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The importance of BBC Local Radio is increasing

29 March 2017

Andy Comfort

I was reporting live on BBC Radio Humberside as the Humber came over the top. Having presented an extended Drivetime programme, I was then sent out to stand on the bank of the big river, now threatening to flood hundreds of homes and businesses. With some mobile phone masts out of action there was only one way many people who live and work near the river could find out what was happening – by listening to local radio. They listened to our coverage into the night and it was our team of radio and regional tv reporters who kept them up to date, as we had earlier in the day when storm force winds blew over three lorries on the M62 Ouse River Bridge, closing the road for over six hours. 

The police told us how even they were getting updates from a radio in their command centre.

That night, which saw 400 homes and businesses around the Humber flooded, will live long in the memory here. It’s also a date – 5 December 2013 – that the world will remember. It was the evening the news broke of the death of Nelson Mandela. Every national news outlet was dominated by that significant news but, do you know, the tidal surge was more significant for the thousands of people affected by it? Local news matters – and that night it was BBC Local Radio up and down the east coast that brought the news that mattered to local people.

It’s easy though to quote emergencies like that to justify BBC Local Radio – snow, school closures, floods, storms – but local radio is more, much more. It is a daily companion, it is a champion and it is a challenger. It reaches out to audiences not well served by the BBC – 2.3 million people tune into BBC Local Radio but no other BBC station. Nearly 47 per cent of BBC Local Radio listeners are from the C2DE demographic groups (RAJAR Q4 2016). Every day my station, BBC Radio Humberside, is mentioning news, events and people in East Yorkshire and northern Lincolnshire. With newspapers such as the Scunthorpe Telegraph and Lincolnshire Echo now weeklies, the importance of BBC Local Radio is increasing.  

Last week our listeners had the chance to question and challenge the leader of Hull City Council about a 4.99 per cent council tax rise among other issues. Who else gives them that opportunity? Recently in "Hot Seat" interviews they’ve challenged the Chief Constable of Humberside Police, the Police and Crime Commissioner and the chairman of one of our local football teams.  

Listeners to BBC Radio Humberside have raised over £100,000 for various local charities and Children in Need by supporting our successful annual pantomime. Every week BBC Local Radio reaches out to people and communities, supporting events and broadcasting from them. For Hull’s year as UK City of Culture we have a bus out every weekday broadcasting our afternoon show from a different town or village. Our Saturday treasure hunt style programme, Absolutely Clueless, engages people in towns and villages across our area and our radio car visits 6 locations every Saturday morning. We’ve taken part in charity cycle rides, walks and shows. We’re there with the community every day because we are part of the community. 

We live here, we work here, we are proud of here. We are the BBC here.

Local newspapers continue to make cuts – here the papers for Grimsby, Hull, Lincoln and Scunthorpe are now edited by one person, based in Hull. Local Radio has been cut back dramatically over the years. One of our commercial radio competitors only staffs its newsroom in Hull during the morning with bulletins from Manchester for the rest of the day. When I started as a reporter at BBC Radio Humberside in 1995 we had a bigger news team – at weekends for example we had two reporters, a news bulletin reader and an editor. Now there’s just one bulletin reader who writes, compiles and reads the weekend news as well as updating our social media pages.  

Fans of Scunthorpe United are lucky – they might not have felt that when their team threw away a two goal lead and conceded three goals though penalties scored by an ex-player but they are lucky in terms of the coverage they get. "The Iron" play in League One but every goal, every miss, every throw-in of every game home and away can be heard on BBC Radio Humberside. Where else can they, and fans of Grimsby Town, Hull City and the professional rugby league sides Hull FC and Hull KR hear interviews with their managers, players and chairmen? How else can they get a chance to ask them a question or air their views?

Most people care about where they live and work. They have a pride in it but want to moan about it too at times. We give them that chance every day. When I started working for the BBC in Scotland I remember being told this: "People in Edinburgh care first about Edinburgh; then they care about Scotland; then they care about Britain; then they care about Europe and then they care about the world. Finally they care about Glasgow." That news editor might have had his tongue somewhat in his cheek but we would do well to remember that thought and remember the night of 5 December 2013, when, yes, we wanted to hear of Nelson Mandela’s passing but on the east coast of England and along the mighty Humber we also wanted and needed to hear what was happening outside our front doors.

Local news really matters.

Andy Comfort is a senior broadcast journalist and presenter. He is also the NUJ FoC at BBC Radio Humberside.

Find out more about the NUJ's local news matters campaign.

Tags: , bbc, bbc radio, humberside, local journalism, local media, local news, local news matters, local news matters week, broadcasting, local radio