A few weeks ago I was mocked for saying that I was a regular listener to my local BBC radio station, Three Counties Radio. True, I am not exactly the average or indeed for the most part the intended audience for BBC Local Radio. Generally speaking the BBC's local broadcasting is aimed at those over 40 and upwards but I've always been a fan. The main reason for that is probably because when growing up every radio in the house was permanently tuned to what was then my local station, BBC Radio Solent. It was a rare occurrence indeed to find my mum or dad listening to anything else although I seem to recall that Radio 2 occasionally broke the monopoly of local broadcasting in the Richards household. Commercial radio was unheard, after the disappearance of Radio Victory in the mid-80s.
One of the main appeal's of BBC Local Radio for me has been the fact that it is a news and information led service with a talk based format. I've always been a news junkie and at school one of my many ambitions for a while, was to be a journalist and radio journalism in particular appealed. I've always liked the immediacy of radio, which to this day still beats TV when a story is breaking. There is no need for pictures or flashy graphics to present a story. It can be told simply and quickly in words, which are often more informative than the repetitive images that tend to be shown on television news. In addition I think the quality of news reporting tends to be better on radio, because rather than relying on pictures to tell the story, the journalist has to convey the sense of what has happened painting pictures with words. That is a skillful job and if done well can be immensely interesting listening.
So back to BBC Local Radio. It's news service for me on a local level is second to none. Not only does each BBC station have the resources of BBC News to provide material - the worlds largest newsgathering organisation - it also has its own reporters and journalists, often based around the its broadcasting patch. Indeed, it is often in moments of crisis that BBC Local Radio comes into its own. I can just about remember some of the coverage on Solent around the time of the Falklands War and then during the first Iraq War, when the station brought a local slant on these stories that were affecting many people living in the area.
The strengths of the BBC are combined with a more local and friendly service that is distinctive as each local station reflects the communities it serves. That is an important distinction and one of the attractions of the BBC Local Radio service to me over Independent Local Radio, which is largely similar (under common ownership) and plays the same music and same programme format wherever it happens to be based.
Its often forgotten that BBC Local Radio is also a leader in broadcasting. For example, Three Counties, became the first radio station in the country to provide a programme specifically for the Romany community and travellers. Indeed the station offers an extensive service for the large Asian and Black communities in this area as well as specialist programmes for the Italian and Irish inhabitants of the patch. These types of services could never be provided by Independent Local Radio and is one of the many strengths of BBC local broadcasting.
So, it is a combination of local news, information, a friendly and approachable style of broadcasting and a broad appeal to the community it serves that are for me the strengths of BBC Local Radio. As an aside, the model of BBC local broadcasting is based on the American model of local radio and was pioneered by the veteran war correspondent, Frank Gillard. And it has to be said that as the BBC's local radio service is celebrating 40 years of broadcasting in 2007, it must be doing something right!