BBC local radio is under threat like never before from a myriad of media options, lack of investment and the BBC itself.
Across the country many stations have lost listeners and audience share, and in Cambridgeshire less than 10% of the available audience now listen to the station every week, with just 77,000 sets of ears engaged.
All of this conveniently plays into the current BBC narrative of cutting local output because of dwindling audiences at certain times of the day (2-6pm mainly)
The decline in audience at Cambridgeshire has been ongoing for the last five or six years but BBC bosses have sat on their hands and failed to act. Is it ineptitude or managed decline?
Any other business that was keen to improve and survive would surely change management, shake up the offer or instigate an improvement plan.
In this day and age of shrinking local journalism BBC Local Radio is more important than ever and should be invested in, rather than cut back; Online should be strengthened too but not at the expense of radio.
But in many places BBC Local Radio does need an overhaul from somebody who understands it, somebody who knows how to connect with the audience, somebody who wants to see it survive and prosper for the next 20 years at least.
Somebody who has a plan.
Here’s my big idea for BBC Cambridgeshire; move to Peterborough!
It’s where the listeners are, it’s where the stories are, and the rents are far cheaper than Cambridge too.
To be fair to the good folks who still work at BBC Cambridgeshire they have been subject to confused, contradictory and at times laughable local management for a number of years.
During my time the manager was a figure of fun, a character straight out of W1A, but he has gone now, so now is the time to re-set, refocus and get the audience back.
Here’s the plan.
Get to know your listeners again. It’s no use broadcasting Radio 4 lite to cravat wearing, cyclists in tweed pants – they will still listen to Radio 4, whatever you do.
Instead, get down and dirty with the C, D and E’s (you know, the folks that shop at Aldi and Lidl, watch football, and eat takeaways a bit too much – normal folk). Ensure you are talking about what they are talking about, on every show, every day.
Ditch your pre planned vanity stories and edicts from above, in favour of local or localised stories that matter to your audience, right now.
Ensure somebody with a thirst for news is in charge of the news narrative across the day and that every show reflects the different strands and elements of the stories that are important to the listener.
Name that theme tune is no substitute for creative interaction, jeopardy, and humour.
Sad to see that my old radio home @BBCCambs now reaches less than 10% of people in Cambridgeshire per week – Just 77,000 listeners now listen to the whole station – 5 years ago we had that figure listening to just our mid morning show pic.twitter.com/hVoXa1QvDB
— Paul Stainton (@PaulStainton) February 2, 2023
Presenters need to push the envelope, take risks, have fun and challenge the ridiculous music policy that alienates the 45- to 70-year-olds, who are desperate to listen.
If you are not getting interaction via email, text etc, you are talking about the wrong stuff, or the right stuff in the wrong way.
Content is key but so is delivery and tone.
Never repeat audio verbatim from earlier in the show.
At the very least package it up in a different way.
You work in a creative industry, be creative and give the listener something new to listen to all the time. It’s your job.
Learn from stations like Cornwall and Cumbria who are completely tapped into their community and where you continually hear the listeners voice on air.
It was so important to me when I was presenting to make the listener feel like an integral part of the show and those voices have almost disappeared on BBC Cambridgeshire.
Of course, moving north would mean a bit of an upheaval for 98% of staff who live in or around Cambridge but it is the obvious thing to do to safeguard the future of BBC Local Radio in the county.
It’s also better ‘up north’
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