Local radio cutbacks: ‘BBC bosses have taken their eyes off the ball’ says former Radio Leicester legend

By Safiyyah Choudry

BBC Leicester legend Martin Ballard describes local radio as “a jewel that should be preserved” as the station faces staffing cuts.

Radio Leicester has a special significance and place in local radio, as it was one of the first local stations introduced by the BBC in the 1960s.

Today (November 8) is the 55th anniversary of the station, and in an exclusive interview, the former presenter says he fears that the cuts will silence the “friendly voice in the corner of the room”.

Mr Ballard, 61, has produced and presented a plethora of programmes covering countless elections, budgets and major sporting events, to name a few. Throughout his career spanning almost four decades, he worked predominantly for BBC Radio Leicester.

He expressed his sadness towards the looming cuts and explained that once there is shared programming, “the keyword in local radio doesn’t work anymore because it’s no longer local.”

Taking East Midlands Today as an example, he said: “People in Leicester who watch East Midlands Today will say they get fed up with hearing about Nottingham, and people in Nottingham say they get fed up with hearing about Leicester.”

Mr Ballard believes that removing the relatable aspects of local radio diminishes its duty to be relevant. He said the audience of BBC Radio Leicester would feel unsatisfied with the unspecialised content. He said: “The BBC hierarchy have taken their eyes off the ball.”

The government has expressed “concern” and “disappointment” towards the scheme, which will see all 39 stations start to share the same shows at certain times of the day. The stations will continue with their own local programming from 6am to 2pm on weekdays. After 2pm, the BBC will broadcast 18 afternoon programmes across England.

Rhodri Talfan Davies, director of Nations at the BBC, strongly advocates the planned changes.

“These proposals aim to maintain the distinctiveness of our local services while allowing the BBC to adapt with our audiences and ensure we remain relevant.”

“Of course, change is never easy – and we will work closely with all our colleagues to introduce these plans sensitively and fairly. BBC Local Radio remains an essential service for millions of listeners – the very best local radio network in the world – but it’s also essential we make difficult choices that will enable us to reach out to many people that increasingly rely on their mobiles for local content.”

All changes will be made in phases and finalised by the end of 2023.

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