Wednesday 8 November 2017

Open Letter to Tony Hall

Dear Tony,

I’m delighted you have spoken so powerfully on BBC local radio tonight on the anniversary of its birth.

I was disappointed that the BBC Plan and, indeed, Ofcom’s draft operating licence, barely mentioned the importance of the service, so I’m pleased that you have now paid due tribute to its importance, past and present.

I wish that there had been more discussion about this whole area in recent months. The consultation on your new operating licence from Ofcom should have been a logical trigger for that; but the regulator confessed to me that, in part, they’d messed up on that process. They failed to include a clear summary of their thinking, as their own process demands. The process was accordingly impenetrable.

Whilst you have achieved far greater things than I have, I gather you have never had the agony of trying to programme a successful radio station. Rightly, you have been been impressed by the value of challenging journalism, not least following the awful circumstances at Grenfell, but the need for sound local journalism is not the same thing as the targeting of your local radio stations.

A radio station cannot target everyone. Radio 1 would be less successful were it targeted at everyone, and so would Radio 2. It does not work. You will create a radio network which is expensively-producing valuable output, consumed by ever fewer people. What’s Monday’s breakfast show agenda? 

You announce that budgets are not being reduced. Frankly, Tony, this is appalling. In such demanding times, every media outlet in the country is making economies. As I have demonstrated with granular detail at the invitation of your executives, BBC local stations could be managed more efficiently on far less money with greater success. You are wasting licence fee payers’ cash. Whilst many people on local radio work their socks off producing great radio, just about every employee could point to many inefficiencies too, if invited. Local radio will always be expensive, and this short -term announcement simply places local radio irresponsibly in long term peril.

Yes - there is a case for solid investment in local journalism and an addressing of the ´democracy deficit´. Should that journalism necessarily be the sole job of radio and define its output, I suggest not.

You suggest moving from a 50+ target. The BBC appears to believe it is appropriate to require a Radio 1 to target young - but not for any one of your services necessarily to trouble with those of us over fifty - radio’s most avid consumers. Not only a puzzling decision, but irresponsible. Commercial radio cannot target 50+ given it is simply not economically viable . You have just announced that BBC radio should no longer charge itself with the interests of those over fifty. Can that be right?

Every single piece of research on which you have spent licence fee payers’ money in recent years has concluded BBC local radio’s real value: friendship. Companionship. Bright, lively company aimed at people like them. Recent flawed strategies have diminished their enjoyment and diminished audiences; and this is another such move.

Whilst I welcome giving more responsibility to local managers, as the original BBC local radio guidelines suggested, we need to know that each of those individuals understand their audiences well and can run a duly efficient operation.

Your latest proposals risk reducing audiences further at greater cost and alienating the network’s most ardent supporters.

Yours sincerely,

David Lloyd

Related blogs:
Please take care of the BBC - it is precious
What future for BBC local radio?
Are you wasting your time with social media?
Who´s listening and how?
What future for the radio news bulletin?

Grab my book 'Radio Moments'50 years of radio - life on the inside. A personal reflection on life in radio now and then. The drama - the characters - the headaches - the victories.

Also 'How to Make Great Radio'. Techniques for today's presenters and producers.  Great for newcomers - and food for thought if you've been doing it years.


  1. Concisely and brilliantly stated David.

    The way the BBC works means that THE same people who caused the (many) problems in BBC Local Radio, are still 'in charge' of the changes - they have already showed several times they cannot do the job; they need replacing - FRESH blood promoted up, or better still, brought in.

    But as the BBC 'suits' prove, time and time again, they know better than non-BBC people.

    Meanwhile the ratings continue their downward slide, and it's going to cost even more to run the services, for fewer listeners...!


  2. 'Commercial radio cannot target 50+ given it is simply not economically viable' - if that's honestly the view of those in leadership positions in the industry then I'd predict a serious shock coming their way.

  3. Sadly, it is the view, Colin. I wish case history suggested otherwise. For one, I look forward to a time when it might become not the case. Do tell!

    1. Yes, I do quite agree that it is the view, I think it's horribly wrong though. Or should be at least. And I do think one day someone will crack it. I suspect maybe that radio would be willing to try and that listeners in that demographic would also be willing but that ad agencies are holding things back.

  4. An open letter to David Lloyd.

    1. Don’t disagree with all you have said - although a tad confused about some of it. DMed you a few days ago. If you let me have email address, I’ll reply to your letter.


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