A local problem for local people?


The news that the BBC may be planning to radically shrink the output of its local radio stations, merging them into the output of Radio Five Live, should not surprise us.

The ASI has been saying for some years that the BBC – as a free-to-air tax-funded institution – is fatally flawed. Our view has also been that it will die of a thousand cuts like this week's news, as it fails to cope with multiple global media organisations that can price their services for customers.

Crucially, those competitors learn from those customers and can innovate to capture new revenues. If it were priced, some local BBC stations might well find their feet as a voice for a subscribing local community audience. They would use low powered cheap transmitters, small studios with modern small scale equipment and a lot of volunteer staff. Of all electronic media radio it might be the one to survive like this, although my bet is that it would be on the internet more than the airwaves.

Instead, BBC local radio carries all the overheads of cushioned personnel, over-sized buildings, globally capable equipment, and the electronic networking capabilities of the worldwide BBC News agency, acting as a journalistic "stringer" to the very expensive core news operation.

The BBC cannot go on like this. It has to face the real world, grow into new challenges and compete with new media. It does not need to retain its local arms at high cost to the taxpayer. Shrinking their airtime to become a small element buried inside Radio Five Live which is the present proposal is a good start. My guess is that this is the beginning of the end for the network of local stations.