Radio City’s local lies

There seems to be some debate about the pros and cons of a radio station originating programming in the area it is broadcasting to.

This was brought to my mind when I heard that Radio City was to reduce even more of its hours spent with presenters sitting in its tower looking down on Liverpool city below. Instead, more was going to be networked in from faceless strangers in Manchester. Oh, and it would be identical to all the other stations owned by Bauer, except for the presenter shouting ‘Radio City‘ down the line to Liverpool, whilst shouting ‘Key 103‘ down the line to Manchester, etc., etc., until all ‘local’ stations had apparently carried their correct station identifications.

There are three stations broadcasting in the Radio City set, and all used to be locally originating from people sat at the top of the tower. An AM oldies station called Magic now comes from Newcastle, London or Manchester and doesn’t involve the tower at all, not a thing originates in Liverpool. An FM talking station called CityTalk comes from the tower by day, but it is mainly either automated playout of rock-oriented pop oldies (usually by Queen or Elton John), or a repeating loop of a news and incredibly long sports cast. And the heritage station Radio City has breakfast and drive coming from the tower, as well as a late night phone-in, but all the rest coming from Manchester.

Now, here’s the thing. If a radio station’s format is such that it is playing a specific style of music, such as is on Kiss FM (UK), then it is reasonable for it to have one central studio. Who cares if that studio is hundreds of miles away. It’s Kiss, with no claim to be a radio station broadcasting for a specific geographical area. People listening to Kiss aren’t listening for its localness.

In contrast, the likes of Radio City trade on the psyche of listeners to attach themselves to the station because it is ‘local’. It’s a radio station for Liverpool, or it always was. So, despite it all being theatre of the mind, programming coming from somewhere else is a deception.

And it is this deception that the listeners pick up on. Yes, it’s as pointless as putting bobbies on the beat, but somebody talking without a local accent, unable to drop in any local references, or even know a thing about Liverpool, leaves the listener feeling cheated. Yeah, the straplines burble some shite about ‘Liverpool‘ or ‘Merseyside‘, but that’s a tease and soon becomes an obvious lie.

In contrast, Liverpool‘s Juice FM, thankfully not coming from the tower, sounds local. Most of the voices are local voices, and they will make quick references to local stuff. Even looking out of the window and saying traffic seems very congested on the main road outside (The Strand), or talking about a local club last night, or how the weather looks rough, all provides the glue that proves the localness that is making listeners stick to the station in preference to Radio City.

As I said, there’s nothing wrong in a radio station coming from somewhere else as long as it doesn’t feel the need to lie about its localness. Radio City is lying and the people from Liverpool know this and don’t like it. That’s why the audience figures are on a constant decline when compared to Juice FM.

The problem with the large Borg organisations that own all the radio stations, is that rather than put a bit of effort into giving people what they actually want when figures appear to downtrend, they respond by reducing the costs. It all becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Cut costs by networking programming in from somewhere else and sounding un-local, and the audience keeps disappearing so you have to cut more costs. The more you do it the more you lose.

I know it’s been a long time since radio stations were actually local personality led, and listeners listened because they liked the presenter, and I know many got too big for their boots, but now it’s all gone a bit too mad the other way, surely?

Despite being owned by a Borg as such, Juice FM works on sounding local and it works. Maybe Radio City should try that.