Is Nick wasting his time?

It takes some guts to stand up to the very rich and the very powerful, so I’m glad we’re now in summer hat-wearing weather. Why? Because I want to take mine off to a chap called Nick Osborne. I’ve never met Nick and, until a few days ago, I had no idea that he was a morning show host on a Sussex radio station. Nor did I know that he was the mysterious figure behind the Local Radio Group and a campaign organised in the wake of Ofcom’s decision to change the rules about local broadcasting. These new rules – yet to be formally approved by Government, but already being taken advantage of – allow big radio owners like Global to dispense with local breakfast shows, to network more content across the U.K. and to co-site stations in central hubs like London or Glasgow.
Now you may think this is the inevitable evolution of the industry in the U.K. These stations are commercial entities after all and there can only be so much room for sentiment and nostalgia in a sound business plan. You might, like me, feel sorry for the presenters and backroom staff who might be losing their jobs. Or you might simply be confused and wonder why your local radio station seems to be disappearing bit by bit.
In any case, there’s surely a debate to be had and some questions to be posed and that’s where Nick came in. Rather than shaking his head, sighing and mouthing ‘tut tut’ , Nick organised a small survey of a thousand-odd people on social media and that formed the basis of a report which he compiled in his own time and with his own money. It wasn’t perfect, by any means, and a bit of a pea-shooter compared with the heavy artillery of research and reports that commercial radio owners had deployed to strengthen their case for change. I suspect Nick’s passion for the issue allowed some of his facts to be blurred by opinion. Nevertheless, I had no regrets when he included my own thoughts in the appendix. I no longer work in radio, so don’t have to care about offending the regulator or worrying my employer. Easy for me, but not everyone can be as courageous as Nick.
And what was the response to the report? Well, a lot of ‘ likes’ and comment on Twitter and so on, but not much pick-up from the media, not even the industry website Radio Today – until, that is, someone asked why they weren’t covering the report. The Tweeted response from RT’s Roy Martin -now no longer available – was dismissive. It criticised the author’s (then) anonymity, referred to spelling mistakes and said it had landed in Radio Today’s spam filter. Surely not Nick’s fault?
There was more to come. The RT podcast this week did mention the report in passing but suggested that the Local Radio Group was “wasting its time” and was maybe a one-man band. Nick wasn’t mentioned by name, but the podcast host had gone out of his way to sample a bit of Nick’s morning show in Sussex and declared that it didn’t have much local content. Oh, how ironic – if only that was true. The evidence of my own ears tells me differently. As I say, Nick wasn’t mentioned by name, but when the podcast had been discussing Global Radio’s move into billboard advertising, then Roy Martin seemed to be on first name terms with “Steven and Ashley and the rest of the team”. All very cosy, but not surprising to those of us who have attended the Radio Festival or Radio Academy and witnessed the mutual back-slapping and scratching among radio’s London-centric power-elite and their hangers-on.
So is there still any love left for local radio? As it happens, here in Scotland, I’ve recently spent some time in commercial radio stations and the enthusiasm for connecting with communities seems undiminished. At MFR in Inverness, for example, I was barely through the door when I encountered the Cash for Kids team busy allocating grants to local charities. At Heartland FM in Pitlochry, the staff were still buzzing about a local music festival. In the Central Belt, the Bauer stations are taking advantage of Global’s retreat from localness by flashing ‘Live from Edinburgh’ and ‘Live from Glasgow’ in their promotions. It also seems that politicians in Scotland are taking the issue more seriously than their counterparts in Westminster, but there of course, Brexit is pushing so many other things to the side-lines.
So yes, hats off to Nick Osborne and, to be clear, the Local Radio Group is not a one-man band after all.
There’s at least two of us now.

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