Rumours Surround the Future of the BBC’s ‘Pipeline’ Programme

I hear ugly noises from the depths of the BBC in Glasgow that their piping programme, ‘Pipeline’, could be facing the chop, writes the Editor.

A reliable source from the Beeb’s Pacific Quay HQ tells me that the weekly show hosted by Gary West may soon be no more, threatened along with other Radio Scotland stalwarts ‘Jazz Nights’ presented by Seonaid Aitken and ‘Classics Unwrapped’ hosted by singer and broadcaster Jamie MacDougall.

It’s all part of the BBC’s current cost cutting exercise which is trampling local broadcasting throughout the UK. They have previosuly said that they would deliver ‘a wider range of local audio programming through BBC Sounds’ (their online audio app).

I’m not sure how many people listen to ‘Pipeline’ these days but one hears stories of dwindling figures. But that is not the point. This is about public service broadcasting. No matter how low the listening or viewing numbers, the BBC has a duty as per its charter to cover the traditional music of Scotland.

This is the argument we made when we were campaigning for them to televise the World Pipe Band Championships over a decade ago.

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So if ‘Pipeline’ is to go then it must be replaced with a professionally made online equivalent in line with its current boast: ‘The definitive pipe music programme, featuring news and recordings from the piping world’.

If the show does transfer to the web it will be a loss to some of the older generation who like listening in on the ‘wireless’. But of course times change and we shouldn’t discount the growing technical proficiency of silver surfers.

In some ways the writing has been on the wall for a while now. There is just too much stuff on the internet for pipers, especially younger pipers, to be bothered with mainstream radio.

There are very good shows covering pipe bands (‘Big Rab’) and you no longer get in-depth analysis on ceòl mòr, largely missing from the BBC since David Murray and Hugh MacDonald’s ‘Noble Instrument’ days in the 80s and 90s.

There is also competition from shows like ‘The Piping Hour’ with a good mix of piping and pipe bands broadcast worldwide every week from California.

Will the yearly – and expensive – outside broadcast coverage of the Northern Meeting and the Glenfiddich competition continue? Livestreaming of these events will have had an influence on the BBC’s decision makers and here again lies part of the problem.

The producers of ‘Pipeline’ were in something of a rut. We never saw a BBC microphone anywhere near the Argyllshire Gathering for example. Every year their cash went on the same three OBs: Piping Live, the NM and G’fidd, little consideration given to anything else happening in the wider piping world. So if there is to be a new BBC Sounds show then they need a fresh approach and a broader look at what is on offer.

I haven’t heard any news about the future of Gaelic piping show ‘Crunluath’ – also on the BBC – but Gaelic broadcasting tends to be augmented from the language’s substantial government funding streams. Hopefully it will be unaffected.

The BBC has been approached for comment.


10 thoughts on “Rumours Surround the Future of the BBC’s ‘Pipeline’ Programme

  1. If Pipeline was to go l think it would be an enormous loss.I think the team have done an enormous amount over the years to let us hear piping over a variety of preferences. The show always gave an opportunity for piobaireachd to be heard when, to be honest, it struggled for so long to get a mainstream audience despite its huge legacy in both piping and Scotland’s history.
    Like any other production it could improve and expand.Some remarkable stuff was being done this summer at the ‘View in Oban’ through over 80 recitals which would have been a great story to follow up. However I suspect Pipeline’s budget will be very tight which makes this sort of outreach difficult. At a time when the BBC seems to have a a different weatherperson for every night of the week, surely they can find the resources to keep Pipeline going for one hour per week.

