Last week saw a powerful and persuasive letter printed in the Times. It was signed by Bleasedale, Russell, Mike McCartney and Mal Young (ex head of BBC Drama and, yes, he of Desperate Sousewives. But we’ll gloss over that bit for now).

It came, oddly enough, on the day I switched off Midweek with Libby Purves. I’d suddenly snapped and thought ‘not in my name, Radio 4, not in my name.’ Too much home counties chuntering in the morning for me, I’m afraid, no matter how ‘unique’ a ‘cultural exercise’ the station is according to Director General Mark Thomson, it too often says nothing to me about my life. Roger Phillips, Dave Monks, Snelly and Co? They talk our language. They talk with us.

The letter talked of how Radio Merseyside was the ‘beating heart’ of our region and of how the station was “The nearest you can get to your audience.” It’s something we already know, of course. Merseyside regularly reaches 380,000 listeners a week. Every new set of RAJAR figures confirms the fact: it’s doing exactly what the BBC is chartered, and protected, to do.

Yet, with ten cuts last year, and more projected when the proposed cuts come into force this April, the station has been battening down the hatches, and preparing itself for cuts in ‘scope and productivity’ losses.

“The station gives a platform for people to engage and become part of the community,” Mal Young said. In a way, I’d offer, that Libby and Co simply can’t. Nor do they particularly try. Nor does Melvyn Bragg, with his increasingly bizarre and incomprehensible In Our Time essays. Nor much of the station’s stale and southern-centred output. Just one listen to the US’s NPR shows you how much more gripping, and engaging, speech and factual based radio has the potential to be.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Radio 4, I love Eddie Mair, and Sandy Toksvig and even You and Yours (oh the shame!). But it shouldn’t be given a mandate to be the only voice in a country full of colour, culture and contradiction. And that’s where vibrant, honest local radio, such as Merseyside, has a role that no other media can come close to repeating: the best local radio programming touches us in a way little else comes close to. And, often, it’s a catalyst for country-wide conversation.

The letter went on to say: “Whether in politics or sport, whether in celebration or sometimes crushing defeat, BBC Radio Merseyside has given voice to the beating heart of this community.

“To paraphrase Mark Thompson and the great Bill Shankly, BBC Radio Merseyside is not merely a ‘unique cultural exercise’, it’s much more important than that.

“We hope that the BBC Trust holds this in mind as it makes its deliberations.”

The deliberations were to cut Merseyside’s budget by a swingeing 20%, while, at the same time, ring fencing Radio 4’s. Isn’t, we suggest, Britain already dangerously London-centric? What message does this give out? We all pay an equal part into the BBC pie, whether we’re in Shephard’s Bush or Shetland. We should all, equally, receive a service that reflects our experience. And no, Radio 4 doesn’t do that. Not yet, at least.

Today we learn that, following a series of meetings, the BBC Trust chairman is expected to ask BBC Director General, Mark Thomson, to mitigate £15m cuts that would have led to the loss of 280 jobs.

Last time the Trust met in the swanky new Salford Media City HQ they were ambushed, in the politest possible way, by Radio Merseyside’s action group, headed by passionate advocate for the station – the most listened to local station in the country – Kathleen Keig.

“I am passionate about protecting local radio and feel really strongly that the proposed cuts will affect both quality and diversity,” she tells SevenStreets.

The chairman of the BBC Trust will address the Oxford Media Convention on Wednesday. From here, it’s expected he’ll ask Thomson to have a Radio 6-like rethink, to find other ways to save money rather than crippling the output of essential and unique services such as Merseyside – and to shelve the hideousness that would have been ‘Radio England’ – a single service serving the entire country overnight.

Let’s hope these rumours are true. Local radio speaks our language. The BBC’s stations in England have a collective average weekly audience of 7.25 million listeners, up from 6.96 million a year ago.

How many of us can honestly say the city is truly reflected by Juice FM and CityTalk alone? In an age of trashy stereotypes and desperate scouseploitation we need Radio Merseyside more than ever.

One of the board of BBC trustees, Alison Hastings will be interviewed on BBC Radio Merseyside’s drivetime programme with Simon Hoban tonight (5-7pm). And don’t be surprised if you see Kathleen and the BBC Radio Merseyside supporters’ army outside the station also!

BBC Radio Merseyside

8 Responses to “Is Radio Merseyside Safe?”

  1. Kathy Keig

    We have made our protests. Our voices have been heard by the BBC. It seems they do share our ideas re the values of having a truly local station that delivers to our vibrant community. Now the BBC must deliver on its promises and ensure that all that makes our staion so special is protected. Radio Merseyside have given us a belief and trust in BBC staff those at the top now need to prove they too can be trusted.

  2. Thousands of Radio Merseyside listeners made their opinion known with petitions, emails and phone messages and so many listeners voices cannot be ignored. The BBC Trust have shown that this really was a consultation process and they have taken note of what we all had to say about OUR RADIO MERSEYSIDE. Lets now continue to show our support for the station and keep the pressure on BBC Top Level Management to prove that are are good for their word and committment. Radio Merseyside and ALL local BBC Radio Stations can and will go from strength to strength. OUR INTERNATIONAL FAMILY OF LISTENERS.

  3. Andy PinkMoon Jones

    Well said Dave. I was a little puzzled when I first saw the headline “Is Radio Merseyside safe?” – it got me thinking “has BB or anybody called Roger(most of the other presenters) been issued with implements that could cause damage to anyone who came near” but read on I did and all became clear. Merseyside is essential for so many reasons and you cover them all in this well written piece.

  4. Veronica West

    Hope the BBC trust will keep their promises, their has been tremendous support for local Radio. thousands of letters, signatures, & hard work done. Sounds like they have listened to what we had to say . lets continue to show our support for RADIO MERSEYSIDE. and all other local Radio.. S.O .S save our station. Regards, Veronica West.

  5. GeffenSam

    It has come as a huge relief to my friends, colleagues and myself that the Trust has decided to reduce the cuts being made to BBC Radio Merseyside. We are all very grateful to hear this news. BBC Radio Merseyside is the voice of Liverpool – one of the most culturally enriched in the country – representing the city through dedicated broadcast of a very diverse and rich spectrum of information and entertainment programming. For us here at LSRadio, University of Liverpool (lsradiouk), BBC Merseyside has become an invaluable source of careers advice and media skills training, supporting students and helping them into the media industry and beyond. It would come with great regret and devastating shame if BBC Radio Merseyside found itself in a position where it could no longer support its community as it does and ceased to be a service to all of us, young and old, throughout the city and beyond.

  6. I cant be bovvered with Roger or Snell…but without Radio Merseyside we would lose just about any broadcasting not directly ‘affected’ from Manchester..or should I say infected by M/chester. Radio Citytalk is absolute trash.

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