How BBC Local Radio covered the Whaley Bridge incident

Kate Squire, Editor of BBC Radio Manchester, writes for RadioToday about the importance of local radio during a crisis.

“What a week it’s been in Greater Manchester… dreadful flooding of roads, homes and businesses in Poynton and Bramhall and then, on top of that, the potential cataclysmic collapse of Whaley Bridge Dam.

The nation watched as the weather worsened and a race against time began for the small town of Whaley Bridge and the surrounding areas. This is where BBC Local Radio is so important. It always has been and, in my opinion, it is even more so in an ever changing world where crises like flooding are more and more frequent and devastating for those affected. We’re on the side of our people, we get answers, we champion, and more than anything we care and galvanise others to show compassion.

It’s been a week where BBC Radio Manchester did just that and where three stations – Manchester, Derby and Sheffield – came together on Sunday night to show how united we are in times of difficulty and how we are more than just the sum of our parts.

BBC Radio Manchester broadcast a floods special on Wednesday as the rains brought misery to parts of Bramhall and Poynton. On Thursday we were on air through the night as the crisis at Whaley Bridge began to unfold, and Chelsea Norris took the Breakfast Show to the area on Friday morning.

We wanted to be at the heart of the story. The Goodwin family home in Chapel-en-le-
Frith played host to Chelsea and the team, where Bev was also putting up her mum and dad, plus friends Suzie and Angela from Whaley Bridge.

Chelsea said to her hosts on air at 6am: “if I knew you’d be in pyjamas I would have come in mine…”

The reply was: “this is all we’ve got…” But the kettle was on and the families showed true spirit and determination to get through.

Listeners turned to local radio as they feared for their lives and left their belongings and precious things behind. The army arrived and the Chinook helicopter rumbled overhead dropping rubble in the gaping hole in the dam. The Dunkirk spirit was captured by our reporters as people handed out fish finger butties to the emergency services, and people in local pubs watched on in amazement how this had happened where they lived. Resident meetings and media briefings were reported and brought live to listeners on the radio, on social media and online as our reporters sent in material and pictures.

But as the water level in the reservoir was being lowered by pumps, the weekend saw another severe flood warning issued with a threat of storms and torrential rain. The power of local radio was evident on Sunday as BBC Radio Manchester, BBC Radio Derby and BBC Radio Sheffield came together to broadcast from 6pm through to 5am. We were there every step of the way with reporters out all night, broadcasting from pubs, streets, and homes. We heard from the Wing Commander in charge of the Chinook and from people in the Palace Hotel in Buxton where some evacuees were staying.

Local radio staff are a pretty amazing bunch, everyone pulling extra shifts and working long hours, all to help listeners and lend that reassuring voice. We are there when the national media are long gone. We’ll be there when Bev’s mum and dad move back home, when the dam is rebuilt and when communities are back to normal.

It’s true public service at its best.

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  1. Radio Geordie says

    Find a commercial radio service that would do that today. It would barely get a mention on the news.

  2. Joe Smith says

    It’s a serious worry when the Editor of BBC Manchester thinks Whaley Bridge is in Greater Manchester.

    1. Radio Geordie says

      All 3 stations mentioned broadcast to that area, largely due to Manchester & Sheffield’s main transmitter being at Home Moss, just a few miles north of that location.
      Derby’s transmitter is just to the East of Whalley Bridge.

      1. Joe Smith says

        That’s all very well but Whaley Bridge still isn’t in Greater Manchester. Personally I would have hoped the Editor of BBC Manchester might might be interested in facts. After all if her first sentence is not true how can you believe anything else she says?

  3. Richard says

    Really a Radio Derby area, but in hilly terrain, the local TV news is probably from Manchester. But down the road, in another valley or on high ground, local tv news could come from Leeds or Birmingham!
    Then with FM & DAB coverage, there can be an excellent signal or dropouts of all 3 stations!

  4. Tony says

    It is the same for Southport and Macclesfield – they are both in no man’s land for BBC Local Radio. Too far away from cities to be covered.

  5. John James says

    For 45 years commercial radio would have been proud of its coverage of a major event such as Whaley Bridge. Now they couldn’t care less and neither Ofcom or DCMS do anything about it. Very sad times.

    1. High Peak Radio says

      High Peak Radio is the only local radio station which serves this area, with a resident of Whaley Bridge actually on our team. From the moment this broke, we also provided ample coverage breaking in to regular programming with frequent updates and reporters on the scene. In a remote area like the Peak District, we know only too well our medium is vital.

      1. John James says

        High Peak Radio should therefore put out a press release saying how much coverage they gave to the Whaley Bridge incident. Commercial radio needs to blow its own trumpet.

    2. mb23 says

      High Peak is the only commercial station that covers that area. It isn’t in the TSA of any of the Global or Bauer licences.

  6. Steve says

    Bay Radio in Lancaster did exactly this sort of thing during Storm Desmond in 2015 – even though the station itself was flooded too. The then MD was even invited to Downing Street in recognition of the service they’d provided. Within a couple of year Bay was “Heart North Lancashire” and the station and everyone it was gone. Somehow I can’t imagine Jamie Theakston or Kelly Brook rocking up with their wellies on to provide that sort of service next time it happens….

  7. Philip Hawksley says

    Yes, once upon a time there was pride in the commercial sector to cover such an event – and cover it well. When syndicated notions came alone, such as 1988’s ‘The Superstation’, they were largely rejected, even though they offered a cheap fill. Now there is little local ownership and no desire to do anything but play another three in a row. That situation has been exacerbated by Ofcom and the Radio Authority before it. Yes, the internet may well have led us down this path eventually, but needless licensing of clone stations on top of one another in the same district on FM and then again on DAB, then allowing them to eat each other up has accelerated this sad process.

    1. Ron Dobbyn says

      I remember the excellent radio coverage and of the Falklands War by LBC .

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