Local BBC radio stations face major cuts to content made for their region | Radio
Local BBC radio stations could end up with a handful of programs specific to their region under proposals expected to be announced this week.
A new round of BBC cuts are due to be announced on Monday, with sources telling the Guardian it will herald the end of most local radio stations as truly distinctive stand-alone outlets.
Plans under consideration include cutting the number of weekday shows on each local BBC radio station to two, leaving just one breakfast show and one lunch show. Production during the afternoons and evenings would consist of broadcasts on several local stations in large swathes of the UK or nationally.
Weekend production, with the exception of sports coverage, would also air widely on a regional basis, ending many of the single shows currently airing on local stations.
Although the BBC has trumpeted the success of its 39 local English radio stations as being at the heart of their communities – particularly during the pandemic and in a recent series of interviews with Liz Truss – they face two key challenges .
One is the huge financial impact of the license fee freeze in real terms and the challenge of runaway cost inflation. The other is audience shifts, with BBC bosses keen to redeploy staff from radio stations with aging and declining audiences to create online content for younger and growing audiences.
Plans would be confined to stations in England, as devolved nations have their own management teams and structure.
Such changes will likely result in dozens of job losses, rounds of voluntary departures, and presenters having to reapply for jobs. Some well-known local hosts risk losing their jobs in the process or having to take on joint producer-broadcaster roles.
BBC bosses will set out their plans in detail this week, with staff invited to calls from Monday to hear “proposals to turn BBC England into a full media service”.
A BBC spokesperson told the Guardian: “We announced in May that we would introduce greater program sharing between our 39 local BBC radio stations in England. This will allow us to increase investment in local digitized services.
“We will be sharing more information about these plans very soon – and our own staff will of course be informed first of any proposed changes. Our local services are trusted by millions and our plans are designed to ensure we keep pace with the public in a rapidly changing world.
The latest cuts follow previously announced plans to end regional television newscasts for Oxford and Cambridge.
Last month BBC Director General Tim Davie warned MPs that the company was being forced to cut costs due to the decision to freeze license fees. Speaking to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, he said: “We are under very significant pressure, due to the decision to keep the license fee flat, which we did not want. “
But, he added: “We must continue to invest and develop our local offer. I think that’s an absolute key strength of the BBC.
The BBC has told the government it will face a £285m revenue gap by 2027 due to the license fee freeze. Last month the BBC announced major cuts to its World Service output involving the loss of around 382 jobs in a bid to save £28.5million.
As part of its plans, the company will stop producing radio shows in 10 languages, including Chinese, Hindi and Arabic. BBC Persian will also end its audio broadcasts to Iran.
There will also be a shift in focus for the World Service’s English-language radio production, with more time devoted to live news and sports programming at the expense of stand-alone programs.
The latest listening figures, released last week, showed that BBC radio now accounts for 46.7% of all radio listening in the UK, compared to 50.9% for commercial radio.
While the BBC continues to maintain dozens of separate local stations at substantial cost, large commercial groups have opted for a different strategy.
They have combined dozens of formerly separate local radio stations under national brands such as Heart and Capital, providing the bare minimum of local production to meet requirements set by media regulator Ofcom. Despite complaints about the loss of local identities, the new outlets are doing well with audiences and tending to increase viewing figures.
The BBC’s existing license agreement expires at the end of 2027 and discussions are ongoing about what could replace it.