Distinct radio voices: why we need local heroes

Global radio is extending its geographical homogenisation by ending many local shows

When the creators of Alan Partridge exiled the disgraced fictional BBC TV presenter to Radio Norwich, the decision saw the comedy in the idea that local radio was a home for hosts who had lost, or couldn’t win, a national slot.

Later, Partridge was further humiliated by service on North Norfolk Digital, where the subjects discussed were even more parochially petty.

Such jokes identify the serious image problem that town or county wavelengths can have. The insult “it’s a bit local radio” has long been used in national newsrooms to damn a story thought niche or weak.

This perceived lack of relevance and glamour is one of the causes of the sharp decline in area-targeted commercial networks, a decline that digital technology has made still worse. When stations served a defined frequency, the boundaries could be enforced.

But LBC – originally a London service – has transmitted nationally since 2014. Global’s decision to transmit mainly nationwide products from London will extend this geographical homogenisation.

The reasonable defence of commercial networks will be that, given a dying advertising market, they simply cannot compete with an organisation – the BBC – which runs 40 local stations in England and is subsidised with about £150m of licence fee money.

But even the BBC has become less locally focused, with more coverage shared between stations. The worry is there are certain stories that do not matter to London or the world but are central to the lives of those in the postcodes involved – which is why it is vital that the local remains a big noise in radio.


Mark Lawson

The GuardianTramp

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