The silent killer
A few years ago, whilst jobbing one sunny day on a BBC local station outside my area, I arrived for my programme to be greeted by a huddle of three enthusiastic programme producers in the control room, lanyards dangling, fingers running through their hair.
As a humble freelancer, I was poised to take direction and do what was asked as they prepared to play in a pre-recorded programme to hit a travel news window up to a timed news junction, before my programme.
As the discussion ensued, it transpired that they were struggling how to cope with what lay ahead. It surprised me as this was the sort of simple back timing, pre-fading to time, talking to time broadcast technique we’d mastered at hospital radio some many years before. This was the mighty BBC and I expected more.
I don’t blame them – I blame the well-resourced public service organisation, capable of the very best, which does not ensure that its teams all know the basics. Maybe it was expected that such things would be taught on one of one of the many BBC courses.
I know, however, that within that very building, there were many time-served people who would have been able to cope with that simple process with ease – and indeed train others to be so. Under decent management and leadership that would have happened. I know it has and does on many stations.
But now, every social media channel is awash with tearful BBC local radio departures - after ten, twenty, thirty years. The experience they have gained and we have paid for - is lost.
These are the people on the ground who have lived through every broadcast eventuality. They have learned how to make broadcasting sound effortless, how to cope with the unexpected, how to manage a mood transition, how to make the most of an opportunity. How to spot a problem before it happens. How to create the very best radio.
Whilst some staff churn is entirely appropriate in any healthy organisation, we are witnessing at present an exodus of expertise. Issues will be magnified. Whilst thankfully some great staff remain and are trying their best in the worst environment - we can expect more messy, dull radio and more press stories when things go badly wrong.
A generation of senior BBC bosses appear not to know that that the creation of stunning day-to-day radio is a skilled job. As some podcasters are finding out, judging by some truly unlistenable productions, there is an art to creating compelling, engaging, authentic audio.
Like most things, it is not as easy as it sounds.
We can expect to hear junctions missed, awful am-dram two-ways and painful interviews with the very worst questions and no use of the pause. In recorded pieces, needless diversions and hesitations left in – and yet the breaths puzzlingly taken out.
We can expect the mischievous caller to get to air – and for the caller who would have been the best of the day missed because they were not persuaded to air by just the right words.
We can expect long menus at the start of programmes from presenters who don’t realise how listeners listen - and cues written for the page not the ear. We can expect programme promos/trailers which do not persuade before they tell you when to listen; and presenters who don’t quite realise why certain songs are in a certain order and how not to ruin them.
We can expect the wrong topics chosen for a target audience and the right topics framed poorly. We can expect the presenter to miss the gold lurking in an interviewee’s aside – because they do not grasp the subject, the audience or the geographic area they are serving.
We were all shite once. We all learned along the way. Sometimes painfully. Sometimes by personal effort. And sometimes because there was just somebody bloody good who spared the time to help and inspire us. Alas, too many of the latter have just been made redundant or have given up because they no longer can bear the hassle.
This is the quiet damage which looms as the BBC disregards essential osmosis in this experiment doomed to failure. The industry diaspora will no longer benefit from this significant public funding intervention.
UK radio generally is the poorer for the current ill-advised and poorly executed BBC local radio strategy. Its smug architects are not just ruining a network of stations - they are building a broadcasting legacy and it's not a good one.
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