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  • Writer's pictureDavid Lloyd

Is BBC local radio out of control?

Updated: Nov 23, 2020

I’m not going to have a go at the BBC Radio London presenters and producers who allowed an egregiously offensive caller to persist on-air. They are having a bad enough weekend as it is.

I shall make the point that the BBC remains appallingly ill-managed - certainly at local level.

It still is blessed with a wealth of resource. Although too many demands are placed on some hard-working, committed individuals, there remains a surfeit of management and much of that is laughably poor. Too many people sharing too many responsibilities, meaning that the line of command is wobbly. A recipe for disaster.

Alongside all the excellent work produced by many across the network, alas I can list several truly broadcasting worsts on BBC local radio of which those responsible for the excellence are as truly ashamed as I am.

Why do they happen? Radio with a lot of talk is a risk. It needs careful management. Anyone who has ever been involved in the format knows the scale of the task.

What happens in practice on BBC local radio? On the World’s finest broadcaster, it seems to be the case that presenters are allowed on-air with scant training and little ongoing coaching, supported and produced by those who also have had insufficient ongoing guidance - and managed by those who were not weaned on the sort of content being delivered. And if you happen to host a programme away from the 9-5, management have likely often long-since given up showing any interest at all.

The feeling seems to be that if you produce and read the 11.00 news bulletin, you need to have gone to university for a few years, and then must sit by Nellie when you arrive in post before you are charged with assembling your first update, which is then duly reviewed. You get better quickly.

However, if you are going to host a live programme for hours on end, then it suddenly seems a good idea to throw you on-air with little further training beyond that handful of shows you once did for university radio, promising though they might have been. There are some often high-budget online courses to be taken, but they miss out a lot - and 'doing them' becomes a tick box exercise. And not one of them teaches you how to really produce and present a live radio programme - because you can't do it that way.

Further, once someone is on the air, is there the right resource in the building to coach them to best presentation performance? No. Any programme analysis is often confined to a journalistic analysis of how good a guest or interview was, rather than the overall listener experience. Thus, even after years on-air, some presenters and producers still lack any command of the utter basics.

There is now the appetite for new and young in BBC local radio – because, it is implied, old and experienced is bad. But let’s be honest, which talk broadcaster is not better at 55 than 25. Would you rather have your bathroom installed by a time-served plumber or some young apprentice on their own?

If public money is to be spent on bringing in new blood - as it seems to be - then we need to know it is in good hands. Yes, bring on new talent, but watch them like a hawk and ensure their on-air exposure is limited at the outset and well-supervised.

Because if you do not, they will still be making errors ten years into their career. That does them no favours.

It staggers me that people are thrown on-air into significant roles with so little preparation.

There will be exceptions, I know. Some management teams on stations will take their own initiative and be excellent at all this. But the evidence suggests some do not. Highly gifted broadcasters contact me to say how ashamed they are that some output can be so poor from their own station. From the technical end, to the production end – to the stuff coming out of people’s mouths.

If BBC local radio is not utterly re-organised and better managed after the staff departures, more serious highly offensive broadcasting will result. Compare all this with LBC - the highest level of risk of any UK radio station, bearing in mind the nature of the output and the scale of the audience, and yet an enviable compliance record. It is well-managed - and they recognise the value of experienced hands.

After Sachsgate, a tranche of expensive pointless procedures were implemented to prevent BBC errors. Wise managers quickly ignored them. The measures were ridiculously specific – resulting in staff at BBC local radio sitting for hours auditioning a Big Band Show - just because it dared to be recorded and over ten minutes long .

They did not address the real issue. BBC local radio managers should manage - and they should put the job of presenting and producing in suitably experienced hands . And when new talent is recruited, they should make sure it is utterly well trained before being left to fly solo.

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