When Tony Hall spoke to staff at BBC local radio recently outlining how the Corporation will change its focus for the stations, there were some encouraging thoughts. Value seemed to be attributed to the network despite previous indications the BBC felt it was just a drain on resources.
A broadening of the audience was established – making BBC local radio for all. A fine idea and not without merit. The commercial sector has increasingly deserted local programming to save money, leaving a gap for the BBC to exploit or community stations to try and fill. There is an audience there and it makes sense to try and serve it.
But the audience I feel it should focus on is the 40 and over; this is the generation that is attuned to traditional radio and constantly ignored by most commercial brands. Widening the remit to younger listeners is a fine intention but hard to get right and harder to achieve. Trying to be something to everyone inevitably ends up being something to no one.
On top of this changing audience and changing content, local BBC stations need to become more of an exhilarating place to work. Not filled with lifetime jobbers and empire builders but younger, hungrier talent that needs to use the platform to hone their skills before a national progression. It is true this does happen at the better local stations (often those in bigger towns or cities with a real ‘identity’) but in many there are people grazing or worse. Too many shows are done by ‘names’ or people that have been there too long.
Tony Hall’s speech is encouraging and there is now a real hope that staff across the local network may feel more valued. The direction it takes though needs to be chosen carefully. There is a growing older audience which would appreciate being served by a strong local radio brand. I think this is where the BBC should spend our money. It should invest in areas the commercial sector will no longer go. I hope it does.