I was driving home on Friday afternoon, listening to Julia Hartley Brewer on LBC. It was a fairly ordinary phone in about (I think) immigration or a similar topic that gets the phones lighting up at an otherwise slow time.
And then JHB said two words that made me instantly retune to BBC Five Live. There was a problem in the airspace above London. Air Traffic Control had closed it while they addressed a problem. This was “Breaking News”.
I retuned to the BBC’s News and Sports station. With access to the biggest resources in the world They would be all over the story.
Instead we got film reviews, news heads, a sports bulletin, a quick mention about issues at Heathrow and then more film reviews.
LBC was reporting the issues calmly and authoritatively. The existing format was mostly binned and both JHB and later Iain Dale did an excellent job of identifying the facts on the ground and in the air and reporting them.
The coverage was speedy, on point and super-served this listener.
I don’t know what Five Live did after 4pm. In the golden 15 minutes LBC had reacted and reported. They clearly appreciated the size of the story and it’s interest to the great majority of listeners who care about news.
That’s the point when there’s a big story breaking. If you dither you’re left to do ‘more considered’ coverage and reflect on what’s happened. But I posit that listeners who don’t have access to rolling TV news want timely updates. Radio is hopeless at detail most of the time so a reporter in the studio laying out the story is all it needs in the first place. Listeners’ expectations have moved on and without even a hint of dumbing-down, James Rea’s team at LBC have understood that reacting quickly and well to these events makes their opposition look flat footed and old fashioned.
With much smaller resources LBC once again trounced its BBC rival. Others have blogged about how the station has been one of 2014’s winners, notably around phone ins with political leaders but also with some remarkable items on James O’Brien’s midday show.
Meanwhile Five Live has become lost. A station with a constantly shifting line up and one that sounds like it doesn’t know what it’s for any more.
This is terrible for radio. Britain needs a strong BBC offer to keep commercial radio on its mettle. BBC Five Live is a vital part of that offer. Many of my closest friends are staffers at the Beeb and they defend their employer as they should. But i know that they want to get in about stories and not be held up by logistics or formats. I wish they got their way more often.
When a story was breaking in London that had national implications, LBC once again demonstrated that when it matters they’re becoming the station to turn to when news breaks.