Could BBC radio cuts impact on emergency broadcasts?

It seems like a strange question. But, like most public relations agencies, we keep our eyes on the papers, both in print and online, and today this particular quandary has been raised by The Guardian.

The Local Government Association, which represents 350 councils in England & Wales, has spoken out against the BBC’s impending cuts to medium-wave services. The plan is to get rid of MW radio stations in areas where FM services are available, but this has raised concerns over the ability to deliver clear emergency messages to listeners.

According to Chris White, the LGA’s culture board chairman, FM often broadcasts ‘crackling static’, with sound distorted as a result, which in turn leads to difficulties in hearing the information being announced. Consequently vital messages about weather conditions, road traffic accidents and similar situations may be inaudible.

Of course there are a few variables that cannot be predicted here. Mr White’s criticisms assume poor reception simply because of the FM platform, which isn’t necessarily the case. As such those in ‘high risk’ groups would only include people travelling in areas farthest from a radio mast, on journeys long enough to ensure they spend a significant amount of time unable to check their mobile, or those that don’t own a smartphone at all, meaning the number of MW listeners we would need to worry about is looking pretty small.

Similarly, we’re all supposed to be switching to digital radio wholesale within the next five years, so everything else- from MW to AM- will be redundant soon-ish anyway. But this still raises a worrying and interesting point. Just like the Welsh journalistic crisis, wherein the country’s government has been called to meet the NUJ to discuss where all the professionals have gone, the BBC MW massacre also suggests hyper-pluralisation in the media can be detrimental.

In the case of Wales web news has replaced print, which would be fine, if the perceived value of online was even close to physical publishing. It isn’t though, meaning less advertising revenue, very few sales and subscriptions, and so by default fewer staff. The BBC radio situation is a case in which the traditional medium is still viable, and the platform is changing to suit modern demands (i.e. switching to digital, and future-proofing). But due to recession-era budgets, and the view that the BBC has grown too monolithic, arguably people are again being forced to jump before anyone has laid out the crash mats, which isn’t always a great idea.

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