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Guest Post: The Power of Local Radio

In a break to the usual format – todays blog post is a guest piece written by Neil Bentley (Breakfast Show presenter on The Severn). The effect of the recent heavy snow across the UK has had a considerable ‘snowball’ effect to traffic of local radio station websites, with some websites showing a 500% increase on snow days; demonstrating how people turn to local radio when they need information they can trust.  Neil explains how Tuesday 4th January was no ordinary Breakfast Show.

With all the changes to commercial radio in the current economical climate, it is easy to forget the true power that  local radio has against national services.

On Tuesday 4th January, The Severn, Shropshire dealt with a freak weather crisis that nobody was prepared for but had the ability to quickly adapt to the situation and supply our existing listeners and those tuning in from other broadcasters, a news and travel service tailored specifically for Shropshire.

Temperatures overnight on Monday were around -1.c with clear skies but nothing out of the ordinary for this time of year. Rock salt in Shropshire has been running low following the snow before Christmas so neither Telford & Wrekin or Shropshire council decided that the conditions required the roads to be gritted.

Tuesday started like any other day but from 6:45am calls started coming in from drivers complaining of black ice on the roads. Clouds had formed and drizzle had started to fall, light snow in some areas. By 7:30am our travel presenters were reporting on several RTC’s on Shropshire’s roads. Shortly before 8am I received an email from the Met Office with an immediate severe warning of ‘frozen rain’ for Shropshire but this was something we’d already figured out. I had to enquire with the Met Office for an explanation of the term frozen rain; which is apparently when the surface temperature is much lower than the air temp so rain water freezes upon impact.

It was clear that the morning was turning into a bit of a disaster so from 8am the decision was made to drop all normal show features and concentrate fully on the travel and developing weather situation. Everybody who was available to answer a phone in the radio station did so, staff who could head out on foot with OB devices were sent out to report on the situation. Our office staff who were now stuck in various queues were ringing up with regular updates on the roads.

We took around 100 calls, texts, emails, etc before 10am. We reported on 28 car crashes and many more reports of pedestrians slipping on the pavements. Plus, we kept in touch with all the major petrol stations in the area for regular travel updates.

Shropshire ambulance service took 147 calls of incidents and the Police service kept us up to date with where their officers had been sent. By the afternoon the Police were advising that motorists should stay at home and only travel if necessary.  Major travel routes such as the M54 and A442 dual carriage way both had to be closed at various stages for vehicle recovery.

The following day, The Severn received various emails and calls from listeners and professionals who commented on how impressed they were at our response to an unpredicted crisis and how valuable our information was. Reporters on the local newspaper, The Shropshire Star, were listening to our travel news to find out where to go to get pictures of incidents, they also thanked us for providing detailed information that could be used in their written articles. The biggest compliment was from listeners who weren’t being provided the information from other broadcasters in the area so tuned to us and were more than impressed with our service and have vowed to stick with The Severn from now on. This is the very point of local commercial radio, it is our USP.

It doesn’t matter that a larger station may have ten times the amount of staff and resources we do, but it does matter that you have the ability to use these effectively to provide the listeners with the detailed information they want. It is these unpredictable moments that local commercial radio has the ability to stand out and provide a service that no regional or national service can.

Disclaimer – All posts and views are my own, and are not endorsed or representative of any current or previous employer.

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