Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Local Radio: Britain's punching bag.

Back in Britain, Beth FM, Brunel FM and 3TR are facing an uncertain future because their parent company, South West Radio, went into administration this week.

Well, I'm suddenly getting deja vu. Didn't this happen just last year?

No, wait, it was Laser Broadcasting that went into liquidation last year - and South West Radio which bailed them out. In my defence, though, it's easy to get confused - what with former director Nigel Reeve being knee-deep in both companies.

After five years in the radio business, I still find the plight of the British commercial radio industry to be tragic. It's partly due to a really shitty marketplace - it's tough enough to compete with the BBC, who have a lavish budget and no commercial breaks, without OFCOM handing out radio licences like they were candy. In Winchester, I could tune into no less than 11 commercial radio stations from my back yard!

But the radio business earns a lot of scorn itself. Of those 11 radio stations I mentioned, at least 7 of them had a 'soft adult contemporary' format - meaning they played the same shitty songs as each other. You'd hear David Gray's 'Babylon' at least once a day on all of 'em. In a marketplace that was already overcrowded with competition, it didn't help that they all sounded the same.

Compounding that problem, the companies who ran the stations also went about rebranding and repackaging them with inerrant frequency - maximising the number of listeners they could confuse. One of the stations mentioned today, Bath FM, has been sold no less than four times in it's ten year history. The constant churn means it's difficult to build a station's credibility amongst listeners or advertisers.

It's a real pity, too. Comparing my experiences after two years working in the American radio biz, I've realised one thing: Despite all the challenges facing them, the presenters, sales execs and producers who keep Britain's local radio stations on the air are some of the hardest working, most dedicated and enthusiastic people I've ever had the pleasure of working with. They deserve a lot more than the industry gives them.

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