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Radio wins the snowball fight

crystal set

“Good Morning” said the DJ at 4pm. It was the third air shift in one day for Delta Radio‘s Stuart Clark so you can forgive his tiredness.

Much like Stuart’s absent colleagues, I’d spent the last two days failing to get to the office, so his voice has become quite familiar in our house.

If you’re wondering how I managed to string-out my absence from the office to two days, it’s simple. While London apparently enjoyed bright sunshine today, up here in the South Downs we had more fresh snow. After 90 minutes waiting for a train I gave up and retired home for coffee, computer and a backdrop of local radio.

Last time we had snow like this was, as every news bulletin keeps reminding us, nearly twenty years ago. Back then, local radio managers would cheer at the sight of bad weather, knowing it would invariably lead to a boost in the audience figures as their stations became a community hub. In the early 90s the now long-forgotten BBC CWR had no fewer than six “snowline” jingles. Snow was a big deal and you had to be prepared.

Today, it is logical to assume that the internet significantly reduces radio’s ownership of the community lifeline mantle. However, I found building a picture of how the snow is affecting this community to a be surprisingly charmless experience online.

Even the websites which remained up (not National Rail or South West Trains then) were irregularly updated. It was hard to know how complete or correct was the information shown. Text reports can be unsatisfactory during an unfolding story. They masquarade as “definitive” but can never fulfil that promise when the facts are constantly changing. They’re cold too: between updates you have no sense of the efforts going into updating them.

Twitter feeds, by comparison, were exciting to follow but the signal to noise ratio on Twitter was low and you had to do a lot of your own mental filtering to get important nuggets of information.

Only on local radio did live human beings bring you a decently-assembled collection of useful information and expose you to a little of the information management process. Doing the newsgathering live on air can, in the right hands, add to the sense of connection and unfolding drama.

In our area two presenters stood out for being “the right hands”. The ubiquitous Stuart Clark, focused by his station’s small patch, defined Delta Radio as the point of live information here. Stuart may have broken the working time directive and his station’s logo may look like it was drawn by a child but Delta Radio knows how to use its position and exploit Stuart’s deep local knowledge. On the basis of what he and his team did yesterday they deserve a ratings boost.

Meanwhile Gordon Astley on BBC Southern Counties milked the moment superbly. Last time there was serious snow Gordon was doing a similar “mid-morning music and chat” show in Birmingham and that experience pays dividends. In his show yesterday he never let you feel out of touch but always teased you to stay tuned for more crucial information. A great performance on a station that is so large it can sometimes struggle to play the local card.

So, for me at least, radio won the media snowball fight. The tv presenter on South Today who last night declared local radio to be “a lifesaver” may have been overstating its case but it certainly felt like the most live and human connection to this disrupted community.


  1. Not around here, just 20 miles up the road you wouldn’t know it had snowed if you visited the website of our local radio station The website has to be used as listening would drive you to suicide!!!
    Basingstoke is in a BBC blackhole, no radio station will take ownership BBC Solent does not acknowledge its existence, BBC Berkshire will Occasionally nod its head towards us in Hampshire. BBC SCR well????


  2. Our village (Sheet) is similarly on the periphery of 2 BBC locals – neither Southern Counties nor Solent mention it often but, to be fair to them both, not much happens round here!

  3. Good evening!

    Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and, actually the rest of the week turned out to be a bit of a blur! From 0530 on Monday morning ALL telephone lines into the Delta building were buzzing

    “I’d like to report a school closure”
    “Do you know if such and such a school is open?”
    “The A325 is lethal!”
    “Is it snowing were I work?”
    “Are the dustman coming today?”
    “Were have all the trains gone?”
    “Do you know that it’s snowing?”

    I had managed to get in at my normal time of 0430 without any problems whatsoever. The A3 up from Petersfield had not a fleck of snow on it. However as I came off the A3 at the A325 Woolmer Link exit it was clear that Monday was going to be a “different” sort of day. As I continued along the A325 more snow appeared, by the time I got closer to the Delta studios it had be come clear that Whitehill Bordon had been twinned with Nania!

    What Delta did over the next few hours/days was nothing out of the ordinary – it just continued being a local radio station, giving out local information to local people.

    Don’t all local stations do that? 🙂

    Good morning

    Ps Thank you for the kind comments – really appreciate them. Also when I find the child who drew the Delta logo, I’ll make sure they spend a good amount of time on the naughty step!