Stop radio plumbing new depths

PUBLISHED: 10:35 17 March 2006 | UPDATED: 21:46 28 May 2010

Readers who tune to Radio Norfolk will know the station has been mourning the death of one of its star broadcasters, John Mills. Until his long-time battle against cancer became too much, John presented the midday consumer programme. John was different be

Readers who tune to Radio Norfolk will know the station has been mourning the death of one of its star broadcasters, John Mills.Until his long-time battle against cancer became too much, John presented the midday consumer programme.John was different because he wasn't just a local radio man. He'd worked for BBC World Service and pioneered the first national programme for disabled listeners, 'Does He Take Sugar?' - so called because of many people's habit of not putting questions to disabled people but of speaking to their companions.John chose not to stay in network radio but to champion consumers against bureaucracy in a local forum. If only there were more such intelligent broadcasters in local radio.Last week, I was invited to talk to the thriving Warboys WI. One member recalled her experience of being interviewed on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. What was the searching question the presenter put to her? The best he came up with was how many sheets of toilet paper she used each day.Much local radio is now merely pop and prattle. Here in the Fens we have our very own commercial station, Fen Radio. Nearly one in five Fenlanders listens, which means 80 per cent of us never listen. A pity.When commercial radio started, stations had fully staffed newsrooms. Fen Radio makes do with one journalist - which means she has to be at the station to present each news bulletin. There's not a lot of time for her to go out news-gathering.It could get worse. The parent company of Fen Radio, UKRD, has already applied to shut down another of its studios in Stroud, Gloucestershire, and present its "local" programmes from Cheltenham, 13 miles away. As UKRD also owns KLFM in King's Lynn and Star in Cambridge. Fen Radio could very soon be less than local.I bet there are plenty of people at the Isle College who could take on the franchise and run a genuinely local station. They might even have John Mills' tact. A listener once rang him to moan about her washing machine which wouldn't fill with water. After grilling the manufacturer on air, John gently asked the caller, "Have you had it plumbed in?""What do you mean?" she asked. "The shop said it was ready to use.

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