Radio radio

By Dave Woodhall.

There have been reports that proposed cuts at the BBC will lead to the death of local radio as we know it. A story in yesterday’s Guardian claimed that as part of a drive to make £400 million in savings the BBC will be scrapping all its local output except for breakfast and drivetime shows, and replacing them with content from Five Live.

Now, apart from the fact that ‘drivetime’ is a horrible and probably American word, this story doesn’t concern me all that much. It should, because local radio is a valuable asset to the nation’s media, and any reaction in the amount of news sources is a sad day for democracy. The trouble is that I find it hard to have any feelings for something I can’t relate to, and I don’t really relate to BBC local radio, which in this region is WM.

I used to listen to the station a lot back in the days when it was a regular award-winner and had presenters that did their job, doing programmes that were essential listening: Decent phone-ins, worthwhile campaigning, relevant news – the sort of stuff that should be the lifeblood of any local medium, whether print or broadcast.

I can’t comment about WM’s current with any accuracy, because I hardly ever listen to the station. When I do, the presenters either seem to be wannabe shock-jocks, minor local celebrities or on secondment from hospital radio. Their programmes consist of bland phone-ins about TV and whatever the presenter has as their hobby horse today, interspersed with music that to paraphrase Half Man Half Biscuit, encompasses a broad range of music tastes, from Madonna to U2.

WM’s evening shows, once the best part of their output, are sport (ie football, spread extremely thin over the entire week) phone-ins then a couple of hours of local programming that smacks of the bare minimum they can get away with. Sport aside, the weekend output is of little relevance to anyone under the age of 50. I’m trying to think of anything I’d miss if WM was scrapped, and apart from the traffic information (and –  as an aside  – why does that bloody RDS thing always cut in with news of a hold-up in Shrewsbury?) I’m struggling.

It shouldn’t be like this. Radio WM could be a vital part of the local news and entertainment scene, providing an outlet for emerging talent as well as offering a service to the community. It doesn’t have to cost any more than the stations; current budget, but it does require a bit of imagination. But instead of taking a few risks Radio WM plods on, catering to an audience that gets older by the day and dazzled by anyone who’s the least bit famous. If it does go, I can’t honestly say it will be missed.