Average news and pretty bad news for our local BBC radio stations from the latest listening figures released last week by Rajar.
All three (Leeds, Sheffield and York) have seen their share of the radio audience in their respective patches drop over the last year. And the people that have been tuning in have been listening for less time.
While there’s some comfort for Sheffield and York – they’re pretty much holding their own in terms of the percentage of the local population they’re reaching – the figures are alarming for BBC Radio Leeds.
The number of people listening, the percentage of the population listening, the share of the radio audience and the number of hours people are tuning in are all at their lowest level since Rajar adopted its current audience measurement system in 2007.
And they’ve been falling unchecked for the last five quarters (since September 2011).
Praying for snow?
There could be worse news to come too.
All the English BBC local radios lost their evening (7-10pm) weekday programmes in January as a cost-cutting measure. They were replaced by a networked national programme. Listeners have been complaining, but it won’t be known till May how many are so turned off that they’ve actually, erm, turned off.
Now there’s nothing to say that the 77,000 listeners Radio Leeds has lost since winter 2010-11 won’t return. A few months of heavy snow could see loads of people tuning in for school closures and road conditions – and they might like what else they hear and stay.
And if the bad weather doesn’t turn up, a change of breakfast presenter is what often does the trick. Or so the theory goes.
So there’ll be high hopes resting on the latest person to fill that “flagship” slot at Radio Leeds, the fourth incumbent in as many years. She only took over in November, too recently to have had an impact on the latest listening figures.
Leeds! Leeds! Leeds!
What intrigues me is where those 77,000 listeners have gone. They haven’t stopped listening to radio – unless Leeds is bizarrely bucking the national trend – they’ve just gone elsewhere.
My guess is that some may have gone to the Leeds United owned digital station, Yorkshire Radio, which posted its best ever audience figures this quarter.
The sports-dominated station is now reaching 113,000 people a week (up 24,000 on this time last year) with its mix of live Leeds United games (it’s the only place you can hear every game live), sports news and chat and music.
(by the way, it’s a nice multi-platform media brand that Leeds United could end up with if it wins the local TV franchise for Leeds that’s being announced this month)
Where else could those Radio Leeds listeners have gone? To another of the local commercial stations? Possibly. But neither Bauer’s Magic 828 or Capital Yorkshire (Are you ready, Yorkshire?) fit the bill as a likely retirement home for us over-50s. Nor for that matter does Bauer’s Radio Aire.
And in any case none of the local commercials seem to have been picking up many new listeners recently. Apart from Yorkshire Radio.
Radio 2? Why not? It’s audience is growing like crazy. They must be coming from somewhere apart from Radio 1. And it’s got a similar target age group to local radio (the over-50s) and a similar music policy …
What bugs me as a local radio fan (I get my daily dose of Radio Leeds between 4pm and 6pm) is that in a situation like this – when the audience is switching off – the scope for my local radio to re-invent itself is so limited.
Because it’s not the people running the stations who make all the big decisions.
Orders come down from on high (that London) about where the budget has got to be prioritised, what the programmes (and the news) are supposed to feel like, and who the audience is supposed to be.
And London has decreed that local radio is primarily for the over-50s, and that what us over-50s want is endless opportunities to interact with 30-something presenters about some hot topic of the day. And if that topic can be shoe-horned into the news output, so much the better.
There was a time here in Leeds when the local BBC radio was a pioneering, seat-of-the-pants, D-I-Y operation.
Operating on a shoe-string, it did stuff like:
Leeds Teenage Week, in which 1,000 teenagers had a go at broadcasting
A “gritty”, daily programme for women listeners in which no topic was off-limits
Full coverage of municipal affairs, including half-hour reports of council meetings
Religious and amateur arts programmes run by non-staff members
Debates and discussions in front of live (participating) audiences from a range of venues
Outside broadcasts from old folks’ homes and nurseries
Dedicated educational output, and loads of opportunities for local amateur musicians to perform
Plus the news. And the sport.
It was, according to Phil Sidey, the station manager when it launched in 1968, “Radio Irreverent”, “The Station that Stirs Things Up”.
It’ll never return. The BBC budget bean-counters and audience head-counters in London would never allow it.