15th October 2022
In northern North West England local folk can tune in to BBC Local Radio stations. These have been provided by the BBC for over fifty years and they weere set up to provide local news- coverage that viewers could not easy get off Regional Television. In the North West of England, folk can tune in to BBC Radio Lancashire, BBC Radio Cumbria and, further south, BBC GMR (Greater Manchester) and BBC Radio Merseyside. It is true that BBC Local Radio continues to provide valuable local information, but it is with the caveat that you cannot see pictures or news-clips of the happenings reported and, without seeing the geographical context one could be a little in the dark about what is happening and where (unless one has a good geographical knowledge of the area).
Nowadays, local news and travel up-dates are provided by a number of more localised radio stations. In Cumbria there is Eden FM Radio, there’s Lakeland Radio based in Kendal and covering the South Lakes, there’s Smooth Lake District and in Lancashire there is Heart North Lancashire & Cumbria, there’s North Lancashire’s Beyond Radio and, for the Preston area there’s Rock FM: All provide local news and “Drive-time” travel reports. Further south, the major cities of Manchester, Liverpool and the Warrington area are served by several local radio stations such as XS Manchester, 102 Capital FM (Manchester), Unity Radio, Radio City (Liverpool), 107.6 Capital FM (Liverpool) and Wish FM. In short, there’s a lot to choose from, some local radio outlets will be musicky, some will have more sport and some will be a bit more “local- newsy”.
Alas, radio is radio. It’s what folk have on in the background whilst at work, or whilst cooking tea or driving- their attention is on what they are doing. Radio has the big drawback that you cannot see pictures, footage, maps of where the news is happening, you can only hear it- and that is a big drawback in the provision of local news-coverage! It’s not something that viewers can sit down and watch (and have their full attention on) after their tea. Which brings us to another valid point: The BBC spends about £120 million annually on the provision of BBC Local Radio nationally (see here for reference: https://www.statista.com/statistics/285179/bbc-journalism-national-and-local-radio-spending-in-the-uk-by-service/) that may not be filling quite such a vital gap in the market-place in 2022 with several other local radio stations to choose from in the cities. Now, the BBC provides some forty Local Radio services across Britain and the Channel Islands (details here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_BBC_radio_stations), so if just four of the Metropolitan City BBC local radio areas could be merged across Britain that would save £12 million a year- enough money for a totally new BBC Region to be funded and an opt-out provided within another BBC Region.
Now, in North West England it is true that BBC Radio Lancashire, BBC GMR and BBC Radio Merseyside join together on week-end evenings so it is already the case that listeners in Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Merseyside do not get undiluted local output from each. Listeners of BBC Radio Cumbria get merged with BBC Local Radio stations in the North East at these times, so listeners in Barrow-in-Furness and West Cumbria get output from the North East! The merging, as already happens, reduces the savings from axing one BBC Local Radio station but the scope for merging increases it. There is also scope for altering the transmission areas and having larger areas that provide a bigger scope for all-round local news so that a listener in somewhere like Wigan gets Lancashire and northern Greater Manchester news, for example. The regions local radio stations are grouped into can also be changed so that some-one living in Barrow-in-Furness does not get news about North East England in the evening.
Across northern England, including the north Midlands I would suggest the followig changes that, in these days of wide radio choice would help retain the BBC as a provider of news rather than music and provide a more geographic appropriate mix:
- BBC Radio Stoke is abolished and a new BBC Radio Merseyside, Cheshire, North Staffordshire/ Shropshire and NE Wales provides news for an area which actually has stronger geographic ties across it. Communities in northern Staffordshire and northern Shropshire have strong links with (and identify with) North West England and north-east Wales rather than the Midlands so this makes sense. Those in north-east Wales have stronger links with the adjacent North West of England than with distant Cardiff. I somewhat higher proportion of news would answer concerns about dilution of coverage.
