On air? Welsh radio in decline

As we mark 40 years since Swansea Sound’s launch, Marc Webber looks at the state of Welsh radio.

40 years ago this week, Wales’ voice in the world got louder with the launch of Swansea Sound, the nation’s first independent local radio station.

Fast forward 40 years and you will see a Welsh radio industry in decline, with jobs lost and locally-made programmes replaced by a computer playout system run from a room in London’s Leicester Square.

Since the decision to turn Marcher Sound to Heart in 2009, Wales has lost hundreds of hours of local news and entertainment programming, as the likes of Red Dragon turned into Capital and Real Radio into Heart.

Even those stations that remain in Wales have cut back local programming or even closed stations. We have seen Swansea Sound’s sister station Valleys Radio fall by the wayside and a merging of operations for Town & Country broadcasting, which owns Nation Radio and Radio Ceredigion.

All of this has led to a 40 percent fall in the number of jobs in the Welsh radio sector since 2009. Figures vary widely, but Real’s transformation to Heart saw staff numbers in Wales fall from 60 to 20; Valleys Radio closure saw four full-time posts go, along with ten part-time/freelance jobs go.

If any other industry in Wales had lost 40 percent of its workforce, there would be an Assembly debate and a financial rescue package would be put in place quicker than you could say “regeneration fund”. Many of the people once working in radio in Wales have been forced to relocate to England because there are fewer jobs in Wales.

And whilst many Assembly members are keen to talk about the “democratic deficit” regarding Welsh issues because of a dominant London press, hardly any of them have stood up to OFCOM or the DCMS against the decrease of local radio programming in Wales.

They seem to hide behind the blanket  that broadcasting is not a devolved issue, so they have no control over the issue. If that is the attitude, then those members really have no right to complain about the lack of coverage their work receives in the media. Some say community radio is the answer to the deficit of Welsh voices on air.

But however great these stations are, the people running them are hard working volunteers -not fully paid staff.

The stations are charities, not professionally accountable media bodies. Also, in some cases, OFCOM actually restricts them from earning advertising money or making profits to ensure the revenue of the stations that run their Welsh output from a computer in London can still make a profit.

The system has failed Wales and that is why we have less of a voice, and a radio industry which has almost regressed to that day in 1974 when the power was switched on in Victoria Road, Gowerton.

Thankfully, there are still groups like UTV Radio and Town & Country Broadcasting (along with many community stations) that still believe Wales should have local voices on-air.

If those with power believe the same they need to support them before they go off-air too.

Bridgend-born Marc Webber started his journalism career at Cardiff's Red Dragon Radio. A co-founder of Bridge FM in Bridgend, he now reports on sport for BBC TV and Radio as well as working for AudioBoom, a recently-floated company allowing podcasters and media companies to share audio online.

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