As anyone taking the trouble to navigate here will know, John Myers' report into the options for savings in BBC Local Radio is out. The full text is here, and as it's already been summarised to death I won't repeat that process. I would like to pick up, however, on a few themes.
Too many chiefs ....
The wisest advice I ever received about the BBC came from an old-time PR man who took me under his wing when I was a bright-eyed teenager. Ron did public relations in the days when journalists drank Scotch at 10am news conferences. He lived his ideal of always looking prosperous, with a smart suit and cigar, even if he only had tuppence in his pocket.
"Richard" he said one day, "Just remember they're civil servants with microphones"
Fast-forward forty years and Richard's trying to grasp the antique software Myers derides in his findings whilst on placement at the Beeb on a secondment to update skills for the all-digital newsroom.
I'm also trying to fathom out if the workmanlike but quaintly old-fashioned package I've managed to construct (but can't save - Capita having screwed up my privileges) needs to be compliance checked by the Man Ed, the Asst Man Ed (Actg); The News Ed; the Drive producer or the nice bloke in the corner who sorted out my swipe card.
I wouldn't for one moment suggest the guys with titles aren't working hard, but the Byzantine links between the roles need to be simplified. And how.
These are creative people with (in most cases) a wealth of experience, so let's get them down on the shop floor making great radio. Cheers, Ron <clinks tumbler of Johnnie Walker>
Sport. It's the Wild West.
Sport is a vital ingredient of Local Radio, and everyone involved knows it.
I was horrified to learn from Myers that local Man Eds are expected to barge into the board room down at the Cloggers (figuratively speaking) and negotiate their own rights to broadcast games. Whatever deal they reach, Beeb central will pick up the tab with no direct consequence for the individual station; it just racks up against central LR costs.
Try, just try to imagine what those negotiations are like. Go on.
The kid at school who probably liked Jane Austen and was regarded as a bit creative is sent in to bargain head to head with the kid from 4B who ran the Greggs' supply racket in smokers' corner. I wonder whose objectives will prevail in that deal? Especially when there are no actual consequences.
Meanwhile it seems Jim Jockstrap is absolutely required to read sports bulls all day from a separate studio because Felicity ffarnes-Barnes on news doesn't like football and can't be trusted not to give the Arsenal - Man U score as "six - love" if left to her own devices.
The arrangement suits both parties, so the sport team will reinforce difference at every opportunity. The sports specialists are steeped in loyalty, mystic codes and the need to band together against outsiders. In many stations they've become a fiefdom. No-one would accept that finance or education stories need separate readers all day - so get real.
News is sport. Sport is news. Live with it. One reader, certainly outside Breakfast and (just maybe) Drive.
They're all kids.
The average listener to BBC Local Radio is aged over fifty. The average BJ is in their mid to late twenties. Result - mismatch.
A typical desk journo on shift right now probably thinks a Bay City Roller is a pimped-up Bentley in San Francisco. The phrase 'Olde English Spangles' evokes no reaction whatsoever.
I've banged on before about the need for diversity in news and Myers effectively underscores that point. We need much more age diversity in news teams as well as an ethnic spread and a voice for wheelchair users. The Beeb should seek out and utilise older journalists (says Richard from Leeds, GSOH, aged 52 3/4 WLTM open-minded News Ed for a bit of creative treatment on the side with no strings attached).
The equipment doesn't work and the studios are falling apart.
Bin it. Buy the journos some iPhones. End of.
Louise Easton of Bauer played some cracking audio her team had filed that way to a rapt Leeds Trinity Journalism Week audience yesterday. The technical quality on 3G wasn't perfect but it didn't pop and crackle anything like as much as the last UHF radio car link I heard on my BBC local. Doing away with that infrastructure would save a fortune.
The Beeb are screwed with bad premises because of decades' worth of gaming licence fee settlements with leases, leasebacks, and a spaghetti of financial instruments of the kind which got the country in hock to the bankers.
Not much can be done about that short term; but we need to think really creatively when the next High Street Czarina is appointed; maybe we could see prefab radio station pods 'popping up' in shopping malls rather than premises in 'cultural quarters' frequented largely by -er- other cultural types as opposed to actual C2 DE punters. Don't forget BBC Radio Leeds started life in a mall, in its case the Merrion Centre.
I've said before that I reckon Radio England is a bad idea so I won't reiterate those arguments.
Myers disagrees. He says that evening programming is not sufficiently distinctive and reckons the network as a whole would benefit from a network programme presented by an original, committed radio animal with the wit, charisma and larger-than-life personality able (say) to to strike up instant banter on Englebert Humperdinck's chances in Eurovision from personal anecdote. Who can he have in mind for that role? We do agree that any host should not be a telly castoff with a good agent.
Myers is a bit vague about when an 'evening programme' would be scheduled. If he's talking early evening (1900-2200) that would conflict with specialist shows and would be constantly disrupted by sport. If he means 2200-0100 the idea has more merit but I don't see how the content would be sufficiently distinct from Radio 2 or Five Live.
So all in all Myers has come up with a positive and upbeat report which reflects his affection for BBC Local Radio. He may have mentioned a time or two he started off his career reading the 'lamb bank' feature on BBC Radio Cumbria.
However, standing still is not an option; substantial changes will have to be made at BBC Local Radio under Delivering Quality First. If adopted the Myers recommendations would save around £11 million rather than the £15 million envisaged under the first draft of the DQF plans.
That process will still be painful for some; to speak of having 'saved' local radio is probably a bit simplistic, many people, probably dozens across the country, will be shown the door.
All in all, however, a sometimes much-abused poor relation of Auntie's family could hardly wish for a more kindly surgeon than John Myers - IF the Trust accepts the report, and then acts upon it.