20 DECEMBER 2010

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Article from BTNews 20 DECEMBER 2010

COMMENT: Snow and ice in the Three Counties

BBC Three Counties Radio, usually called 3CR, and based in Luton, is probably not known to our international readers.  Nor probably outside the three counties of Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire after which it is named.

Last Saturday the station produced a quality piece of broadcast journalism, which does show for all the (sometimes justified) criticism it comes in for, the BBC has an in-depth quality not really apparent elsewhere.

Normally the Saturday sports programme starts at 14:00 and runs through until 18:00.  On this particular occasion the local soccer team playing in the Blue Square  Conference (that is Division 5 of the English league for those that don’t know) had been told by the police to kick off at 12:00. 

It was an early start for the radio people and everyone else.  In spite of deteriorating snow and ice conditions the match began in front of more than 6,000 spectators (including 200 hardy souls from York).  Soon after half time the referee had no choice but to abandon the game with a blizzard descending upon the ground.

And then the fun began.

Getting out of Luton was difficult but once on the M1 it was chaos, all five lanes virtually at a standstill, a 30-minute journey taking 8½ hours.

The redeeming factor was 3CR.

For all that time the radio station kept up a continuous banter of news and information, helped considerably by its (very good spirited) listeners, who phoned in and text becoming the eyes and ears of all.  Luke Ashmead, the sports anchor man, became the snow and ice anchor man, plus a whole team of BBC ‘volunteers’.

Amazingly the station did not rely on pre-recorded music after each piece of news and was very much aided by valuable contributions from the public via their mobile phones. 

We learnt of some poor soul whose car had spun in the middle of the M1 going north and was eventually told by the authorities that he was number 30 in the queue.  3CR did its public duty, announced the situation and demanded action. 

The M1 was then blocked going south and it was a passenger going the other way who informed the BBC and the world what was going on, not the Highways Agency.  A Simply Red record was found for a would-be attendee for the group’s last ever concert at the O2 stuck on the M1.  And well done to those local council people who did make themselves available for comment and questioning.

There is a lesson to be learnt from the mayhem. 

The idea of radio people in a studio and looking at strategically located cameras to inform on the state of a road is fine but what is needed on these occasions is for experienced press officers to be sited in the road control rooms, passing on information to the news media. 

Drivers out on the road want to know what is going on.  It is very frustrating sitting behind a wheel in a stationary vehicle feeling utterly frustrated.  The airlines (or at least some) have learnt that lesson and Heathrow in particular has been very good over the great freeze in keeping the media (and hence the public) well informed.  Even London Underground now informs you via loudspeakers that you will be stuck in the tunnel for ten minutes!

AERBT does not know what time 3CR finished its special broadcast.  Yes there was a hotel next door to accommodate the broadcasters and presumably it has a bar.  But very well done.  You kept at least one listener (very) happy.

Can we take this opportunity of wishing readers and contributors all the best for a happy and healthy 2011.  We will be back on 10 January next year.

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