If you’re a radio presenter or a production company and somebody offered you the chance to develop a brand new national show, with pretty much a blank canvas, you might jump at the chance. But I reckon the reality is there’ll be relatively few people queuing at the door to pitch for the new BBC Local Radio Evening Programme.
For starters, there’s a PR mountain to climb. The new weekday evening show, airing across the network of 39 stations, will replace a wide collection of existing regional and local programmes. These often have small audiences, proportionately speaking. But they also enjoy massive listener loyalty.
Take Roger Day – the incumbent who presents the regional BBC show in the south of England. A facebook page has been established to try and save his programme. It may not be on the scale of the campaign which kept BBC 6 Music alive, but it demonstrates the kind of challenges the new show will face.
The commissioning brief for the new show talks of “one or more personality presenters”, which suggests that the BBC is looking for either an existing high profile name from within the Local Radio network or, more probably, a voice already familiar across the country. For the older listener, former pirate DJ Roger might have been the perfect choice – but he’s already ruled himself out – saying he doesn’t like the 60% speech element included in the brief.
And herein lies the second big challenge. How to fill three hours per night with relevant, original content? The tender document refers to “tie ins” with existing BBC brands such as Springwatch and Stargazing Live. Some observers see the new programme as being a radio version of The One Show – and you could see the attraction: the 7pm TV show plugging additional interviews and phone ins on Local Radio.
The budget for Radio England (a working title) has also raised a few eyebrows. The BBC is offering £150,000 to cover production costs, but also says that it will foot the bill for the presenter, who would be employed on a BBC contract. Whilst this doesn’t equate to an open chequebook, it does enable production companies to cast their net wider and set the bar higher.
The project also marks a post script for RadioCentre, the trade body that represents much of the commercial radio sector. At the end of last year – when much bigger cuts were proposed for local radio – its Chief Executive Andrew Harrison suggested that BBC Local Radio should outsource some of its production, just as network stations do. Harrison spoke of outsourcing entire stations in the Local Radio chain. Radio England may not be as radical as that, but it marks a step-change in policy.
Bids for the new show must be in by August, with a decision on the winner being announced in September. It’ll air in the new year.
So, who’s going to show their cards first?