The role of qualitative research in interpreting audience measurement data for local radio
In line with the BBC's policy of 'Extending Choice 1' , BBC Local Radio stations have increased their reliance on broadcast journalism to distinguish them from the commercial competition. Over the past two or three years there has been a gradual reduction in their music content and an increase in speech; some stations have taken the process further and have become almost entirely speech stations. This policy has been successful in maintaining the reach and share of BBC Local Radio as a whole; however, its success at the individual station level has been more variable. Given that BBC Local Radio sees its raison d'etre as the provision of a speech-based service, qualitative research can provide further insights into how this policy can be linked to the needs of the potential audience. The paper illustrates how a combination of the analysis of continuous data from the RAJAR survey, with the results of quantitative surveys and qualitative (group discussion) research can be used to diagnose what makes for a successful BBC Local Radio station, operating under public-service guidelines. RAJAR data have shown that the considerable changes in the format of BBC Local Radio over the last few years, combined with an increase in local commercial competition, have not resulted in significant changes to its overall audience reach, share or profile: BBC Local Radio continues to obtain the majority of its listening from the over-55 age group. While the performance of individual stations varies over a wide range, it is not simply dependent on the intensity of competition from local commercial stations. 444In attitude surveys, BBC Local Radio is seen as friendly, informative and keeping people in touch with what is happening in their area, besides being professional and providing a quality service. Qualitative research with listeners and potential listeners to BBC Local Radio has underlined the importance of friendly, local presenters, and a strong sense of identification of the station with the local community. While local news and information are the hallmarks of the service, listeners also want to hear coverage of a range of local topics which reflect their pride and involvement in the local area.
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