- BBC GMR and BBC Radio Lancashire are abolished in lieu of an extended BBC Radio Manchester and Lancashire, covering almost all the former BBC GMR and most of the BBC Radio Lancashire areas, again with a slightly more newsy leaning. Most of Greater Manchester was historically part of Lancashire, and folk living in North Manchester, Rochdale, Wigan and Bolton would, in particular appreciate recognition of this fact. There are plenty of other stations focussed solely on Manchester for those that want it. Preston, Chorley and Rossendale also have strong links with what is today northern Greater Manchester and the Southport area of Merseyside (so Southport would also be included in the new BBC Local Radio area), so a BBC Local Radio station covering this whole area of what was traditionally central and South Lancashire makes sense.
- A new BBC Radio North West would cover the area extending from Preston and Blackpool up to Carlisle and it would include all West Cumbria. BBC Radio Cumbria would be abolished.
- In the North East BBC Radio Tees would be abolished whilst BBC Radio Newcastle would become BBC Radio NE & Borders. The new BBC Radio NE & Borders service would cover all the existing BBC Radio Newcastle area of Tyne and Wear, North Durham and Northumberland, as well as the Scottish Borders up to Galashiels, and west as far as Carlisle and Penrith (for the benefit of north-east Cumbrians and for North Northumbrians who want a more North-East and Borders flavoured news).
- BBC Radio North Yorkshire would also be abolished and both the BBC Radio North Yorkshire (except the south around Selby and York) and BBC Radio Tees areas would be covered by a new BBC Radio Tees and North Yorkshire that would have a little more news focussed on central and northern North Yorkshire, Teesside and southern County Durham.
- BBC Radio Leeds would become BBC Radio Mid-Yorkshire and its remit extended east and north to York, Selby and Skipton and also westwards to the Diggle and Uppermill areas (in what is easternmost Greater Manchester, but which were historically in the West Riding of Yorkshire). This would provide better local all-round coverage for a number of areas.
- BBC Radio Sheffield would have its remit extended to all northern Derbyshire and northern Nottinghamshire (communities in those areas identify more readily as “Northern” than “East Midlands” and have strong links with towns and cities in South Yorkshire). BBC Radio Sheffield would be renamed BBC Radio Sheffield and Peak (as it includes the Peak District).
- BBC Radio Derby is then abolished and the south of the BBC Radio Derby area is joined with that of BBC Radio Nottingham to create a new BBC Radio East Midlands. This would then provide a slightly more newsy service for the southern Nottingham and southern Derbyshire areas, which would be more suitable for that entire area.
These changes would be accompanied by changes to the regional affiliation of the new/ existing BBC local radio stations. The new BBC North West Radio encompassing most of Cumbria and the northern half of Lancashire join with BBC Radio Manchester and Lancashire and BBC Radio Merseyside, Cheshire, North Staffordshire/ Shropshire and NE Wales at late nights and weekend evenings. BBC Radio NE & Borders would join with BBC Radio Tees and North Yorkshire at the same time. The entire process would involve the abolition of four BBC local radio stations overall, plus some more regional sharing of services in evenings- leading to a saving of £15 million annually. As a result of this change a brand new BBC North West Tonight could be broadcast to Lancashire and Cumbria (northern Cumbrians would still have the option of watching BBC Look North, from Newcastle-upon-Tyne but there would be a real choice for West Cumbrians to have a more North West and locally flavoured Regional News-service than they currently get). The new BBC North West Region would provide a special opt-out providing bespoke news for the Isle of Man. For the other side of the Pennines there would be £3 million annually left from all these savings for two opt-outs within BBC Look North (NE/ Cumbria), one for rural Northumberland (which would include overlap coverage of the Scottish Borders) and one for North Yorkshire.
Almost certainly, for viewers who may also listen to BBC Local Radio and who live anywhere north of the M62 Corridor, it is certain that the overall impact of such changes would, despite the changes to BBC Local Radio would stand to benefit much more from getting much more localised and geographic-appropriate Regional TV. The same would be true for viewers of BBC Look North (NE/Cumbria) today who live in northern Cumbria, rural northern Northumberland and North Yorkshire.