Jobs to Go at Radio Tay

Listeners to Radio Tay will have detected something was afoot when one of the station's news readers announced, on air, that he was his was making his final broadcast and that he disagreed with changes planned for the station.

These changes comprise redundancy facing five staff and two freelancers.

It prompted Greg Russell to say, live on air: “And finally. This is the last time you’ll hear me utter those words here on Radio Tay. It’s been fun for the past three years and I leave with a heavy heart, as part of the changes that have, in my humble opinion, destroyed the station I helped set up 29 years ago. With that, I’ll say goodbye, but I hope you persevere and keep on listening. Radio Tay News, it’s two minutes past two…”

Listen to it, here.

In a statement, a Radio Tay spokesperson said: “Radio Tay’s core purpose is to inform and entertain our local listeners and broadcast the very best programming for our audiences and advertisers. We are embedded in the community and we serve and attract 35,000 more listeners than our nearest competitor.

“The recent changes at Radio Tay will have minimal impact on our on-air content, whilst enhancing our commercial offering and better serving our audiences and advertisers.

“Losing talented people is always a last resort and although it is not appropriate for us to comment on individuals we would like to thank those who are leaving for the contribution they have made to the station over the years.”

In a letter to the station's owners, Bauer Media, Russell writes: “I am writing this from the viewpoint of someone who was an integral part of the team that set up Radio Tay in Dundee nearly 30 years ago and who has witnessed what I believe to be its destruction over the past year.

“It is not a reflection of the takeover of [previous owners] Emap by Bauer, more a critique of a management and programming style which leaves staff feeling threatened and alienates listeners.

“Throughout this letter I shall refer frequently to Radio Tay, but I believe the same comments apply to all the other stations within the group in Scotland.

“Although I was employed by Radio Tay as a freelance until this month, I have no axe to grind – I am a freelance journalist and broadcaster, and as such I accept that contracts come and go.

“But I find it impossible to sit on the sidelines, mute, while a station I helped to establish is consigned to the backwaters.

“I returned to Radio Tay as a freelance broadcaster in 2006 after an absence of more than 20 years.

“At that time the station was doing well – people were listening to FM and AM, advertisers were buying airtime, the staff was happy and the station had a favourable community presence. Programmes were made locally and tailored to the local audience.”

He goes on to refer to a decision earlier this year by Bauer to pool some of its programming, to be broadcast across all its Scottish network, with the loss of some individual presenters and programming.

He continues: “I understand the economic argument, but how effective is it likely to be in the longer term?

“Local listeners like local programmes, local presenters and local news.

“Take a small country like Scotland, where there is a tremendous antipathy between East and West (Edinburgh and Glasgow); and a lingering distrust between North and South (Inverness, Aberdeen and Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow).

“Broadcasting a networked programme – produced and presented from Glasgow – to the rest of the country alienates the majority of listeners who are not in the West. Similarly, network programmes broadcast from, say, Aberdeen immediately alienate listeners to the South and West.

“Of course, there are exceptions to that generality (Bill Torrance on Sundays on Tay AM and Northsound 2), but they are few and far between.

“Networked programmes by their very nature cannot be local. We are constantly being reminded of the need to preserve ‘localness’, but that cannot be done if programmes themselves fall short.

“The networked shows may be money-savers, and in a recession every penny counts, but what happens when the economy picks up?

“Listeners will have found another station to call home. Advertisers will again have money to spend, but why should they advertise on a station with a declining audience? If I were in business, I would be looking for the medium offering best value for money.

“That could be a smaller station with cheaper rates and a growing audience; it might be a fledgling station struggling to find its audience but offering the lowest rates of all. Either way, it is not revenue coming into a Bauer station.

“Having spent years building up a loyal following, what can a station do to win back listeners after networking has driven them away?

“It’s a tall order, but I’d imagine it would have to try to re-engage with its local community, with more roadshows, cross-promotion with local newspapers, re-establishing its presence in the locality – all of which is likely to cost far more than the amount saved through networking.

“Micro-managing disparate stations in Scotland from a group HQ in England was never a good idea under Emap, nor is it a good idea under the Bauer Media regime.

“Good local managers know their clients – when they’ll want to spend, what they’ll want to buy. They are aware of local economic difficulties, gossip and so on. They are an integral part of the local commercial scene.

“Good local programmers know their audience – their likes and dislikes; who and what attracts listeners and retains them. They can identify with and relate to their listeners and utilise people who can do likewise.

“They should be left to get on with their jobs without generally unwarranted and useless interference from a distant third party whose knowledge of the locality is usually apocryphal.

“Perhaps the best local radio model within Bauer in Scotland exists at MFR in Inverness. It is excellent local programming which does not bow to pressure from the South.

“Its reward is a fiercely loyal audience and listening figures which illustrate perfectly that David can take on Goliath (the BBC) and put up a superb fight.

“Perhaps Bauer Media’s other Scottish stations could learn a lesson from the MFR philosophy.

“I have written this without malice after witnessing a haemorrhage of talent from Bauer’s Scottish stations which I am sure will have future repercussions. I am equally sure that these views will be borne out by latest figures from [listener audit body] RAJAR.

“If my remarks at least stimulate debate, they will have served a purpose. If they bring about a change in thinking, my expectations will have been exceeded.”