Simple concepts making for a bright future for local radio: RDE24

A radio colleague once said to me about the consistent repetition that is a part of most radio shows that someone is always hearing it for the first time and that by the time we are sick of saying something, the message to our listener is just getting imprinted.

I sat in on a session at Radiodays Europe 2024 about The Future of Local Radio and Podcasts. Two women, Stine Kjær and Chris Burns, from Denmark and England respectively are using tactics that are superficially simple and obvious to resonate with their local audiences.

This is my first Radiodays conference and the amount of countries represented (65 we were told by organiser Peter Niegel this morning) and people (around1400) is quite overwhelming. I’d wondered if the local podcasts conceived and produced by Kjær and her team at TV2 in Denmark would mean anything to me when I don’t know the places and people involved.

Kjær started with around a minute of audio from a podcast that they created around a young local man called Dennis who collapsed and died on a plane trip and was found to have a large quantity of bagged drugs in his stomach afterwards. I was hooked immediately, and unfortunately can’t find or access the podcast to get you or I a resolution on the hows and whys.

The point of what TV2 Denmark is doing, is that they are finding hyperlocal stories that have a national appeal. They are employing journalists who can investigate and deliver a story in a compelling fashion, and outsourcing producers and sound engineers to put the final podcast product together. They take several months to produce the main podcast (which was getting more than half a million downloads) with smaller threads or angles to the big story playing out in news bulletins or with additional local features that can be targeted the specific regional area.

Chris Burns is the Controller of Local Audio Commissioning for the BBC. At its peak, in 2003, BBC local radio was reaching 8.3 million people. By 2013 radio listening had dropped, with an even steeper decline for local.

Burns and BBC Local went back to the basics, believing one of its key pillars is the ability to start at the beginning, for example the local young man who grows up to play for Manchester United and becomes a national name. Sports is also a key pillar of local radio because you can be relentless partisan. Tied into both of the above is another pillar – pride in where you live. If we live where we love, we also love to see locals do well, win in sporting fixtures and look after each other.

All of the above is obvious really, and put into practice daily by most Australian provincial and regional radio stations, but this was a refresher and reminder of both what works for me personally and what local radio offers their community that is unique.

BBC Local are doing some heart warming initiatives that work with the pillars above. One, that came about during the pandemic, is called Make A Difference, which connected those that needed help with others who can offer it. This has spawned podcasts and Awards via celebrating local unsung heroes.

Talented journalists and storytellers can make a small local story have a broader national or even international appeal. Denmark is investing in the journalists that can take the time to create this compelling journey for listeners. The BBC is creating local radio that passionate and partisan about people and place. Burns said BBC Local Audio is replicating the habits of of their listeners. Both methods are contributing to a resurgence of local radio in their regions.

By Jen Seyderhelm: Radioinfo writer, editor and podcaster.

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