Stations are being closed down and community voices are gradually being erasedby Lucinda Smyth / May 2, 2019 / Leave a comment
Earlier this year, the media conglomerate Global Radio announced that it would be culling the majority of its local breakfast and drivetime shows on Smooth, Heart and Capital. Around 60 shows will be replaced overall and local news bulletins will be remodelled. This comes on the heels of a series of depressing developments for local culture. Recent research published by Press Gazette shows that, since 2005, 245 local newspapers have closed. Of the 127 libraries shut down across the UK last year, a high number belonged to small cities or towns. And it doesn’t look great for theatres either. This year’s Theatres At Risk list (an annual report released by Theatres Trust) showed an increased figure of 31 UK theatres in danger of being closed in 2019. Twenty-seven of them are outside London.
Every now and then headlines about local culture appear in the news, and the news is never good. Whether newspapers, arts centres, libraries, theatres, or radio, it always means cuts. But whereas the threat to theatres, libraries and especially newspapers have attracted serious, furrow-browed coverage from urbanite journalists, local radio closures are usually given a few token columns and then ignored. Part of this is because radio isn’t given much coverage generally. But it’s also because local radio is a source of ridicule. In a country where the most famous radio presenter is Alan Partridge, perhaps it’s unsurprising that the demise of local radio isn’t lamented with the same handwringing remorse as that of other local outlets. The problem, however, is that this ignores the centrality of radio to those communities. Ultimately local radio stations are not just a source of news but a source of culture.
I grew up deep in the rural wilderness of Somerset, where local radio was a marker of daily routine. In the same way that the newspaper rounds once punctuated time for older generations (morning ration, evening ration), so it was for radio shows in my hometown. Morning meant a blast of Orchard FM’s “Ian and Laura” during the school run, after a struggle to avoid Radio 4 (“driver’s choice.”) Afternoon meant the drivetime show, during which the same six songs would be played in rotation for three hours: two early 1970s pop tunes, one 80s dance anthem, one contemporary boyband pop song, one not-quite-contemporary ballad (last year’s X Factor winner, for…