Friday, 4 May 2018

When the Polls Close

Election broadcasting is a real sport. An endurance test for the presenters, commentators and contributors.  Pace yourself. When to sleep. What to eat.

It's also a fine British tradition - and what presenter on-air does not feel in some way they are an echo of a bespectacled towering broadcasting figure from yesteryear as they begin their nocturnal marathon. There's certainly a temptation to indulge in the role as one self-importantly choreographs the future of the nation personally.

Given the rich tradition, I wanted to highlight LBC's excellent, fresh offering last night with Iain Dale and former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith. There was something in its good-humoured tone and approach which was an immaculate example of quality contemporary talk radio. 

Rather than General Election-lite, it was an enjoyable, informed grown-up, human conversation. Pointless and repetitive political sparring was replaced by honest, insightful dialogue amongst contributors who sometimes agreed. When they differed, it felt more like hearing the adult way politicians tend to debate on Portillo's sofa on This Week rather than simply witnessing a politician being roasted - which can feel as uncomfortable as watching your parents argue. 

Whilst there are times on media when hard challenge is utterly justified, it can often simply be annoyingly gratuitous. Journalists looking for a fight. No thanks. I'd rather you helped me understand something better. Great radio brings value.

Is there much to gain by journalists simply haranguing candidates who might not have fared  as well as they'd expected. Behind each victory or failure, there's a human being. LBC's approach reflected today's complex politics which can no longer be reduced to political parties, left and right. Life is much more complex than that. 

Local elections are also just that, and LBC went to great pains to reflect that these elections were not just about London. That's a real achievement for a station which was once simply a London offering. Again, that chimes with the national mood - at last there appears an awareness that life exists outside London, and LBC reflects that naturally. 

There were also a lot of women's voices, not least Jacqui's own. All well-cast.  Elections have traditionally meant endless mumbling from sweaty dull bald blokes in suits, and it was so refreshing to hear a different tone, energy level and perspective. This was addictive listening - and engaging within seconds. This was the party you wanted to be at. Great informed company chatting away as events unfolded, as if from a Gogglebox settee. Really human radio - doing what radio does best - alongside a judicious spine of reliable reporting.

Casting double acts is as challenging as finding the right marital partner, yet Jacqui and Iain are made for each other. Neat, well-timed interventions from each. The pair fell into each other's arms on the Sky News papers review - and that endures on their excellent  'For the Many' podcast.  It's interesting mulling over whether beginning the relationship on the podcast alone would have been sufficient to build the chemistry to radio's standards. It likely would - and that's an interesting thought for radio programmers hungry for the next great double act but no radio day-part free to air and hone it. 

Politics has changed.  It is right that political broadcasting should too.

One reason I felt duty-bound to highlight this programme is because few radio critics will likely trouble so to do. 

I despair of  how commercial radio content is so often ignored by many such individuals.  It would be unkind to suggest they just rifle through the Radio Times to find something easy to write about, but it sometimes appears that way.  They seem oblivious to the fact that 65% of UK adults catch some commercial radio every week; and that almost 80% of adults do not listen to Radio 4 even weekly. 

When I dared to express such a view on Twitter, one respondent questioned what on earth can one write about a sector which comprises mostly music radio. Well, if you cannot think of anything to write about LBC's array of innovative content; the way in which local stations respond to crisis; music policies; the new digital radio offerings; platform consumption; audience battles; key brand changes; or breakfast talent moves, you really should get another job. 




Grab my book 'Radio Moments'50 years of radio - life on the inside. A personal and frighteningly candid reflection on life in radio now and then. The drama - the characters - the headaches - the victories.







Also 'How to Make Great Radio'. Techniques for today's presenters and producers.  Great for newcomers - and food for thought if you've been doing it years.




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