James Cridland’s International Radio Trends: Networking but sounding local; and could the BBC go commercial?

James Cridland, radio futurologist, is a conference speaker, writer and consultant. He runs the media information website media.info and helps organise the yearly Next Radio conference. He also publishes podnews.net, a daily briefing on podcasting. Buy James A Coffee HERE

Last week, a large number of UK heritage radio stations, including Pulse 1, Viking FM and Hallam FM (all of which I’ve worked at), were rebranded as Hits Radio. It means that Bauer now has one brand to promote nationally, which it is doing, for the first time, with a TV ad campaign.

For all the disappearance of the brands, it doesn’t actually mean much change in programming for most of the stations. They’ve been networking anyway for much of the day; but, like decent networking allows you to do, the presenters have been able to send specific content to specific transmitters. Not only have they used this to correctly ident the radio stations, they’ve also been able to split entire sections to specific outputs. Alec Feldman posted a compilation of some of those “splits”, and it’s worth a listen for people who think networking output means you can’t be local. You can, as Feldman very ably demonstrates.

As the BBC gets ready to put advertising in its podcasts (on third parties) in the UK, which I wrote about here, you might think that if only BBC Radio took commercials, we’d not have to bother with the TV licence fee and everything would be good.

RadioCentre, the commercial radio lobby group, has commissioned a paper that points out the folly in that way of thinking. It turns out that the BBC’s services are simply too expensive to fund using commercial revenue; and everything except BBC Radio 2 and 6Music would be forced to either suffer significant cuts, or simply stop broadcasting altogether; the hardest hit would be BBC Local Radio.

RadioCentre also points out that existing commercial radio would also lose about 36% of their revenue, as budgets are reallocated to the BBC.

This isn’t the only work that’s been done on this. Phil Riley did much of the same work on his personal blog back in 2022, concluding that it is simply unachievable to fund BBC Radio with either advertising or subscription.

The intellectually-challenged Nadine Dorries is no longer in post, of course, but the UK government is still in the clutches of many of those who object to government funding of the BBC.

GB News, the government’s favoured TV station, isn’t doing much better, though, with a significantly worse £42.4mn operating loss and a round of redundancies announced on a Friday afternoon: 40 jobs, 14% of the workforce, are to go. GB News operates a DAB radio station (total revenue last year £131,000, which probably doesn’t cover its transmission fees).

James Cridland