British radio syndication killing off local talent


A report from the United Kingdom says that radio survived video just fine, contrary to the ominous prediction of the Buggles back in 1979 at the dawn of cable music video programming — remember “Video Killed the Radio Star”?. However, in pursuit of profits, UK radio stations are increasingly turning to national, syndicated programming, and local DJs are getting their walking papers as a result.

According to The Guardian, a wave of stations are moving to nationally-syndicated programming, and the result is a wave of disc jockeys headed for the nearest unemployment office. The Guardian notes that DJs are not covered by a trade union, making exact numbers difficult to come by, but it says the loss of jobs is in the hundreds over the past few years.

The report notes that a BBC official is an unofficial tally-keeper of the exodus, since he is frequently contacted by the recently let-go who are searching for a new job.

An employment agency specializing in broadcast talent says that the jobs are still going away – it’s heard about 15 more just since the holidays – and they are not remotely balanced out by jobs opening up.

For the disenfranchised, going online is an option, but as yet few are able to bring in enough cash to turn such a website into a profitable going concern. The Guardian notes that the best it generally does is keep a DJ available for sampling by a broadcast executive who may have a job to fill – there just aren’t very many execs on the lookout.

RBR-TVBR observation: There are a lot of things that syndicated, satellite and internet audio services can do, but none of them can match the ability of AM and FM when it comes to the ability to be local. That is terrestrial radio’s major trump card, and stations must do everything they can to make their programming vibrant and local.

It is also important to remember that air talent is not something that can be found by putting out a “help wanted” sign. Talent is critical, but so talent development and experience, and the hard-to-resist urge to plug in something off a satellite to save cash has the ugly side-effect of choking off radio’s supply of human beings who can compel listeners to tune in.

The bottom line is what it is, and you have to do what you have to do, but squeezing local considerations out of the equation will put radio’s future at risk.