  3. Heart Breakfast & Capital breakfast merge to more regional output (Local drive)
  4. Local weekend shows go national across the board
  5. UKRD remain local as they are now – network on public holidays
  6. Touch FM/Quidem stations network everything from Coventry (Local VT drive)

Up until Ofcom’s review today, rules and regulations regarding broadcasting local radio hadn’t been reviewed for a decade. As I mentioned before, this will be good for the bigger groups and their advertisers.

Listeners to radio these days don’t care for localness – they can get it elsewhere through other means (Community radio, internet, social media). Maybe, all they want is good music, big name celebrity hosts and chances to win holidays, money and other big-name prizes.

However, there is one radio sector that will continue to shine throughout this change and that is Community radio, including hospital, health and wellbeing stations. I’m not saying they’ll overtake the listener numbers from Commercial stations, but it’s their time to show that they really do provide localand relevantcontent, from studios based in the TSA.

Push those marketing campaigns, shout about the fact you attend local events, no matter how small they are, stock up on those freebies and provide something local and uniquely different to your commercial competitors.

Do we want radio to be ‘live and local’ from the town or city they’re broadcasting too? Of course – at least if a major incident breaks in the area, you’ve already got the local knowledge there.

It will be interesting to see what happens over the next year or so, in a review that was long overdue. Has the right decision been made by Ofcom? In reality, most likely, in terms of adapting to the changes in listening habits.

Friday 26th October 2018

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  1. Pingback: Local No More – Ian Pinnell

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