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BBC WM PLAYS A NEW TUNE

05-03-2010

With a BBC review in full swing and the future of the Birmingham-based Asian Network and 6Music under review, what does the future hold for Radio WM? The Stirrer understands that major changes are in the offing.

BBC top brass are alarmed at poor ratings for their big city stations, with the likes of WM and its equivalent in Manchester persuading just one in ten of the local population to tune in at least once a week.

What’s more, the now familiar mix of music and chat – once derided as “pop and prattle” – replicates what is already provided by the commercial sector.

With the Corporation’s new-found zeal to focus on its core values, there’s been a major rethink, and the thinking from the top now is that local radio should return to an all-speech or mostly-speech format not heard since the John Birt era - with an emphasis on news.

To make the most of resources, there’s a proposal to create a series of region-wide mid-morning phone-ins, which in WM’s case would see them joining forces with the likes of BBC Coventry and Warwickshire.

The rest of the time, stations would retain their normal, more local identity, but with much less music than is currently featured.

It remains to be seen how this will play out at WM, where the current presenting line-up and station style is made up in the image of long-serving station editor Keith Beech.

Some of his star names could easily make the transition to all-speech – some, like veteran Ed Doolan, who is still their biggest draw, might even relish it. Others may struggle.

One of the key issues is resources, with the cash-strapped station looking to save money at every turn.

Sports editor Mark Regan has been heard on air more than once recently bemoaning the lack of cash available to provide West Bromwich Albion commentaries this season and, as The Stirrer previously reported, the Late Show is no longer broadcast from The Mailbox having been transferred for financial reasons to Nottingham.

Against this background the switch to an all-speech format will only be possible if the purse strings are loosened.

We can expect some lively conversations over the coming weeks between Beech and his tough talking boss Cath Hearne, appointed Head of Regional and Local Programmes a year ago.

In any event, BBC WM may never sound the same again.

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