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Barnsey’s Blog 20/21

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Barnesy’s Blog: The story behind our coverage on BBC Newcastle (or if you have DAB, Sunderland!)

“Much is made of which club gets more prominence, but that is a fatuous exercise. The producers of the show are scrupulously fair and it’s a slur on their professionalism to suggest otherwise,” writes BBC’s Sunderland match commentator Nick Barnes!

Danny Roberts

There has been much nattering of late about Sunderland’s matches being on DAB and Freeview 719 when there is a clash with Newcastle United.

I have on a number of occasions explained the reason why Sunderland are now on DAB when there is a clash, and not the historical FM, but it probably pays repeating it to clear up a few conspiracy theories flying around.

Some may recall a little while back the BBC launched a three month trial of Radio Sunderland. They did likewise in Wolverhampton and Bradford and whilst the trials were deemed a success, such is the funding crisis now afflicting the BBC and the country, plans to resurrect Radio Sunderland are on the back burner for the time being.

However, when Radio Sunderland aired it was only on DAB. The reason for that is the technicalities surrounding the transmitters and the ability to ‘split’ frequencies at a parochial level.

So if you possessed or possess a DAB radio you will find that if you scroll along the menu, it’ll say ‘BBC Radio Sunderland’. It’s still there on your radio.

In order to maintain consistency, the decision was reached to keep Sunderland matches on DAB. Imagine your horror if you tuned in Radio Sunderland and on came the Newcastle United match! Though, you may on the odd occasion tune in Radio Sunderland and find the Newcastle Falcons, but never at the same time as a Sunderland match, rest assured!

There does appear to be some confusion around finding DAB, which is perplexing, bearing in mind most DAB radios are clearly labelled DAB or FM, and you can actually buy DAB only radios in the same way you can buy FM/AM-only radios.

The caveat to this is that medium wave in most areas of the country has been switched off and DAB has become, with FM, the major frequency. DAB numbers are rising with new cars being fitted with DAB and many more people buying DAB radios.

Some confusion may arise because some radios are sold as ‘digital’, lending the impression they are DAB when in fact the digital merely refers to their inner workings.

The simple rule to apply when it comes to listening to Sunderland matches is they will always be on DAB. For those without DAB radios on a day the teams clash, there is also Freeview 719 on your television. When there is no clash of matches, then Sunderland will be on FM, DAB and Freeview 719.

This coming weekend, Blyth Spartans v Wrexham will be on all frequencies when it kicks off at 1pm, but at 2pm Sunderland will be on DAB and Freeview 719, and when the Blyth match concludes will also be on FM.

I read that some want the football club to abandon Radio Newcastle, but it’s not as straightforward as that. BBC Local Radio across the country is committed to covering football, unlike independent radio which has all but pulled out from its coverage.

There is no other outlet which has the commitment and the financial backing to cover football. Covering Sunderland does not come cheap, and Radio Newcastle covers the matches home and away, and also every weeknight in ‘Total Sport’ from 6 until 8pm, with pundits Marco Gabbiadini and Gary Bennett and occasional appearances from the likes of Danny Collins, Kieron Brady, Martin Smith and Darren Williams.

Much is made of which club gets more prominence, but that is a fatuous exercise. The producers of the show are scrupulously fair and it’s a slur on their professionalism to suggest otherwise.

Of course, it’s a balancing act and it’s to their credit they handle it so well.

As for the name of the radio station, it’s historical and not seen as a priority when there are more important hurdles for the BBC to overcome in the next few years as it faces the challenge of saving millions of pounds and tackling the increasing rise of digitalisation.

Radio Newcastle’s broadcast area is vast through Northumberland, Newcastle, Sunderland and County Durham. It strives to cover the ‘patch’ with a dedicated and committed staff, and I personally am committed to giving the best possible coverage I can to Sunderland AFC. If you are struggling to find our coverage just ask. I will always help.

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