U-turn signals end to BBC radio mergers

Loughrey: "we listened to locals"

A £200,000-a-year cash injection for Radio Berkshire has completed the BBC’s U-turn on its controversial decision six years ago to merge the station with Radio Oxford.

The cash being poured in will establish Radio Berkshire’s editorial independence with the creation of a separate news service for the area.

Plans that will include local output between 7am and 6pm with a new afternoon show and extra weekend programmes will be drawn up once a managing editor is appointed.

It is thought that up to 10 staff, including journalists, will be recruited to work for the new service.

A BBC spokesman said decisions about the style of Radio Berkshire’s output would be made by the incoming managing editor. "It could be very radical or very straightforward; it will be up to the new managing editor to decide," he said.

The director of the BBC’s Nations and Regions, Pat Loughrey, said the funding would "put editorial control of the output firmly in the hands of our Berkshire team".

The BBC began dismantling its unpopular merger when it dropped the Thames Valley title and re-established the separate Radios Oxford and Berkshire, although both stations retained the same schedules.

The merger of the two was furiously opposed by BBC journalists when it was announced in 1995.

The spokesman conceded that the merger had "never been popular with Berkshire residents", adding: "At the time, it was thought the merger was a good thing and a lot of work went into making it a success. But in the time-honoured tradition, if it’s not working and people don’t like it, then you have to change it."

The move is part of a wider shift by the BBC away from merging its local stations and reflects director general Greg Dyke’s enthusiasm for local and regional radio.

Loughrey said: "We’ve listened to the reactions and the views of local people, taken careful note of the impact of the earlier changes and we’re now firmly investing in the future of the two stations."

By Julie Tomlin

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