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26 February 2019

Home Truths and Silver Linings

It's time to face some uncomfortable home truths in UK radio.

First, and most obviously, today has brought devastating news for those working in local and regional commercial radio. Global is scrapping local and regional breakfast shows across its brands, and sharing the last remaining local and regional content (generally Drivetime shows) across bigger areas.

This will mean "significant changes at an operational level" as Global CEO Ashley Tabor smoothly and euphemistically puts it. Or massive redundancies, in the plain language commercial radio newsrooms have always excelled in.

Arch rival and last-contender-left-standing Bauer could well follow suit. They're not commenting on speculation. Industry website Radio Today is predicting up to two hundred and fifty jobs lost as a direct result of the changes. For a small industry, that's a huge number.

Meanwhile a lot of community radio is, objectively, poor quality. Don't take it from me. Travel broadcaster and former radio station manager Keri Jones put it far better than I could in a Facebook post:
I have been rolling my eyes skyward at some community radio people who seriously believe that this is an opportunity for them to seize the Global audience [..]
Yes, there are a FEW community stations that do pass muster. A few. And those are the stations that provide news and unique and meaningful content that people cannot get anywhere else. That's community radio. Or they use their radio setting to develop skills or make a difference to volunteers' lives [..]
For far too many CR there's no format, no plan and no quality control. For Ashley Tabor of Global that means no worry. CR- be like Global. Define your audience. Find your niche. Stand for something. Do it consistently. Don't assume you'll get listeners by default.
So, amid all the gloom, is it possible to spy a silver lining? A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do some actual good for communities, for radio and for the future? Bear with me ...

A couple of hundred top industry professionals will be facing a future without a job in a few months' time.  These are people who have been living, sleeping and breathing radio. For many, it's a passion and a vocation first, with the money a secondary consideration.

Many will be moving into related fields, PR, promotions, venue entertainers at home and abroad whilst others will be giving up this precious bit of their lives to do something totally different.

But, in the transition, is there a unique opportunity to make a difference for the future of radio, and to leave a legacy for the communities once served by 'ILR', soon to be provincial marketplaces for national commercial brands?

I'd like to see many of those displaced by the "significant changes at an operational level" seize the opportunity to take on leadership and training roles in community radio - even if only for a few weeks.

As a former ILR journalist and news editor turned trainer in HE, I know how rewarding it can be to pass on skills not from books but from direct experience of turning round stories against the clock to a new generation.

Those speakers and guest editors I called in usually expressed the same sentiments.

For presenters, producers and creative imaging staff made redundant by the big players the impact you could have coaching talent, setting up formats and systems, building a sound for community radio could have a benefit that will last long beyond the hours you put in, and could be a valuable legacy for your skills and experience.

Most would just be passing through - and wouldn't it be a fitting gesture if Global were to extend contracts by a couple of weeks to allow this input to be on Ashley's tab?

Not that he can't afford it, the future profitability of Global will be assured for as long as anything is certain in today's fast changing environment. And surely he's not worried about the competition? A media group focused on national sales can hardly be concerned about the potential leeching of a bit of local goodwill.

And if the soliciting of the all-important "letters of support" in franchise battles was anything other than a pointless exercise in box ticking; now's the time for Global (and Bauer, if they follow in the same direction at a later stage) to show they really care about the communities that have sustained them to this point in their development.

For those who go in as mentors, trainers and leaders .. it's something else to put on the CV. And for the community radio practitioners the benefits are obvious.

So what about it? I'd like to think this could be the ray of sunshine on a gloomy day, the chance for something positive to come out of what is a sad situation for so many.

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