Wednesday 26 December 2018

Radiomoments of 2018

As 2018 draws to a clement close, which #radiomoments were the most memorable for you?

Greg James

The unprecedented level of change looming in UK breakfast radio is set against a backdrop of a relatively new breakfast show on Radio 1 which launched on 20th August 2018. 

The first show had an immediate presence. Greg's first words, where he spoke of the privilege of hosting the programme, chimed with many of us. We heard the lad from student radio with wireless in his blood who had quietly and quickly risen to do something remarkable of which he’d only dared to dream.

The programme’s already settled into being an original, natural, well-produced animal which should serve the station proud in the challenge it faces.

Chris Evans

The Chris Evans Radio 2 farewell on Christmas Eve is a deserving late entry into 2018’s finest #radiomoments.  The programme overall boasted the presence which Evans shows always display – but a heightened sense of occasion. He employed all the tricks in the radio book – tears, kids, stars and wives.

The tearful ‘goodbye’ moment was cannily-timed a little earlier than the final link, offering journalists an opportunity to write about it promptly - Chris has always been the perfect PR machine. Its scheduling then allowed Chris then to get on with enjoying the final moments.

Chris’s broadcasting secret was evident throughout in the valedictory show – chatting as if your best mate, but a best mate who happens to have Nicole Kidman popping round. 

His goodbye announcement was clearly well thought-through  – and a lesson to complacent presenters everywhere. Even Chris Evans thinks about how he’s going to handle critical moments.

Eddie Mair and Iain Dale

Eddie Mair has been radio’s quiet titan for years.  Although he presented Radio 4’s PM programme almost daily, displaying his skills as the cleverest of operators with his trademark iterative interrogation and gifted teasing, he has never sought the headlines afforded to many lesser mortals. 

His departure from the BBC said something of the Corporation's challenges, with its public salary announcements, the way it understands and treats its talent and the general frustrating complexity typical of big organisations. It also said something of the new might of commercial radio, now able to offer a platform for the greats.

His last programme was claimed to be an accidental one. Sort of: That sounded like a decent way to end so let’s not come in tomorrow’. 

Eddie’s new LBC show has moved quickly from a confident and enjoyable first edition to a really enjoyable and distinctive offering.

Eddie’s arrival at LBC displaced Iain Dale who moved to later on the schedule. Iain has led a varied and rich life in politics, publishing and pushing over protesting pensioners on the prom, but the loving relationship he has quickly forged with radio was evident in his goodbye from his drive slot. Although he was only moving down the road, he waved farewell to his neighbours with tears in his eyes.

Noel Edmonds

Noel Edmonds was the second ever breakfast presenter on BBC Radio 1. Since then, he’s enjoyed TV success owing to Mr. Blobby, ‘Deal or No Deal’ and ‘I’m a Celebrity’. 

Noel was Stephen Nolan’s guest on 5 Live in February 2018, telling of the dark place he was in when he lost his business amidst banking scandal. Nolan called on all his trademark tactics to create the space for some riveting radio from the mouth of this complex figure.

Hits Radio

Whilst Global Radio strategies are clear and swift, Bauer is a little more cautious. The German-owned company owns some excellently-operated national brands,but sticks largely to a more traditional model for the majority of its stations in their localised patches. 

This year however, it created a new national CHR brand across the UK in Hits Radio. Maybe creating virtue from necessity and economy, the new brand was based in Manchester, squatting on the FM frequency formerly owned by Key. 

Its opening moments were well-produced; and we wait to hear how the strategy fares nationally in 2019 against unprecedented competition. 

Back home in Manchester though, as Key 103, the  station reflected fittingly the first anniversary of the Manchester Arena bombing.

Christian O'Connell

2018 saw a farewell from one of commercial radio's nationally known names.

Christian O’Connell bravely chose to leave UK national radio in favour of a career in Australia. After 12 years on the Virgin/Absolute breakfast show, he announced his goodbye from One Golden Square. Dave Berry took over, making a typically impressive start as befits the man.

Christian's debut programme on Gold 104.3 in Melbourne showed his trademark determination to succeed; and the announcement of some audience success subsequently was clearly a welcome relief.

Ed Doolan

We’re losing the greats one by one. 

Australian-born Ed Doolan was hugely-respected broadcaster in the West Midlands. After wrestling with vascular dementia, he passed away on 16th January 2018. 

The nature and volume of tributes after his passing said something of his stature. From Caroline Martin on BBC WM itself to Eddie Mair on BBC Radio 4 – and fellow broadcaster Les Ross on BBC 1 TV in the Midlands.

More Greg James - and Richard Bacon survives

Greg James merits further mention in dispatches for 'Pedal to the Peaks'

In the 21st Century, radio’s stunts have given way to authenticity. On-air, listeners heard their mate Greg try something amazing, with all the ups and downs, gasps of amazement and tears of disappointment that real life brings.

