Dorset has been crying out for years for a local radio station to provide countywide news and information and to ensure people feel involved in their community. Lester Cowling has written a paper (Lesters paper) giving the background, with the key events listed below.
Timeline for BBC Radio Dorset
1923 BBC Launched one of the first seven local radio stations in England in Bournemouth 6BM.
1990 Advanced BBC plans for a new BBC Radio Dorset cancelled at the last minute. A lady manager had already been appointed too!
26th April 1993 Dorset FM launched as an opt-out to Radio Devon on 103.8Mhz. BBC Dorset FM was a BBC Local Radio studio based in Dorchester, covering the county of Dorset in England which broadcast from 1993 to 1996. It was the last BBC Local Radio station to launch which covered a previously unserved area. It operated as an opt-out station from BBC Radio Devon for around 23 hours a week.
27th November 1995 BBC Engineering issued press release for plans to add transmitter at Eype for main 4 BBC National Radio stations
30th March 1996 BBC Radio Solent took over Radio Dorset from Devon with substantial promises of improved coverage and local programme content – still on 103.8FM. Claimed to “reach right across Dorset” reaching 85% of population and “will offer the same amount of local news and information as the previous one”. But see 2013! In fact, this was not the case – it was much reduced!
December 2004 – DorBAG (Dorset Broadcasting Action Group) launched (initially as WEDBAG) due to Oliver Letwin having been inundated with complaints. Michael Grade, Chairman of BBC Trust acknowledged that Dorset was “underserved”!
Summer 2005 DorBAG carried out a survey – received approx. 4,000 responses from 40,000 mailings (10%) – 95% demanded local news on radio and on television!
January 2006 Andy Griffee, Head of English Regions, announced plans to launch full Radio Dorset
22nd September 2006 Eve Turner, Head of BBC South, confirmed Dorset as priority using Dorchester Studio with additional transmitter(s) to achieve full coverage.
2nd March 2007 Andy Griffee confirmed continued plans for Radio Dorset and Mike Hapgood advised they had been allocated a frequency for Radio Dorset from Stockland Hill.
October 2007, Mike Hapgood, BBC Region Head of BBC South in Southampton, announced cancellation of re-introduction of BBC Radio Dorset – just as it was literally about to launch.
January 2008 Andy Griffee, Head of English Regions announced Dorset would have early “BBC Local” team in compensation for loss of Radio Dorset. This to include a Manager for Dorchester.
November 2008 BBC Trust cancelled “BBC Local” which also meant no Manager for Dorset.
July, 2009 Dorset’s Big Breakfast Brunch launch on Radio Solent for Saturday mornings (0800 to 1100) only.
September 2009 – David Holdsworth, Head of English Regions, wrote to Oliver Letwin stating a package of measures to improve broadcasting in Dorset and was now in a position to investigate an opt-out of Radio Devon.
October 2009 Jane McCloskey, Head of BBC South West developed a plan to re-introduce BBC Radio Dorset as an opt-out from Radio Devon with additional transmitter power to cover the county.
September 2010 Jane McCloskey moved to another job within the BBC
January 2011 – After new heads of BBC South (Jason Horton) and BBC South West (Leo Devine) were appointed, new plans were presented to opt-out Radio Dorset from Solent with less coverage.
July 2013 – The BBC Trust approved a bid from Jason Horton for funds to create a new Breakfast programme for Dorset. On 8th July, 2013 the new part-time programme (It is only broadcast from 0630 to 0900 weekdays), was launched, and is still running strongly on 103.8FM, but it only reaches areas in and around Dorchester, Weymouth & Portland! We must have a full-time, county-wide programme reaching everyone in Dorset! Dorset is the ONLY county in the south of England without its own full local BBC Radio. In addition, we also do not have local radio online, nor on Freeview TV as the others do!
September 2015 – BBC cancelled proposed new, larger studio
November 2015 – Dorset’s breakfast radio programme now launched on BBC IPlayer.
August 2016 –Despite protests from DorBAG, the BBC cancelled the existing “Big Breakfast Brunch” Saturday morning Dorset radio programme promising that Dorset would get good cover in the Radio Solent Saturday morning programme instead.
