Down Your Local

“This is Simon Bates and Jade Goody, and we’re LIVE on Asda FM.”

You couldn’t make it up. And I didn’t. The opening quote was one of my favourite ever “links you never thought you’d hear” from 2005, when the whole of the UK commercial radio industry joined forces to raise money for survivors of the Asian tsunami.

Syndicated shows are nothing new, of course. Distributing programmes to subscribing stations – for free or for a fee – has been happening for almost as long as radio has been around. Which makes me wonder why some people are getting rather upset about the prospect of this happening on their local BBC station.

Presenter Shaun Tilley is producing a series of shows celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Top of The Pops. Now clearly there are some issues – not least the fact that TOTP was launched and presented for so many years by Jimmy Savile. But that aside, the show was one of the most iconic music products of its eras. So why not mark it?

Well, the problem – according to some – is that this show is to be broadcast on BBC Local Radio stations. And, since there’s nothing particularly local about a syndicated show, it should therefore be banished from all local outlets.

Just to be clear, this show isn’t being made by the BBC – nor is it going to air on all stations. It’s been produced by Tilley, and the decision whether to buy or broadcast it will be made by individual station Editors.

But that’s not good enough for some critics, who argue that local radio should be locally broadcast for local people all the time. OK – let’s examine that for a minute.

Should a local guest feature on a show purely because of their local connections – even if another guest, from outside the area, may be more knowledgable on the subject matter? Or do listeners really believe that Jeremy Bowen’s latest dispatch from Cairo has been especially filed for BBC Radio Countyshire? What about celebrity interviews – should we turn down a chance to speak to Anna Friel because she happens to be promoting a book?

Clearly people value local content. Around seven million listeners each week prove that. But the balance of local and “other” material is absolutely essential in order to provide interesting and varied output. Great, compelling local content, breaking news and holding decision makers to account will always be paramount in BBC Local Radio. But we shouldn’t be so inward looking as to dismiss absolutely everything that isn’t on our doorstep.

I’m not suggesting that syndicated shows like Shaun Tilley’s should be a regular feature of the schedules – but if it fits into an off peak slot as a one off, why not?

Surely the central question shouldn’t be “Is it local?” but “Is it interesting?”

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