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BBC ‘Standing still now, at a time of such audience change, is not an option’

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Jason Horton, the acting head of BBC England, told CambsNews that the corporation remains committed to “the highest quality local services, delivered in the most accessible way for them”.

He was responding to a CambsNews article by his former colleague and BBC Radio Cambridgeshire presenter Richard Spendlove.

Richard had argued that the BBC, in announcing a radical shake-up of local radio, was “destroying something special – very – special”.

JASON HORTON responded.

Richard Spendlove and I have known each other for many years and we each have a shared love of serving local audiences, so I was disappointed to read his letter.

I want to be as clear as I possibly can be. Our proposals would see us maintain all 39 local radio stations.

There would still be dedicated local programming from all of our radio stations between 6am and 2pm on weekdays when audiences are at their largest.

And then in the afternoon, some stations will share programming across two or three neighbouring stations.

Our news bulletins and live sport would remain as local as they are today; and we will continue to provide content for audiences up and down the country, no matter which community they live in or background they come from.

BBC Local Radio remains a vital service for millions of listeners – the best local radio network in the world – but it’s also essential we make difficult choices so we can reach many people that increasingly rely on their mobiles for local content.

Our proposals to strengthen local online services reflect the changing habits of our audiences as they increasingly turn to mobile services for news and content.

I truly believe that we can deliver trusted local online news services that serve all local communities while keeping our local broadcast services strong.

According to Ofcom, those aged 65-74 cite online as a more common source of news than radio. Despite our listeners’ changing behaviour, we currently spend about 90% of our local investment in England on regional TV news and local radio.

We have proposed reducing our spend on these broadcast services by about 10% to reprioritise around £19m towards local online services and stronger original journalism.

These proposals will improve daily online news services in 43 local areas – delivering a trusted week-round service to communities countrywide.

We also plan to deliver a wider range of local audio programming through BBC Sounds.

Standing still now, at a time of such audience change, is not an option. Doing so would see the BBC’s public impact locally slowly erode as audiences turn to digital services.

Innovation and forward-thinking has always been a part of BBC Local services across Radio, TV and Online; that cannot stop now.

We owe all audiences, across England, the highest quality local services, delivered in the most accessible way for them. That is the purpose of these proposals.

Jason Horton, Acting Director, BBC Local

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This was RICHARD SPENDLOVE’S original letter:

Richard Spendlove in 2015 in the BBC studios

Jason Horton has a short memory.

Let me just remind him (with the greatest respect of course) that all those years ago, when we sat across a desk from each other, ‘co-presenting’ a Christmas Auction Special.

As I remember we were not being supported by ‘yoof’ Jason.

Your early efforts (and mine) were not listened to by ‘yoof’ young man; the words we spoke, at that time were enjoyed by an older audience.

The folk who turned out to see us.

The folk who bought things at those auctions.

The good people who did us the honour of asking for our autographs.

The people who trudged across the field to support us at outside broadcasts.

A listenership who – over the ensuing years – have been the constant lifeblood of local radio.

They relied on it, and they rewarded us by offering us their loyalty.

I catered for that audience for 34 years, 28 years of them on one show.

One of your managers rang me one day and said, “Dick, the interesting thing is that your figures never really drop – it is because as fast as we lose any of them, through age, someone younger climbs on the other end to take their place – and stays!

Why not stop listening to newbies and continuing streams of ‘statisticians’ and think what you are doing.

You are destroying something special – very – special. Some of us can remember ‘the day before yesterday.

We owe these people, and most particularly YOU owe them.

Richard Spendlove, MBE
Former BBC Regional Radio, South & East of England 

 

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