As I write this, it is raining. It is raining very hard indeed. Across the South West, there are 106 flood warnings and alerts in place from the Environment Agency, including three ‘severe’ warnings indicating “danger to life”.
It used to be that, at times of crisis – like severe weather, flooding, earthquake, war, Godzilla, etc. – you would be advised to turn on your local radio station for updates and advice on what to do. There is a lot that local radio could be doing right now for those living in places like Exmouth, Bovey Tracey, Sidmouth or Polperro that are now largely underwater. They could relay messages from the police, local authorities and the Environment Agency about what to do to protect yourself and your property, and what help is on offer or on its way. They could provide updates for travellers on where there are road and rail closures. They could provide weather and flood alert updates, and offer some hope with a forecast of when the rain might finally stop and the rivers might recede.
They are not. I am listening to BBC Radio Devon. They are broadcasting ‘Graham Torrington’s Saturday Night Love Songs’, a show networked across the BBC’s local radio stations. Right now, they are playing Simply Red’s ‘Something Got Me Started’. Here, let me tune to Heart (owned and operated by my old employer, Global Radio). They’re also in networked output – the decidedly more upbeat ‘Club Classics with Steve Denyer’. Steve was playing Madison Avenue’s ‘Don’t Call Me Baby’ a moment ago but now he’s just finished a link in which he asked listeners to go to his Facebook page and offer advice on getting a red wine stain out of a white sofa. A few minutes ago, Graham Torrington read an email from a listener who joked that his girlfriend should snuggle up closer to save on the heating bills. On Twitter, @BBCDevon has suggested: “With all this horrible weather, best stay indoors and tuck yourself in with the best love songs from Graham.”
What planet are these people on?
I love radio. I worked in it (or, I guess, at its periphery) for 12 years. People in radio like to talk about its immediacy, its intimacy. It’s the voice in your head that you imagine is talking just to you. My friend and ex-boss, Phil Riley, blogged yesterday about the importance to the future of the radio industry – facing competition for listening from online music services – of being relevant to local listeners. ”Local radio is currently a vital presence in our communities, and will remain so for as long as it can commercially survive,” Phil writes.
Instead of being instinctively connected to the local area and what’s going on here, my two main local radio stations are existing in a weird parallel universe of inanity and comfort. If I were bailing water out of my living room window in the middle of the night, I don’t think I would find the BBC’s advice that I snuggle up with Graham Torrington very valuable. If my sofa were a sodden, mud-smeared, stinking mess, I doubt I would care much about Steve Denyer’s red wine spillage. If Phil can run stations that respond properly to local emergencies, why can’t the nation’s public service broadcaster or its biggest commercial radio operator?
Photo credit: Neil Moralee, via Flickr under Creative Commons licence