It’s not very often that the words “Jon Gaunt” and “common sense” are mentioned in the same breath. Seriously, the man’s credibility as a broadcaster has been called into question in recent years. And that’s putting it mildly. The shock jock has shocked so much that he can’t get a job these days.
Yet in this weeks’s Media Guardian podcast – from the Radio Festival in Salford – Gaunt emerges as an unlikely defender of BBC Local Radio. In the face of the proposed 20% cuts, Gaunt says that stations will no simply no longer be able to produce the quantity of content it does at the moment.
Nobody’s denying this – though some have questioned quite how Local Radio will manage to still producxe speech-heavy breakfast, mid morning and drivetime content with a quarter or more staff being lost at many stations.
So is there a “third way” here? Cue Andrew Harrison, Chief Executive of Radio Centre who suggests that the BBC could outsource some of its local radio production to the comercial sector.
And his suggestion is certainly radical:
For those not in the know, RadioCentre is essentially a lobbying body for the commercial radio sector. Over many years, it’s accused BBC’s popular networks – Radios 1 and 2 – of replicating commercial radio’s output. Of course, it consistently failed to note the substantial public service elements of those networks – hours of live concerts, original comedy, specialist music, documentaries and so on.
But surely an indy producing BBC Local Radio content wouldn’t be so difficult, would it? They could probably cut a couple of layers of management and still produce hours of speech heavy output, yes?
Well maybe. But Mr Harrison’s argument starts to come apart when he makes this comparison :
“We learnt yesterday that You and Yours – a daily, one-hour show – employs 25 production staff. Classic FM – an entire national commercial station – employs less than half that”
Which not only makes a rather dubious comparison – a wallpaper music station versus a current affairs show – but completely misunderstands the kinds of resources required to make a quality product. That said, it’s worth noting that most BBC Local Radio stations manage to produce around 15 hours of daily content with an average staff of 35.
And those staff facing the cuts mught well worry about the commercial radio industry taking a swipe like this. Because the BBC has decided to hire a consultant to look at how Local Radio can become more efficient. One can only wonder how many hours of programming John Myers’ fee might have made, but of more concern is the commercial radio man’s form in this area. Firstly, there was his report into the management of Radios 1 and 2, which on the face of it looked like a bit of common sense – strip out layers of management – but ultimately, only one main recommendation was taken up; to halve the staffing of Radio 1’s Newsbeat team.
Then there was his recent blog which talked about “opportunities” for the sector – but effectively sidelined the importance of news in Local Radio’s output. And there was the infamous BBC documentary in which John Myers takes a sympathetic approach to religious output – watch from 4 minutes in and draw your own conclusion.
But like it or not, if you work in Local Radio, John is likely to be paying you – or a station close to you – a visit pretty soon. Time to show him what delivering quality really means.