Blog Post

Small Talk – An Interview with Chris Burns, BBC Local Radio

There’ve been a lot of changes for BBC Local Radio in recent months, which have included redundancies and job cuts.   Programme wise some stations have been bandied together so at certain times of the day one show is multi-cast over multiple radio stations.  A lot has happened, so we were delighted that our latest Small Talk featured the person responsible for all BBC local radio in England, Chris Burns – officially the Controller of Local Audio Commissioning at BBC England.  This was our account, as heard by Shout Communications broadcast consultant, Marta Malagon, Manas.

Who is Chris Burns?

Chris Burns is the Controller of Local Audio Commissioning at BBC England.  She has been in the role since 2002 and is responsible for delivering innovative, creative and high value content for local audiences across all BBC platforms, be that radio, websites or social media.

Her position gives her the lead in the overall strategic direction of local BBC audio, including local radio, podcasts and BBC Sounds.  Previous to this, Chris worked at Radio 1, presented on Radio 4’s You and Yours programme and has even ventured into commercial radio earlier on in her career.

 

BBC Local Radio’s Chris Burns is extremely passionate about radio and sees local radio as the front door to the rest of the BBC and wider creative audio industry.  She has spearheaded new talent schemes such as New Voices and Upload and even produced a recent podcast series called ‘Love Bombed’ with BBC Newcastle.

Changes at BBC Local Radio

 One of the biggest talking points of the Small Talk and within the radio industry right now are the considerable changes at BBC local radio.

Since late last year, the 39 BBC local radio stations have started to share some programmes, in a bid to direct some resource into digital channels.  This has controversially lead to some redundances and changes in systems and processes within BBC local radio.

The bottom line is, post-change, not all shows are now made for or broadcast to a specific local area.  Some are shared across regions, some, even nationally.

BBC local radio title

So, what are the changes?  Although some of these changes are still in progress, in summary, changes at BBC local radio level include:

  • All 39 BBC Local Radio stations continue with their own dedicated local programming from 6am to 2pm on weekdays.
  • Between 2pm-6pm on weekdays, the BBC promise to produce 18 afternoon programmes across England, with a number of local stations sharing programming with neighbouring stations.
  • Between 6pm-10pm on weekdays, there are set to be ten local programmes across England.  This will also apply all day on Saturday and on Sunday mornings.
  • These programmes will serve areas that broadly mirror the BBC’s existing local television areas: North West & North East, Yorkshire & Lincolnshire, Midlands, London & East, South and South West.
  • A national ‘all-England’ programme has launched after 10pm across the week and from 2pm on Sundays, again, resulting in a loss of current shows at local level.

What does Chris Burns Have to Say about the BBC Local Radio Changes?

Firstly, despite some opposition, Chris wanted to state that the changes are not about trying to devalue BBC local radio, quite the opposite, local radio is still very much a priority. 

Are there still Broadcast PR opportunities on BBC local radio?

Absolutely!  BBC local radio isn’t going anywhere soon!  That said, the criteria for accepting or considering broadcast PR stories has now changed. Firstly, within the local and regional shows, stories that connect with local people are now more important than ever.  Celebrating local people and areas is key here.  There is still room for celebrities and more nationally focussed stories too – but they now fit better within the more national or regional output.

There is also a bigger focus on telling stories from the perspective of the local audience.  This doesn’t mean to you have to pitch a local story every time, but it’s important to think about how the story is relevant to BBC Radio Leeds audience for instance, or those listening to BBC Radio Cornwall.  This is where offering local stats or local case studies alongside the broadcast PR story can really help tailor it to a BBC local audience.  If this is not possible, consider briefing the spokesperson with relevant local issues as the presenter will always try to cover the story with a local lens.

With that in mind, relevance is now key – always ask, does it resonate to the audience?  Audiences to BBC local radio are very different to that of say, Times Radio.  These are the people that got us through the pandemic and tend to be very loyal to their geographic area and local radio station.  Likewise, these audiences want to hear people on air that sound like them.  This doesn’t always need to be someone with a local accent (thought it can help), but someone that speaks in plain English instead if using acronyms and constant jargon.  Put simply, BBC local radio want real people who can talk about real issues in a real way.

It is also worth noting that as extra resource has now been directed towards digital, there is now the added benefit of broadcast PR stories achieving greater coverage.  A really good story that lands on say, BBC Radio WM, could also not be clipped up and used on BBC Sounds as well as copy being written up for the website for instance.

Have the changes made a difference to the audience demographic?

There is a general thought process that BBC local radio have made their recent changes because they have decided to chase younger audiences, but surprisingly, Chris Burns says that is simply not the case.  She was firm that the 55-64 demographic is still very much their official core audience.

That said, they don’t usually like to put a specific age on who they are targeting, simple because everyone is different and come with differing tastes – they have many younger and older people consuming their content and that is absolutely fine.

In contrast, Chris says the strategy of moving resource to digital channels helps to make content available on platforms where there are younger people consuming it.  Again, this is great news for your broadcast PR story as there is a chance that by landing on a BBC local radio station, your content will now be picked up by a much larger audience across several channels.

That said, the BBC had to change strategy because the way people consume content these days has drastically changed.

In 2024, people more frequently access the latest news from their phone – gone are the days when the radio was the primary source of news and entertainment.  This isn’t just a trend among younger generations either.  With this in mind, the BBC needed to cater for their audiences and deliver news and stories to them wherever they are, which means no longer putting all focus on radio.

That’s why it’s now more important that those local stories appear on other platforms too as well as on local radio stations –  it’s about trying to make sure the great stories that local radio produces are seen and heard by as many people as possible. It’s a strategy of taking the content to the audiences, not waiting for the audiences to come to you.

How Can Shout Communications Help with Your Broadcast PR Campaign?

Thanks for reading our interview with BBC Local Radio’s Chris Burns. Thinking of launching your own broadcast PR campaign? Shout! Communications is a team of broadcast PR professionals with decades of experience creating and leading broadcast content for national radio and TV. As well as being broadcast PR experts, we think like the broadcast producers we used to be. We know what broadcasters want, and more importantly, what they don’t want.

We have strong relationships with journalists leading all of the new BBC local radio shows and can help make your story stand out from the crowd and increase the chance of landing on the BBC’s local radio and digital offerings. To learn more about how we can help you with radio and TV media relations, as well as media training, contact us today.

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