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BBC Radio overstaffed – who knew? Myers report summary

By | Published on Wednesday 15 June 2011


I think we all know that the BBC national radio stations are vastly over-staffed. More people work on the Radio 1 breakfast show than at Xfm in its totality. But then, of course, the BBC national radio stations do also produce some of the best radio programming in the world, and the high head count plays a role in ensuring that is so.

Though, that said, and with cuts needing to be made at the Beeb, you do sometimes wonder: if Radios 1 and 2 were to lose 25% of their people – as sad as that would be for those affected by such a radical headcount cull – would it really make any difference to core output? I mean, if you need help working a basic studio sound desk, why are you a radio presenter? And why does Radio 1 have people focused on making video content when it is a radio station within an organisation that also owns TV stations?

And does the world really need the Teen Awards when it requires extra staff to make it happen? And why is BBC Radio employing people to organise Olympic gigs when commercial media and event companies were more than willing to do that job? And then there’s the biggest mystery of them all, how can it possibly take 52 full time members of staff to make Newsbeat? I know they are talking to a distinct audience not serviced by other BBC news shows but, come on, 52 full time members of staff?

I suspect most of these thoughts went through the mind of John Myers, a former commercial radio chief, as he compiled the report he was commissioned to write by the overall boss of the BBC’s radio division, one time Pepsi dealer Tim Davie, who wanted guidance on how to cut costs at the Corporation’s two big pop stations, Radios 1 and 2, and their sister digital offshoots, 1Xtra and 6music.

In his report, published this week, Myers noted that Radios 1 and 2 were among the best radio stations in the world, but added that, nevertheless, there were many opportunities to save costs. Most notably, it didn’t make sense, he said, to have separate management structures above Radios 1/1Xtra and Radios 2/6music, which meant much duplication of expensive senior executives and back-office operations.

He added that too many presenters, especially at Radio 2, relied on studio managers to handle simple technical matters which said DJs should look after themselves – said studio managers were costly ‘comfort blankets’ for on-air talent, he said. And then there’s news. There was no need for a 52 man news operation at Radio 1, while news presenters at Radio 2 spent two minutes an hour reading someone else’s script and the other 58 minutes doing very little, he reckoned. The Newsbeat unit should be turned into a central news operation for all of the four stations he was reviewing, Myers proposed.

As for the staff at the BBC stations, Myers reported frustrations among producers and presenters regarding all the compliance paperwork that has been introduced post-Sachsgate, and bemoaned that too much decision making now took place at the top levels of BBC Radio, when it was more sensible and practical for producers to make those decisions on the ground.

Having paid a big fee to Myers to state the bleedin obvious in a bid to, erm, save money, the aforementioned Davie yesterday leapt to the defence of most of the areas Myers criticised in his report, including the aforementioned Newsbeat. He also shunned the idea of merging the management structures of the BBC’s four national popular music stations.

Of course, that’s no surprise, because doing so would require someone to choose an overall pop station controller, which would mean shunning either popular Radio 2 boss Bob Shennan or experienced Radio 1 chief and professional empire-builder Andy Parfitt, both powerful players in the wider Corporation, and when it comes to BBC cuts, custom dictates you pick off the units whose chiefs have least influence. Hence why the two big BBC radio stations are so over-resourced to start with.

So, what will Davie take from Myers’ report? Well, “the BBC needs to prove itself to the outside world to be absolutely behaving efficiently and I think the approach of getting someone from the outside world to literally walk around the building with open access is the approach we should encourage. We want people to see us operate, be utterly transparent about our costs, and go from there. It has been incredibly useful to have someone with a commercial eye to look across the networks”.

So, absolutely nothing, then. Expect more Newsbeat, more unnecessary events, more radio-people-pretending-they’re-a-telly-station, and then a proposal in eighteen months time to shut down 1Xtra. I mean, no broadsheet journalists, political types or other fuss makers listen to that, do they?