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The commercial radio ‘vampire’ takes a bite…

It seems that “vampire” has become a new buzz word; around this time last year at the Radio Festival, The Who’s Pete Townshend described iTunes as the ‘vampire’ of the music industry. Now journalism lecturer at Leeds Trinity, Richard Horsman, has labelled commercial radio news as the bloodsucker of its own industry:

UK commercial radio news has become a vampire industry, sucking in talent whilst putting next to nothing back.

The notion of local radio hardly exists any more.  If you scan up the dial in a highly populated city you might think that because there’s so many stations around this must mean that lots of jobs are available for new blood. The reality is that an oligopoly has been created by networks owning a portfolio of stations, each targeting a specific listener demographic.

This is great for advertisers, who can approach a network and have commercials pigeon-holed on a station depending on the audience they want to reach. The outlook is not so good for journalists, especially those trying to enter the industry. Networking means fewer job opportunities because it saves money when news can be syndicated across many stations instead of having a different output at each one.

Like anything, cutting costs and corners can reduce quality. You’ll hear an example of this if you station hop in the evenings, at a non-peak time the same IRN news will be read by the same bulletin reader from the “Sky News Centre”. The only differences being that it might be jazzed up with a bed and top and tailed with a station jingle. This saves money, but it’s not locally targeted and not presented in-line with a station’s house-style.

on airHowever, now the licence fee is frozen, the BBC has made cuts of their own too. The ‘Delivering Quality First’ (DQF) report may not have been as destructive to local radio as first thought, but a 10% reduction in staff can be quite substantial to smaller stations that are affected. If the BBC begin to syndicate more local programming across their stations then this fits in with what’s becoming something of an industry standard, but this sacrifices the very essence of what ‘local’ radio should be about.

I am trying to be realistic, rather than pessimistic, because this is the reality of what’s happening to the industry. The only people who have any real power to change this landscape are the listeners. As long as they’re listening, the RAJARs are up and the advertisers are kept happy because they know there are people out there hearing their commercials. While advertisers keep funding the stations nothing will change the cycle will continue. Obviously, advertising does not affect what happens at the BBC but RAJAR figures do matter.

When I initially wanted to turn my radio hobby into a career the response I often got was “Can’t you do something else?” I could – but my heart wouldn’t be in it. I’m well aware that I might not get my dream job or even any job in broadcast journalism at the end of my masters course at UCLan. Maybe I’m a gluten for punishment, but the reason I’m determined to be part of it is simply because I love the industry and, regardless of whether it’s commercial or the BBC, I want to make good radio. Vampire or not, I’ve been bitten by the radio bug and it’s not letting go.