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Industry reaction to BBC Radio DQF plans

Radio industry executives and commentators have been reacting to the BBC’s Delivering Quality First announcements.

The corporation has announced plans to shed around 280 jobs in BBC Local Radio stations as part of the changes, which also affect most of the BBC national radio stations too.

You can read our summary of what DQF means for radio here and the Director General’s email to staff here.

Here, we round-up some of the reaction from around the industry. If you have a comment for publication please add it at the end of the story or contact us and we’ll add your views to the story if appropriate.

Andrew Harrison, Chief Executive of RadioCentre commented: “RadioCentre has argued for many years that the BBC’s generous public funding for national and local radio should be scrutinised to secure best value for licence fee payers. Indeed, the recent Myers report into radio production and the NAO’s efficiency review both identified opportunities for significant cost savings.

He added: “Even after these changes BBC radio will still have vast resources. Its real challenge will be to do what DQF promises, and deliver quality with the most distinctive radio services possible. We look forward to responding to the substance of the Trust’s consultation on DQF in due course.”

John Myers, radio consultant and former CEO of GMG Radio, told us: “If I was in BBC Local Radio right now, I would be lighting a candle at church this evening that the cuts have only gone this far. It’s sad to lose jobs but I would concentrate on the thousands of jobs they have kept.”

John’s predecessor as Chief Executive of the Radio Academy Trevor Dann has appeared on a number of BBC Local Radio stations today to give his reaction to the DQF announcements. He told BBC Radio Sheffield: “Although it’s very sad for the people who may lose their jobs, listeners won’t find this as much of a problem as perhaps they were expecting. It was inevitable in my view that the BBC went for this ‘salami-slicing’ where everybody has to take their share of the cuts rather than closing whole stations or channels.”

Trevor added that listeners might notice regional programme-sharing in Local Radio but felt it could in some cases improve output. “Sometimes properly researched and funded regional shows are better than badly funded and badly presented local shows so if you get them right I think they can work and be as much of a public service as the locally based shows,” he said.

Richard Horsman, formerly News Editor at The Pulse in Bradford and now Course Leader on the Broadcast Journalism course at Leeds Trinity University College has blogged that while the job cuts in Local Radio are painful enough, it’s the longer-term threat of budget reductions that could affect the industry most. “Implemented in full, it’ll mean an end to virtually all freelance news shifts,” he said. “No first opportunity for the best new talent coming through courses such as mine at Leeds Trinity. In a worst-case scenario, editors could come to rely on a supply of free labour on placement from the more reliable training institutions. But without the chance for trainees to gain that first paid casual shift, no chance to convert odd days of freelance work into a contract, no chance to bid for whatever staff jobs do become available.

Richard added that the BBC should take care not to kill the grassroots opportunities for getting into the industry. “Without local radio news shifts, offpeak specialist programmes, regional current affairs, and the rest – the whole, delicate, organic system for growing future talent will wither and die.”

Jimmy Buckland, Director of Strategy at UTV Media said: “Most of us in commercial radio probably know someone who will be directly affected by these proposed cuts, so it’s impossible to talk about what they might mean without thinking about the people whose jobs are now at risk. One welcome announcement is the vote of confidence for Medium Wave – which is safeguarded for 5 Live and other stations whose AM coverage is not duplicated on FM. RAJAR shows that Medium Wave is still hugely valued by listeners to stations like talkSPORT or Swansea Sound, so it’s good to see the BBC committing to continued investment in the platform.”

James Cridland, Managing Director of MediaUK and the industry’s leading radio futurologist, told us: “BBC staff have had repeated cuts, rumour, uncertainty and about-turns to deal with following Mark Thompson’s hurried licence-fee renegotiation with government. 6 Music and Asian Network’s closures were particularly appallingly dealt with; and the leaks and spinning coming out of the DG’s office over the last year have been a scandalously bad way to treat staff. The BBC’s people need clear leadership and a strategy: but they’ve been paralysed by uncertainty and weak management. We deserve a better, leaner Corporation; and the staff certainly deserve a better Director General.”

William Rogers, Chief Executive of local commercial radio operator UKRD said: “The BBC is behaving in a quite extra-ordinary way. I find it totally mystifying that they should hack away at local radio in this way and damage their presence in many local markets whilst at the same time wasting so much money on pointless projects and expensive presenter salaries. One begins to wonder what the management is doing other than protecting their own jobs at the expense of those operating at ground level. Whilst this is excellent news for genuinely local commercial radio which will clearly benefit from what the BBC is doing, it’s an appallingly short sighted position for the BBC’s local operations and staff, many of whom will find these proposals inexplicable.”

Ashley Byrne from independent production company Made in Manchester, who make programmes for networks including Radio 4 and 5 Live, told RadioToday.co.uk he planned to write to BBC North Director Peter Salmon and Controller of English Regions David Holdsworth to encourage them to commission out some local radio programmes to the independent sector. “This isn’t just about getting more work for our sector,” he said. “I really do think we can help the BBC think creatively about how it serves the regions and continues to do so distinctively. Perhaps we can think beyond the traditional news and sport output and deliver the icing on the cake programmes like the history series. There is more to broadcasting than news and sport – and contrary to popular belief it doesn’t need to be ultra expensive either.”

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