Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Local radio: out come the knives

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on January 29, 2009

If you don’t follow the ins and outs of commercial radio in the UK (why would you?!) you probably won’t be familiar with one of the big trends which has upset the industry…

…merging and networking.

Where years ago there were dozens of radio companies running the 70+ local radio stations, now there are about five.

More radio is produced off-site and piped in. News is more increasingly being produced and read outside the local station, a system known as hubbing.

The most controversial bit of networking’s come from the company Global, who recently bought up dozens of local stations and, to save some cash, changed all their names to Heart.

Each station has a locally produced breakfast show, but the rest…well, you might as well be in London.

And that’s played into the hands of their rivals, who are keen to capitalise on the loss of local content.

Here’s a promo running on the alternative station Jack FM in Oxfordshire. It’s local rival Fox FM has recently joined the Global Network, with much content coming in from London (although it’s name hasn’t changed yet).

And they’re certainly cutting close to the bone – click here to listen.

On the flip side, according to this week’s listening figures, Fox FM have a 10% share of the audience. Jack FM have a 3.8% share.

A quick disclaimer: a couple of years ago I did a bit of freelancing at Jack FM’s sister station Oxford’s FM107.9 – they are a very talented group of people who serve their audience particularly well, and probably deserve to be a bit smug.


One Response

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  1. Emma said, on January 30, 2009 at 8:48 pm

    Although I have lamented the decline of local commercial radio news with you on many occasions Adam I think it is only fair that you add detail to your disclaimer about the very particular stance you are coming from. You work for a station owned by Bauer radio, which has chosen to take a very different approach to dealing with declining revenue in the commercial radio sector to that of what is now the UK’s biggest commercial radio station owner, Global. As such I think you should present their side too.

    Global claim that by networking news and programming in the middle of the day (when less people are listening, not in breakfast NOR IN DRIVE) it frees up their reporters to go out on stories instead of being tied to the newsdesk. Quality of news output is maintained during these off-peak times by using a central news-hub (in London in the case of Global), although there is less local content it means there is more quality local content later for drive. I know how much value you place on reporters being able to get out into the community so surely you see that there is a trade off being made here, it’s not as simple cost-cutting, staff-hacking hubbing. Also, as much as I love the innovation of Jack FM I think the figures speak for themselves, Fox have more listeners.

    I should probably declare an interest at this stage as I’ve just signed a contract with a Global station, but I’ll tell you all about that one on the phone…

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