BBC local radio audience continues to slide in West Yorkshire – time for a bit of nostalgia

BBC-Building-LeedsAverage 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.

BBCYorksradiosaudienceshare2007-12While 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?

Note: shows total figures only - all 3 target different sized audiences

Note: shows total figures only – all 3 target different sized audiences

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!

Serious multi-platform media brand?

Serious multi-platform media brand?

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.

But where?

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 …

London decrees

learning_localradio_mainWhat 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.

bbcleeds1968It wasn’t always like this

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.



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8 Responses to BBC local radio audience continues to slide in West Yorkshire – time for a bit of nostalgia

  1. John Sour says:

    Many years ago I was interviewed by Radio Leeds as a representative of a local community organisation – “battling Leeds City Council”.

    My contribution was followed by a “response” by the Leader of the Council obviously rubbishing everything I had to say.

    I discovered later that the Leader had insisted on this arrangement and had declined to debate with me face to face; otherwise he would decline further co-operation. The presenter of the show went along with this balckmail at cost to the “little guys” and their campaign.

    Ever after this I realised that whatever journos, particularly at the Beeb, say about their radical credentials they always cave in in the end.

  2. Peter says:

    Nobody is brave and equipped enough to do proper news reporting and investigation, the “radical” community, civic and arts broadcasts of early Radio Leeds. Yorkshire Radio is only the Leeds United State broadcasting service. The local TV channel seems like it could be a great opportunity but if it becomes a branch of LUFC and Yorkshire Radio it would be a shambles. What do you make of the other competitors? Made in Leeds?
    There is no local journalism news, no grassroots engagement, no civic investigation beyond BBC Radio’s dwindling operation. Calendar and Look North are both tepid offerings,the YP/YEP seem to be filled with press releases and nothing original or appealing to the handful of readers they have left who aren’t dead yet, digital ventures like Leeds Online give out so much hype but so little follow-through. I wonder if people get the media they deserve….?

    • Rich Tee says:

      Their isn’t a big enough audience or a big enough talent pool for a good local TV station. The argument that “it works in the USA” doesn’t work here. The USA is a much bigger country.

      The BBC hogs resources (staff, equipment, talent) and it has a guaranteed income stream – the TV Licence – so it doesn’t have to adapt to changed circumstances like a commercial station does.

    • I wouldn’t be surprised if LUFC get the TV. Shambles or not, they’ve got one big thing in their favour: that they can say they’re already doing some serious media stuff (i.e. they’re running a successful radio station, and managing a successful, heavy duty website). Not sure which of the others can say that. And they’ve got easier access to finance (especially after the transfer window!).

      In terms of local news, I think the biggest problem is that there may not be the appetite for it any more. And certainly not if we’ve got to pay for it.

      • Peter says:

        I wouldn’t be at all surprised either, but they’re a loss-making station repeatedly in trouble with Ofcom for breaking broadcasting rules, whose only appeal to the vast majority of listeners is that they control rights to Leeds matches – a boon their TV station won’t have.
        Was there appetite when Radio Leeds began? You could argue that one till the cows come home, but it was Phil Sidey and his team who gave the public the appetite for it by being bloody good at what they did. People don’t know what they want until someone gives it to them, and apart from fine blogs such as yours, nobody is giving them the serious news from their street, their council, their city.

      • Think you’re totally right about the appetite for news being created (in part) by the news providers. That’s as true of Phil Sidey and his team as it is of the bright sparks in London who decide on what local radio should be these days. And the latter have the upper hand.

        Cheers for your kind words about the blog – for which there is (and probably always will be) only a tiny appetite amongst my 750,000 fellow Leeds citizens.

  3. Rich Tee says:

    This blog is more informative than most media outlets and, unlike the BBC, I’m not forced to pay for it.

  4. Hey Rich Tee, I’m sending a bloke round your house to collect your Leeds Citizen licence fee.

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