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03 October 2011

BBC - Being Brave about Change

Lots of very good broadcasters and journalists at the Beeb are in a subdued mood this week. They're about to learn the future of BBC Local Radio, and many fear the worst.

DQF - the BBC is very fond of Three Letter Acronyms, this one stands for 'Delivering Quality First' - requires the corporation to save, roughly speaking, one pound in every five it spends.

The DG (Director General; fair cop, that's only a 2LA) has already said service closures can't be ruled out.

BBC4, the unwatched posh TV channel,  not to be confused with BBC Radio 4, the much-loved posh radio channel , looks a likely casualty. Mainly because every suggestion to axe something else, such as hipster favourite 6Music or the Asian Network, has been resisted by user groups the BBC isn't going to pick a fight with any day soon.

One early DQF leak suggested a forced marriage between cosy local radio and shouty sport service 5Live.

That would have been a disaster for both partners. Think Sue, a divorced housewife keen on health, personal finance and Dean Friedman shacking up with Kev, diehard footy fan living on pies and selling his soul to follow a team around Europe.

For this observer that leak was seemingly and suspiciously co-ordinated by several famously discreet Man Eds* in what I suspect to this day was a kite-flying exercise.

So Kev's sent packing, and the cash-strapped Sues of local radio are in for some make do and share across regions, with lunchtime, early afternoon and mid-evening programmes the most likely to be stretched between neighbouring stations.

Such a move will have winners and losers. One presenter and his/her team goes from local jock to regional personality at the flick of an ISDN selector. Two or three other hard working local presenters and their support face unspecified 'redeployment' or a P45.

My advice to colleagues after 30 years in and around the wireless game is simple. Don't resist. Change is inevitable. Look instead to making the best creative use of the new opportunities in whatever landscape emerges.

Injured pride and loyalty aside, if we're honest .. how good are all the lost programmes?

Some are very good. Some are mediocre at best, devotedly nurtured by teams keeping the needles wobbling. Teams that have, in many cases, seen one-too-many failed plans brought in by the TLA brigade, and are doggedly fighting for their trench oblivious of the battle beyond their slot.

Driven by self-preservation, they've forgotten what the war is about.

The clearest vision I've seen comes from John Myers, writing in his blog today. 

A critical friend of BBC Local Radio, he tells the painful truth in simple language. It can't go on like it is. Nobody loves news, even if they want it on tap. The music's a mess. And personalities with ties to the community they serve are the key to success.

I've seen everything I worked for in radio demolished at least three times.

In 1985, when Pennine Radio axed all the speech programmes I produced and presented. In 1998, when I stepped down as news ed and saw a radical change in bulletin style and content. And in 2002, when I was finally handed a P45 after 22 years serving audiences in Bradford.

Yet The Pulse today is thriving, and on some measures is more successful than the station I was part of. And I've yet to sign on the dole.

So there will be a future after DQF. It won't be the same as the past. The BBC local future belongs to those who embrace the new ways of working.

* Man Eds = Managing Editors. BBC station bosses. So why aren't they 'ME's? Perhaps the ME, TLA Allocation (MET-LAA) was on holiday when they were first created.

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