Death of a thousand cuts for local commercial radio

Last week's news that Global Radio is to shut half of its local Heart stations is thoroughly depressing, not least if you're in my old area of Devon, where the five local Heart stations in Barnstaple, Exeter, Torquay, Plymouth and the South Hams will be merged into one Devon-wide station based in Exeter. My thoughts go out to my former colleagues who will face a battle to keep their jobs. Let's put the sentimental aspect of a former GCap employee out of the way for a moment. This is a further blow to teenagers and graduates wanting to start a career in broadcasting.

Local radio, especially commercial radio, is an excellent breeding ground for new talent. In part because of the lean operation that most commercial stations run, anybody on work experience can be expected to get a chance to really immerse themselves and get proper practical experience. It's great for inspiring a passion in broadcasting.

Similarly, for broadcast journalism graduates, local radio is a fantastic place to start your career (and indeed continue it).

Again, due to the lean operation, you get pitched into everything competing against other local media with far greater resources. It's one of the best ways to learn the craft in a very short space of time.

As you can guess, I'm a huge fan of local radio. It may have plenty of faults and detractors, but when it's done well it becomes an essential part of community.

Yes, I'm biased have started my career in local commercial radio, but it was one of the most enjoyable parts of the job when people told you how much they enjoyed listening, how much they appreciated the local chatter and the support for events that other media may well ignore.

And what really made it worthwhile were the times such as when a local councillor told me she'd always make a point of speaking to us first as when we covered an issue, she always had a surge of enquiries on the topic. Local radio can make a difference.

Obviously I'm coming at this from a journalism point of view, but everybody - the DJs, marketing team, everybody, played their part in making a station a hub and barometer of the community.

And that hub has gradually been eaten away at over the past few years.

Yes, we know times are tight. Yes, a parent company of a commercial organisation will always want to do what's best to protect its bottom line. But that has increasingly come at the expense of what makes these stations unique: local content.

Without it, why would a local audience tune in to a station that plays the same pop music they can find elsewhere yet has little-to-no relevance to their area.

A well-run commercial radio sector is good for the industry, but a sector that cuts back and cuts back, takes away the most unique aspect of their offering and then complains that regulation favours their competitors isn't going to win fans or listeners.

Interestingly, during my time in the South West, we were always told that the Devon stations were profitable and that they had the greatest local reach, especially in the more rural areas.

Quite whether that's still the case, I have no idea. And commercial radio is always a lean operation that has to fight to make money.

And there are some DJs with a great local touch who, along with the journalists, know and care about their patch and connect with the audience. A 'personality' in a studio in London (or even Exeter, if you're in Plymouth or Barnstaple) doesn't quite have the same relevance.

I fear for the future of my old colleagues.