"The moment it stops becoming local it becomes less popular."
BBC local radio stations will have a significant number of programmes cut under new plans, the corporation has announced.
This is bound to affect the diversity of BBC local radio stations, which has already been pointed out as a concern.
The BBC has a public service responsibility to steer a more representative and inclusive audio community. However, this has not fully come into effect and fruition within BBC local radio.
Despite funding to boost BBC radio diversity, there is a lack of it, particularly when we look at daytime programming.
When it comes to ethnic minority BBC local radio presenters, those of African and Caribbean heritage have quite a good amount of programming and scheduling.
Meanwhile, there are far fewer British South Asian presenters.
BBC Radio WM gave a glimmer of hope when they roped in Sunny and Shay, but after they left in 2021, it seemed like diversity had been put on the backburner again.
Diversity is already lacking at BBC local radio stations and it looks like many ethnic minority presenters will lose their slots as stations face major programming cuts.
All 39 networks in England will keep their current schedule from 6 am to 2 pm, but after that, shows will be shared.
There will be 10 local programmes between 6-10 pm on weekdays, across the day on Saturday, as well as on Sunday mornings.
Live sports programming will not be affected.
There will be one “all-England” show from 10 pm across the week, and on Sunday afternoons.
This means the prevalence of BBC local radio stations will be reduced, putting jobs at risk.
In terms of presenters of colour, many will be affected as their presenting slots are at times when shared shows will take place.
This includes the likes of Rima Ahmed (BBC Leeds: Mon-Fri 2 pm-6 pm), Amir Suleman (BBC Cambridgeshire: Fri 10 pm-2 am) and Nishma Hindocha (BBC Lancashire: Tue-Thu 2 pm-6 pm).
These changes will result in the closure of approximately 48 staff posts, with the BBC explaining that it wants to prioritise digital content.
The BBC is also creating 11 investigative reporting teams across the country, focusing on key local issues across TV, radio and online.
It also said it would deliver “a wider range of local audio programming through BBC Sounds”.
Rhodri Talfan Davies, director of Nations, said:
“These are ambitious and far-reaching proposals to grow the value we deliver to local audiences everywhere.
“The plans will help us connect with more people in more communities right across England – striking a better balance between our broadcast and online services – and ensuring we remain a cornerstone of local life for generations to come.”
But these changes could be detrimental to BBC local radio stations as listeners may switch off altogether if their favourite presenter is not on the air.
This is also because listeners will not be able to relate to the radio show, should it stray away from being local.
This is amid a clear desire for local radio.
Rajar, the industry body, says 5.8 million people listened for at least five minutes in September 2022, compared with 5.6 million in 2019 and 6.7 million in 2012.
Paul Siegert, a spokesperson for the National Union of Journalists, said:
“That’s more than Radio 1, more than 5 Live and a little bit less than Radio 2 so there’s clearly still a desire for it.”
“The moment it stops becoming local it becomes less popular. It has to stay local, people in Cornwall don’t care what’s going on in Devon.”
Philippa Childs, head of the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union (Bectu), added:
“Just last month we saw how important public service broadcasting and local radio are to our democracy via prime ministerial interviews.
“This disappointing move reinforces the need for a licence fee that keeps pace with inflation and enables long-term planning and stability.”
With these plans, local stations will become more national, meaning listeners wanting local news will diminish.
This invites cause for concern for BBC local radio and the people of colour presenting on them.