At the beginning of my career I was lucky enough to work in the South West. Gemini Radio, serving Exeter, East Devon and Torbay was a dream station to work at. Live and local (apart from an automated overnight show), Gemini excelled at what was everything good about Independent Radio.
We had a daily half hour news programme. It won awards. Colleagues were like a family. And for an outsider to the area, I was made to feel welcome. The feelgood factor couldn’t have been better.
Gemini’s predecessor, DevonAir, boasted the strapline “The Heart and Soul of Devon”. Today, only two of those words survive. And they’re not “The”, “and”, “soul” or “of”. You get the picture.
One of the challenges of Devon was it’s geographical vastness. North Devon and Plymouth had their own commercial stations, and even Gemini split its breakfast and drive shows to cover Exeter and Torbay. And although the county still boasts small scale stations in its two cities, as well as the south and north coasts, Heart is the dominant player.
And if you thought Devon was a huge patch to try to cover editorially, how about we add Cornwall, as Heart did when Global Radio bought the neighbouring regional station Atlantic FM?
It’s another inevitable sign of consolidation within the industry. Atlantic was competing against the well-established Pirate FM – arguably one of the UK’s best station names, and in terms of audience reach and share, one of the most successful.
You might expect that in a rural area. But what you might not expect is for Global to offer its own dedicated drivetime show for the Cornwall area, since OFCOM’s rules allow “local” output to be broadcast from Exeter. Many said it wouldn’t last. And it didn’t.
This week Global Radio has applied for a Change of Format to the Atlantic licence. On paper, it looks like they’re simply tweaking the music policy to match the wider Heart brand. But, crucially, this document allows Global to remove the Cornish drive show.
So why did they have the extra output in the first place? The answer may be the in the region’s fierce local rivalries. As a tourist, you’re always sure of a warm West Country welcome from the boundary of Somerset to the Scilly Isles. But try and put Devon radio in Cornwall, and you could face a backlash. The Cornish drive show was a simple way for Heart to muscle in on an area that wouldn’t automatically hand out an open season ticket to the Tamar Bridge.
Six months in, and it looks like any commitment to Cornish localness is out the window. Despite my general acceptance of progress, it seems a shame that Global is now set on ditching even its token measures in one of the least well served areas of the country for radio choice.
It’s also a move that Pirate FM should capitalise on. Localness matters to its owners UKRD, and its audience. When in comes to Cornwall, don’t mess with it.