Home Page What broadcasting model should we be looking at for Haverhill? 18/11/11

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Hart of the Matter

All of a sudden, local broadcasting seems to be on the Haverhill agenda for the first time for the best part of 20 years.


When the Cangle Project was being developed there was talk of situating a local radio station there, but it came to nothing. Even before that, Haverhill Radio was an idea being bandied about. Do you remember the ‘lighthouse’? This was a rather misunderstood suggestion of creating a broadcasting hub at the arts centre with a mast somewhere behind the top of the high street, topped by a light.


Now we have a fledgling Haverhill FM radio which some young people are trying to get off the ground via Internet broadcasting, while the scheme for a piece of public art in High Street is focused on TV screens.


A lot of the impetus behind creating a radio station in Haverhill comes from the fact that reception for the available local radio stations is so poor here. Presumably this is something to do with the configuration of the land around the town, being set down in a valley which is quite steep for Suffolk.


I’ve never understood this because radio stations operate perfectly successfully in several quite mountainous areas of Britain where the challenges must be much greater.


However, there it is, nothing has happened, and now the Internet may be providing a partial solution. The big question, of course, will centre around what is to be broadcast via these new media.


The High Street public art project – which, in case you haven’t heard, seeks to create a giant head based on the Face of Haverhill 2001 project, with a large TV screen in each eye broadcasting local information, adverts, even news – would offer another big opportunity for the dissemination of information, albeit in a rather ad hoc fashion.


So what should be on our radio or on our giant public screens? And who is to decide? These are quite major issues which those responsible will have to grapple with.


The radio station has got off to a promising start, but there have already been complaints about it, from which one might deduce it needs a less naive approach. For the big TV screens, it has been suggested the content would be produced from the schools.


The problem with this is that most radio stations which are not entirely pop music-based, tend to be aimed at older listeners because those are the only sort of people who listen to those sort of radio stations. The news, for instance, is not a popular programme among young people, whether on radio or TV.


A week or two ago, Radio Four’s entertaining afternoon news programme PM approached the vast queues of young people lining up opposite Broadcasting House for a Justin Bieber appearance and tried to persuade some of them to come and witness a news programme being broadcast instead. Needless to say, they had no success at all, which was, of course, the light-hearted intention of the feature in the first place.


It just underlined the vast difference among media consumers based on age patterns. The daily negotiations to save the Euro are going to have a huge effect on the future lives of teenagers, but they have almost no interest in them at all.


However, Justin Bieber, who is unlikely to affect their future lives at all, is a complete magnet to them.


So would Haverhill people in general rather hear Justin Bieber or the news on their radio station? The answer is that it depends who you ask. That might seem a simplistic statement, but the problem is that broadcasting costs money and serious broadcasting costs serious money.


So somehow, the broadcaster has to attract the sort of listeners which will make sponsors and advertisers want to use the platform, and it is not clear that a constant diet of Justin Bieber and his contemporaries will achieve that.


The TV issue is slightly different, as you would have to go into the high street to see whatever is broadcast but, again, it will cost money over and beyond the cost of delivering the public art piece in the first place, and will need to be ongoing, so it must attract something that people will be prepared to pay to put on the platform.


A constant diet of what is going on in our schools may be interesting, and fulfilling for the students, but is unlikely to be a real revenue-earner, especially as its guaranteed audience could be quite small and difficult to quantify.


Maybe the answer is for the community to produce decent content for itself, but among all the other hugely important functions which are currently being devolved down from Government and the agencies to the community, this may not be a top priority.


And that is sad, because a quality community radio or TV station could be a huge winner for Haverhill. You only have to look at the local TV station which runs in Pont St Esprit, Haverhill’s much smaller twin town in France, to see what is really possible.

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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