September 2016 – The “Breakfast in Dorset” radio programme, followed on by Radio Solent, now added to all DAB transmitters in Dorset. But they only cover east and central Dorset! Not the west!
September 2016 – The Dorset Breakfast programme was added to Freeview channel 734. In this case, it is broadcast on all three main TV transmitters such that it does cover all of Dorset! But we still do not have cover by Dorset’s BBC local radio.
May 2017 – DorBAG obtained agreement from Ofcom that there was no legal reason why the BBC could not add a channel to an existing Devon DAB transmitter. DorBAG then made a formal proposal to the BBC to utilise an existing relay transmitter in Devon that already covers West Dorset by simply adding one channel – Jason Horton accepted that it was technically feasible, but said he could not afford it as the running costs would be in the “hundreds of thousands of pounds”. DorBAG requested details of the costs as this seemed totally ridiculous, especially as they already transmit the programme on Freeview channel 734. No information was forthcoming!
Summer 2018 – Ken MacQuarrie – Director of Nations & Regions has now taken over Local Radio for the BBC as well as TV. He has also replaced David Holdsworth, who was Head of English Regions, with Helen Thomas, and with a new, bigger role/title “Director of BBC England”.
In addition, Helen Thomas has appointed Chris Burns as the Head of Local Radio – a new post that Tony Hall wanted to put more emphasis on Local Radio.
As at 14th July 2019, no date has still not been given by the BBC!! All we knew was that Chris Burns was working on something, and so she asked us to defer our next DorBAG meeting. Hence we did not hold any meetings pending her advice.
Early August 2019 Sir Oliver Letwin phoned Chris Burns as we had not heard anything further. She told him in the strictest confidence that she had put in a proposal for a full BBC Radio Dorset!! She also told Sir Oliver it was to remain secret! (However, subsequently, we managed to find out!)
October 2019 Jason Horton, in reply to a query on progress by Sir Oliver, sent him an e-mail stating “I hope I can reassure you by saying that the plan for Dorset is making its way through various internal approval processes….”. Nothing more was heard despite many requests!!
November 2019 Sir Oliver Letwin resigned from his role of Chairman of DorBAG as he was no longer an MP.
November 2019 No information from the BBC regarding the bid for BBC Radio Dorset. It was concluded that the bid had been rejected. Apart from several attempts to establish the outcomes nothing more was heard. But a short note was sent to Chris Burns to thank her for being the first person in the BBC to actually put in such a full bid!
20th January 2020 Without prior consultation, what was originally called “Breakfast in Dorset”, but is now simply & irrationally called “BBC Radio Solent” on 103.8FM & DAB has been reduced from 06:30 – 09:00 to 07:00 – 09:00 weekdays. So now we get just 10 hours per week! This despite protests from DorBAG, which the BBC has ignored and went ahead with the cut anyway!
In 1993 Dorset had approximately 23 hours per week on 103.8FM! More recently, we had the cancellation of the 3 hour “Big Dorset Brunch” on Saturday mornings in August 2016!
Dorset is continually having its’ programmes reduced! This is totally unacceptable.
In addition, we cannot receive LIVE BBC Sounds as our programme is an Opt-Out from Radio Solent and not a separate, full transmission – so much for attracting the younger generation!
7th March 2020 – Chris Burns replied to our urgent request for radio cover of the county in the light of the Corona Virus outbreak, as it is vital we can receive precise local information on what to do and what is happening on a day by day basis. Her reply simply stated “The leadership team in England are currently holding daily calls reviewing our editorial offer, as we are aware that during an event like this Local Radio has a unique role to play. During the recent bad weather we radically changed our schedules on a number of stations as there was an increased demand for trusted local information. I understand your desire for a dedicated Dorset Local Radio station but changing the distribution Network is not necessarily something we can do in an instant .
However as I mentioned when we met, the dedicated Breakfast Show for Dorset will remain. We will also ensure that Dorset is reflected across the rest of the BBC Radio Solent output and if at any point as a result of Coronavirus or indeed any other major event, we need to increase Dorset news or offer more public information we will do so. “ What a waffle!
March 2020. Chris Loder MP, the new MP for West Dorset, agreed to become Chairman. His first action was to simplify the name of DorBAG to DBG i.e. Dorset Broadcasting Group.