Wednesday, 20 August 2008

"A Local Show... for Local People"

Another week goes by and another 'networking' announcement for us in the radio business to absorb. This time it was the turn of Bauer's Scottish stations (that were formally the SRH group) to succumb to the temptation.

Radio Clyde will be the base for the weekday evening programming with Romeo (so good he's only known by the one name... think Madonna, Kylie etc.) doing a Scottish version of the 'In Demand' Show, and then Clyde's Gina McKie doing the late show. The weekend stuff is still to be announced, but I think we can expect more off-peak and overnight networking, perhaps with some specialist shows thrown in for good measure.

The justification for all of this is 'quality of product' and not cost-saving, according to Bauer and their delightfully enigmatic MD of the network, Travis Baxter. I buy that. They're not going to save a whole load of money by culling some badly paid late night jocks. The argument is that by wielding the 'power of the group' the quality of sessions / interviews etc improves, as those promoting their wears have a one stop shop to visit, rather than schlep around rainy Scotland... sorry, I mean travel in style around the most delightful shores of the British Isles.

Will listeners care that their 'local' DJ has been replaced in most cases by someone from out of town? Scotland is quite tribal in many ways, and radio is no exception. Many of the stations have built up loyal audiences, all be it quite young and sometimes quite small, in the evening. Is it a nostalgic and romanticised notion to want these evening shows to continue to exist, or has the radio world changed so much that local only makes sense in peak time?

Growing up in Liverpool in the 80's, my connection to pop culture was principally through the radio, and mostly every evening from 7pm till when I finally fell asleep. Tony Snell was the DJ on Radio City (he's still going strong on BBC Radio Merseyside now I'm glad to say) and through him I felt part of my home town, I knew what was going on... I knew the places he was talking about... I knew the schools he was mentioning... and I knew that somehow I was connected to all the other kids in my area via this strange and wonderful evening show that he presented and everyone listened to. (Tony also highlighted a whole load of bands to listeners and knew so much about music, but DJ's who know about music... that's another conversation!)

My point is this. Would I have felt less of a connection to my hometown (and loyalty to my local radio station) if the show was a generic networked show, produced... say... from Manchester. Actually, I probably would have done. Radio City gave me a little piece of my own tribal identity as a kid from Liverpool growing up in the 1980's. I felt there were others like me and a sense of localness was really important to me at age 13. After all, at that age, there's not much that defines you more than where you are from.

So, I fear, there will be a generation of kids growing up in the Scottish towns and cities who will no longer be served by their 'own' little evening / late shows, but by a rather generic product imported from another universe. Will they care? Possibly. Possibly not. But I know that having that connection to something very real and very local certainly gave me something to cling on to in those 'interesting' teenage years of development; a sense of identity and a reference point that was unique. 

The debate about local v networked will no doubt continue, but the drip, drip effect of more and more networking seems to be irrevocably eroding the very fabric of what still makes radio different. It's localness.

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