6 January 2010

"Fartown High School has just gone..."

It's the first time I've ever liked snow.

I'm not a child, and nor do I have any. Therefore I cannot think of a reason why a grown-up should enjoy snow. All it does is cause injury, delays, separation, isolation and hypothermia.

However, the timing of the snow in West Yorkshire couldn't have been better in one sense.

It got people tuning into the radio station where I now work.

Local radio is never more important than when there is a crisis in the area that actively threatens to spoil or change the day that people have planned. Regional and national radio can talk about the main roads - Bobbi Prior's travel bulletins on Radio 2 yesterday were so long the music bed ran out while she spoke - but only a very local station can get specifics, take correspondence from people stuck or suffering and use it, and then change its priorities so that helping people through their day becomes the absolute.

Especially when the schools close.

On yesterday's breakfast show at Pennine FM, only my second, we were bantering away about anything and nothing for the first hour when the snow started to fall. And the sky really was hurling this irritating white stuff down.

Within minutes, emails were arriving about schools that were being closed for the day. The list grew gradually but steadily until we were giving mention to more than 100 schools in Kirklees (that's Huddersfield, Dewsbury and surrounding smaller towns all west of Leeds) that were staying shut for the day.

All other features and formats went out of the window (which we obviously closed again quickly). Every link was offering an update or a recap. People are tuning in all the time, information is always being updated and the job of local radio in this situation is to serve its people as well as possible.

We understood from colleagues who were channel-hopping in the car that our rivals, who had bigger regions to cover, were only mentioning schools every 20 minutes or so. But when a parent wakes up and sees that weather, they need to know now, now, now. They may have childcare to arrange, or a day off work to force through. They might not be able to get through to the school if they ring it. So their next port of call is the local radio station. And they simply can't wait 20 minutes because you have some daft quiz to play.

By 9am yesterday (and today, in fact), I was drained. Not exhausted, but drained. The adrenaline and the spontaneity and the need to deliver concise and correct information constantly really wore into me. It is always live, but it really felt live. And the number of calls we got to our specially set-up Schools Line, and the amount of emails we were sent, and the number of hits we got to our website, where we had published a full, alphabetical list of shut schools, suggests that we got our priorities right. When you need local information right now, the place you should turn to is your local radio station.

And given that I'm on a breakfast show that needs to raise its profile, a potential crisis, live and happening, supplies the best possible and most urgent reason for making people come to you. I'm in no doubt that many of the listeners who tuned in to us over the last two days have not done so in weeks, or months, or possibly even ever before. They may have been Radio 1 types, happy to enjoy Chris Moyles and his articulate rambles because their journey to work and their nine year old's journey to school was not threatened. But on this occasion, they knew that Chris had to be sacrificed.

The forecast suggests we may be talking snow and schools and roads tomorrow and Friday too. That's fine by me. One hopes that we do a good enough job to prompt them all to stick around with us long after the snow has melted and sanity has returned.

Local radio is being much maligned right now. The group that owns all the Heart stations (many of which were rebranded as Heart when they were bought a couple of years ago, after years with a familiar local name) has talked openly of maybe being permitted one day to make its London breakfast programme the morning show on every Heart station, thereby removing the localness from everything each station does at breakfast time. How they could ever maintain their credibility on snowy days I would never know. What I do know is that whitened days like those most of us are having proves just how important, and special, and helpful, real local radio is.

So, while offering all my sympathy if this weather has ruined your week in some way, I rather like snow this week. It won't last, promise. Especially if I'm out in it rather than seated in a warm studio, reporting on it.

5 January 2010

"The snow is causing chaos in Brockholes this morning..."

When a sage as distinguished as Five Centres makes a demand, you have to take it on board. He claims, within the responses to the previous post, that he wants a report on how the first show went.

Well, it went fine. I enjoyed it. It's for others to say whether it was any good, and the odd technical mini-trauma aside it was as good as one can expect on a new show, new format and in new surroundings. Plus this was the relaunch of the whole station so there was extra need to make it reasonably listenable.

Charles Nove, frequent companion on our Nerd Nights and Deputy Voice of the Balls, is the voice of my production package and the stuff he has given us is fantastic. I rather hope a smart programmer is reading this and realises that the great Lord Nove seeketh work after the Wogan show came to its conclusion last month.

We're keeping it simple and fun, geting local schoolkids involved each day and running a twice-daily music-based competition for cash. It'll take a few months of marketing and promotion before the fruits of our labour begin to show in the ratings but, like Lennie Godber after his history exam, I will admit to feeling quietly confident. And that's an achievement, given that I don't do anything quietly.

If you have any urges, you can quell them here each morning at 6am.