LBC-ing you

I’m pretty sure I wrote about this before when it was first announced, let me have a look.  Nope, can’t find it using the wonderful search thingie over there in the right hand column.

Anyway, I became aware that the radio station LBC 97.3 had disappeared in Scotland when a lot of very upset listeners (not to be confused with radio anoraks) started trying to work out why.  Not understanding the politics, or how the whole radio landscape is actually a giant chess board in the hands and whim of those who would play a mean game with it, and that sacrificing the odd important piece (radio station) means nothing in the bigger scheme, they couldn’t accept that there was any logic behind killing off LBC.

For those unfamiliar with LBC, it was the first ever commercial radio station in the UK, and doesn’t play music.  It’s a speech station.  A combination of monologues, expert and public opinion are knitted together 24 hours a day.

Granted, it is London-centric, since London is where its only FM outlet is, and it has to adhere to a certain amount of ‘localness’ requirement born of the original licence.  Not that formats and licence conditions are much more than a tiny fly buzzing around the heads of the Borg* collectives that own all radio in the UK, but their minor irritation can sometimes be a temporary inconvenience.

However, the subjects covered on air are not necessarily London centric.  This is why not an inconsiderable number of contributions to the on air opinion are being made from people living outside of London.  I’ve always been pleasantly surprised to hear the ideas and thoughts of those who live around the UK, rather than just those in London and its suburbs.

In the main, these contributing members of the public outside of the London area are not listening via Sky.  Nor are they listening via the internet.  They are listening via DAB (‘Digital Radio’).

Or, they were.  At the moment, LBC listeners in Scotland are listening to a holding loop telling them to fuck off.  Well, fuck off to Sky or the internet stream.

Within a few months that looping announcement is what I’ll be listening to. That’ll be when the chess playing Borg pull the service from the DAB multiplexes covering my area, the North-West. The target is that LBC will only remain broadcasting through the air (FM and DAB) in London. The rest of the country can take a swivel, it seems.

Far be it from me to protest about a chess playing Borg’s decision on which pieces to sacrifice, but I’m going to anyway.  Hey, Global Borg, this all seems rather stupid.

Apparently, the replacement is going to be yet another generic music service that nobody listens to, Gold UK.

Apart from LBC, and of course talkSport, assuming sport, well, football, is your bag, there is no speech radio provided by the commercial sector.  Shame on it.  At least by pumping LBC around the country, there was a little bit of real listening choice beyond the endless and pointless music services the commercial sector thinks should occupy the DAB platform.

Most people don’t have unlimited bandwidth (I do), internet radios (I do), unlimited 4G data (I do), care to stream via their mobile (I do), or listen via their satellite dish (I don’t), so removing LBC means it is a loss, and the listeners will instead probably drift off to the BBC’s 5 Live.

In fact, one upset listener speculated it was a plot to increase the audience to 5 Live.  Maybe it is. Who knows the mind of these chess players.  However 5 Live is really quite a different format to LBC.

Let’s talk more about me.  For me, I will happily listen via internet radios.  This means I can listen at home or at work, but not so much in the car unless I wish to run my mobile battery down.  In this respect, I’m a bit peeved about the pending axing of LBC from DAB.

Speaking to those ordinary listeners confused by the sudden disappearance of LBC, I looked for a pattern as to why they listen.  Probably about a third had ties to London, similar to myself, most being Londoners in exile, kinda ex-pats.  There’s no denying that there’s a natural ‘need’ to listen to radio from, I hate to call it, ‘home’.  I hate to call a place where one once lived ‘home’ because, to me, home is where you have decided to live.  My home in this respect is Liverpool.  I have nothing to do with London. It was once my ‘home’ but it is definitely not my ‘home’ now. Well, not until I got thrown out of Liverpool.

So, maybe I’m drawn to LBC partly because it is a station I listened to when I lived in London. However, when I lived in London, I’d listen also to Capital or Kiss and have never been drawn to listen to either since I became a trainee Liverpudlian.

Mainly, I am drawn to LBC because of its format.  Two thirds of those I engaged with about the sudden disappearance of LBC had no London ties, and were definitely drawn by the format.

Yes, there is speaking radio in the North-West that I can tune in to that includes the public making points and observations, but it is not as current and as responsive as LBC.  Apart from 5 Live and talkSport, I have BBC Merseyside if I want to listen to very old people talking non-stop about the things they remember Liverpool having during the 1940s and 1950s, and the horrors of rationing and horse drawn trams.  I have a single nightly two hour show interrupting the networking from Manchester on commercial station Radio City if I want to listen to racists and homophobes trying to insult the gay presenter, or rants about how we need to get back to the glory days of 1973 when the unions ran things (these conversations normally manage to use the words ‘I blame Margaret Thatcher‘ at any moment).  Oh, and they’ll also rant about football.

Liverpool even has a station called City Talk.  Instead of ‘talk’, most of its output is old Elton John records interrupted by a pre-recorded newscast playing over and over again every 15 to 20 minutes.  The only time the Elton John records stop is when it’s time to talk about football.  Oh how I wish the rest of the output wasn’t Elton John but the intelligent conversation that LBC is so good at.

Heck, once a week, LBC has an hour when listeners can ‘Call Clegg’.  Yep, a phone-in show hosted by the deputy Prime Minister.  How wonderful if there was an equivalent on the wasted and pointless City Talk up here.

Or, at the very least, how wonderful if we still had this one single speech radio station LBC available to listen to via a normal portable (DAB) radio.

Come on Global Borg, give LBC back to the rest of the UK again, eh?

(*Borg = a species from Star Trek that go around the universe killing or hoovering up life forms to assimilate and make just a part of the collective with no individuality allowed as they become drone workers for the common purpose.)