  2. On reading about the possible demise of the BBC piping programme, as a regular listener, I am disappointed and hope that this does not come to pass. I will say that a times the programme content is disappointing with the amount of repeats and for me at times it is watered down with material which simply causes me to switch off.
    John McDonald commented on the danger of the loss of past recordings which will be in the BBC archives.
    Doubtless, if there were to be recordings from venues such as The Argyllshire Gathering or other such venues it would be of interest. Competition recordings are interesting, but occasionally recordings of less formal events may be of interest .Of course we like to hearing good players even with their faults at times and that adds interest. The recording equipment available nowadays allows for good private recordings.
    I don’t know when the piping broadcasts were initiated by the BBC and they served us well at times. Showing my age, the piping on the ‘wireless’ for me going back as far as the late nineteen fifties, was an important part of piping. As pointed out, the BBC is a public broadcasting authority and of course are in existence because of the Licence Fee and that should require them to honour a duty to the culture and piping is part of culture.
    An hour per week to serve highland bagpipe music is not asking too much of the BBC.

  3. That will be a tragedy, As Iain, Gary, and the team have done a wonderful job with the minimum of tool provision required. But to be honest, in my opinion, the show should have been on live TV years ago in Livestream, watch later modes of viewing/listening. Since I remember, Scotland has been restricted musically by the BBC, and why Ireland and Cape Breton, etc have shown the way with professional trad music viewing and the BBC can’t even provide an international TV license. It’s time Scotland had their own professional national TV/Radio that can come up to RTE standards

  4. If in the “internet age of livestream/download/”watch later” modes of viewing/listening, the current funding model (licence fee) for the BBC does not work,” and I’m sure it does not, the BBC needs to get with it. This did not happen suddenly. In fact, here in the U.S., I have regularly accessed Pipeline online, usually days after Saturday night–for decades. From my perspective it’s a great program and Dr. Gary West, who is now a familiar guest in my office and home, does a wonderful job.
    The world has changed in how it communicates and how we consume music and everything else. If Pipeline has lost radio listeners, has it not picked up online listeners? But the model has not kept up. All to say I do hope Pipeline survives.

    1. I heartily echo Robbie’s thought regarding accessing Pipeline (and Crunluath) online as a regular weekly listener ever since I discovered it shortly after taking up learning to play the pipes over here in the USA! Pipeline and Crunluath are probably the two important UK based sources of high quality piping and expert commentary for those outwith the UK that wish to honor this cultural music. These BBC shows are critical to the art form and need to continue as they provide shining examples of the art to a much wider diaspora.

  5. With cost-cutting in mind, perhaps there is still scope for a more events focused show, bringing high quality recordings from, for instance, Celtic Connections, Piping Live, The Worlds, the Glenfiddich etc, rather than producing a weekly catalogue show. The shows focussed on these events were always likely to get the biggest audience share in any case.

    A move to an online on-demand format might allow a less frequently aired show to survive. While as noted, there is a gap in the market for other talented content creators to fill on various platforms.

  6. Given that the main source of funding for the BBC, the TV license fee, is looking likely to be scrapped in 2027, we have to consider the possibility of nothing at all Piping related being produced by the BBC. The first thing that comes to mind for me is what happens to the extensive and culturally valuable archive of Piping related BBC recordings going back many decades? I would hope that this would not be lost, but apart from occasional airings on Pipeline there must be masses of recordings that have only ever been aired once or twice. We have no way to access them and cannot allow them to disappear.

  7. I have been listening to the BBC Radio Scotland’s piping programme since the early 1960’s when I first discovered it on medium wave at the age of 13: the programme was called “Chanter” then. I lived in London and the reception was awful – it surged between OK and very distorted, but it was the only connection I had with the music of my passion, until I was 16 and luckily found a piping teacher in South London (P/M William MacLeod and his son, Iain K. MacLeod from whom I took lessons). We need a petition to show BBC Scotland how important our national music is to us.

  8. On a general point, it is probably clear to all that in the internet age of livestream/download/”watch later” modes of viewing/listening, the current funding model (licence fee) for the BBC does not work, so clearly some reform is necessary for both the BBC charter and its funding. However, this does not absolve the BBC (and BBC Scotland) from its responsibility to cover traditional Scottish music. Lets hope that common sense prevails and that a responsible and fair new system can be agreed and implemented.
    In parallel, on-line magazines like Piping Press play a crucial role in informing, educating and entertaining the piping & drumming world and long may this continue, even with the reporting of so-called “NI minutiae”.

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