Monday, February 27, 2012

Radio Royalty to ‘save' BBC Local?

Radio Royalty to ‘save' BBC Local ?

At the end of the day that saw the John Myers report on the future and funding of BBC local radio, I saw on Twitter that John was to appear the next morning, 28 February, on the BBC station in ‘my’ old radio stamping ground of 20 years, Nottingham! I was working on my computer and had also just seen a copy of an old Radio Trent Christmas card, featuring a ‘cartoon’ of the djs. They were all 30 years younger as the card was from 1981-1982. Looking at a group of just 4 of us from the cartoon*, I realised that our lives (careers) had all gone in different directions.... but it also gave me an IDEA…. So, here I am. burning the midnight oil, to type this, with only a 'voice-tracked' radio station to listen to...

On a national basis Dale had of course (as we all expected then) ‘gone’ the farthest, he had ‘star quality’ and it was only a matter of time before he left radio to join television. Of course on local radio, you are a ‘big fish in a small pond' so I must explain that the blonde is Tony Lyman, who worked in Nottingham constantly from 1978, and later in Leicester and Derby, as he was a mainstay on Radio TrentGEM-AM, and then Saga Radio and its ‘highwayman’ Smooth. So he has known the region (and the listeners have known him) for thirty four years! Slightly ironically, it was John Myers ‘at the helm’ of Smooth when Tony lost his show (because of syndication) after 30 years on-air in the region…

Even better known is the bearded man, the ‘father of Nottingham Radio’, John Peters. No one has been heard more on Nottingham airwaves in the last 37 years... He ‘opened’ Trent on its first day in 1975, did breakfast for longer than anyone, then did GEM breakfast for much if its (sadly) short life. It reached 24% of the Nottingham listeners before being melted into the ‘Gold’ mould where it shrivelled back to a 3% reach (thanks GWR/Capital) before the name was finally lost. John was STILL the voice of Nottingham (Great East Midlands) breakfast in this century; firstly on Saga, then Smooth. If you’ve never heard of him, I would label John as ‘the Terry Wogan of Nottingham’.

Now the fourth one in the picture is me, but I was at best a ‘shooting star’, two years at Metro, a slightly lack-lustre time at Piccadilly (it and me ), then from ’77 great fun at 'Trent Towers'. But even as early as 1982 I was receding into the background. I knew radio careers are delicately balanced and with great presenters around like Dale, Tony and John, I found management, music (and making the jingles) more satisfying and I have to say ‘secure’. By today’s terminology, I would be labelled a ‘suit’, but I never acted like one… I promise!

Why have I recorded all this nostalgia (even history) now? Because my ‘radio senses’ kicked in after a good glass of Portuguese Alentajo Vinho Tinto this evening.

Those Nottingham listeners who in the 70s and 80s had followed Tony, John, Dale and myself, and given us a 30%+ reach each week, were then 15-24s, or 25-35s.

Hey! That means they are NOW 45-54s, or 55-65s…

Now… let me think, which radio station targets those groups NOW?

Of course, BBC Local Radio!

So does this mean that those Trent /GEM listeners:

♦who loved ‘music radio’
who wrote in profusion
♦who knew all the dj names
♦who could sing all our jingles
♦who left cakes on reception (in Nottingham not London)
♦who listened fervently DESPITE awful double-glazing/tyre ads
♦who came to gigs every week
♦who formed crowds outside when Cliff, Diana Dors or Gene Pitney came in...

Have got 'old';  no longer want radio with ‘fun’, lively jingles, a ‘heritage factor’ ? Do they REALLY prefer a NEWS-led, journalistically driven station as all BBC locals persist with? Are 45-65s REALLY so different now to when they listened to ‘our’ style of radio in their youth?

I think .. NOT.

So, if the BBC is brave enough to do it, one more idea in addition to the very sound ones outlined by John Myers…

Bring–in ‘radio royalty’ from YOUR area to DO the main shows*

ILR made them what they are, but YOU get the benefit..!

We know how many GOOD ILR presenters were suddenly without a job as Heart, Smooth, Real, Capital etc merged closed machinated ‘local radio’ into a computer controlled ‘radio mousse’ digitally squeezed from London.

The biggest ‘weapon’ BBC local has to fight back is:

to mix its (often) good editorial skills** with a new music based mix featuring a team of presenters of the SAME GENERATION as its target audience. In Nottingham, they could have John Peters, Tony Lyman and others (but Dale’s busy!)

And in every part of the country, there are still the ‘djs you grew up with”, who fell under the ‘scythe of syndicated radio’***. They could invigorate the limp rag that is (sometimes) BBC Local radio, with its misguided, under-performing, over-journalistic principles.

T o save offending anyone, I know that Tony Lyman already works on other BBC services (but not Nottingham), and Paul Robey, (both a presenter and later manager at Trent/GEM) is already on Radio Nottingham.

Let’s get the presenters WHO made radio… who made radio LOCAL… who got those huge reaches back in the 70s and 80s.... BACK on what is left of local radio. The only outlet now** is BBC Local radio ~ but if the Beeb, 'bite the ILR bullet’ and take on these ‘names’ who are STILL remembered by those 45-65s, I predict, your stations will indeed regain the ratings you seek, and NEED to justify not being severely cut-back financially.

Why am I writing all this? I was after all always an ‘ILR man’, and I never felt the BBC licence fee system was fair or worked.

Easy. If BBC locals take this very strong, high, ‘heritage’ ground, mix 'heritage' LOCAL personalities, with good music and local speech programming, they will gradually undermine the ‘quasi national syndicated’ services that live in the carcass of what was ‘Independent Local Radio’. And maybe, we will eventually see the initials ILR, meaning just that once again; so wherever you are in Britain, your station is from YOUR city. So, “Best of Luck” to the BBC !

Len Groat (definitely retired****)

* To save hurt egos, retain friendships, the card featured too many to elaborate on: Colin Bower, Steve Merike, Viv Evans and someone called David Lloyd !

** Apologies to the (hard-working) BBC presenters currently on these shows but if it's a choice between station first, or presenter first - journalist or personality radio ~ the station/personality MUST win.

*** A STRONG word here for the enthusiasts on Community / Internet stations, doing a great job, and often secure in ‘real’ work as well as having fun being local on the radio. With the ‘journalism gene’ swept away from BBC local,  from their ranks may come the next generation of BBC local presenters.

UPDATE: 12 January 2015 : **** Except weekdays 10am to 1 pm on 

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