Authenticity is key on radio these days, with presenters opening up like never before, once the listener bond has been built. Richard Bacon very nearly did not survive 2018, and appeared on his first love medium of radio to explain why.

Greg’s 'pass the pasty' challenge on Radio 1 was also radio at its best. After hearing that a listener from Aberdeenshire had never eaten a Cornish pasty, the presenter took it upon himself to get one to her, by passing it like an Olympic torch along the 675 mile journey.

2018 has been Greg James’s year.

Zoe Ball, Sara Cox and Women in Radio

On the breakfast changes, ‘who will take-over at Radio 2?’ became the battle of the women as Zoe Ball and Sara Cox were tipped for the Wogan House crown. The debate culminated in the big announcement on the Chris Evans show in October.

Without doubt, 2018, a hundred years on from suffrage, has been the year when women broke through barriers in UK radio, in the numbers of women on-air, the stature of their appointment and the money they are paid. Carrie Grace made her stand in January.

Whilst us middle-aged white blokes need to accept that this has all been far too long coming and the re-alignment may cause a few male noses to be put out of joint in the short term, few people agree that the short-lived Radio 2 drive show with Mayo and Whiley was a canny programming decision - and both of those talented professionals likely agree.  The final edition was aired on 20th December 2018 , before Simon himself waved farewell the following day. We await his 'startling' news in 2019.

Digital Radio success

Digital radio smashed the 50% listening figure in 2018. Debate now begins on when the debate proper will begin on whether and how to switch-over from FM to DAB. 

There's going to be no rush, but it's clear that now, just as with FM by the '80s, digital platforms are so commonplace that broadcasters can make maximum use of both FM and DAB, with unprecedented choice for listeners. We look forward to DAB-only stations making some money.

As the audiences to digital stations grow, so does the content.  After some live moments on special occasions, BBC Radio 4 Extra went live properly for the first time on Saturday 8th September 2018. Jake Yapp hosted the programme, with superb intervention from Kathy Clugston, more usually heard on continuity announcer or newsreader duties. As can be heard, she rather enjoyed herself.

Dale Winton

Dale Winton's sudden death was major news in 2018. For those of us who worked with him, it came as a great blow, yet it was worryingly less of a surprise than it might have been. 

Dale and drama were always hand in glove. Dale was never going to be one to while away his final toothless days drinking lukewarm tea from grotty green mugs in a nursing home. In this special edition of my Conversations series, drawing on archive audio, hear Dale tell of his life and fears.

Vicki Archer 

BBC Radio Shropshire presenter Vicki Archer died suddenly at the age of 41 in August 2018.  A finding of suicide was recorded by the Coroner.

Here, you can hear a segment of her bubbly on-air performance in her final show, before the news was announced the following day by Eric Smith. Her co-host Adam Green also pays his tribute. 

Vicki worked at The Pulse, Century FM and on the Magic network. She had hosted the afternoon show on BBC Radio Shropshire since 2010. Social media tributes afterwards from colleagues through her on-air years illustrated her popularity.

Mental Health 

BBC and commercial radio stations around the UK united on 15th May 2018 to broadcast a one-minute message about mental health.

The historic 'Mental Health Minute' featured globally-famous voices. With over 300 stations taking part, broadcasting to one of radio’s biggest collective audiences with an average listenership of 20 million, the initiative was led by Radiocentre and The Radio Academy, with content created skilfully by Somethin’ Else.

Radio needs to do more of this united work - both in the name of worthy causes and otherwise. Our medium deserves more acclaim than it ever receives and we need to do more to raise its profile and prove our engagement, contemporary power and relevance.

Back on mental health specifically, in recent days, Iain Lee's call on TalkRADIO from a Plymouth man lying in the street after taking an overdose was proof again that people's relationship with their radio and its presenters is like that of no other medium.

Happy anniversary

2018 saw the fortieth anniversary of the major frequency changes, with BBC stations all shunting about - and commercial stations moving just a KHz or so in line with the new international frequency agreements. A generation recalls receiving stickers through letterboxes to help us. We were easily amused in those days. 

1978 also saw the birth of Radio Scotland and Radio Wales proper - and it was good to hear Anita Morgan, who'd hosted the first show on the latter, return to join in with the breakfast show forty years on.


Nicholas Parsons dared to have a week off from his impeccable 'Just a Minute' programme on Radio 4. Mind you, he was 94 at the time - and he'd been chairing the show for 51 years 

And Finally 

With platforms equalising, both BBC and commercial radio can now battle for the best programming and the biggest names. Headlines will continue to be made and innovation and positive disruption will be evident. News UK will certainly flex its Virgin muscles. Commercial radio has a new confidence and is emerging from a positive financial year, re-gaining its title as the fastest-growing ad medium.

The BBC will face new market pressures and must make its talent on and off-air feel loved and supported. It will need to be well-led to cope with this task - and, in other news, it must do ever more to explain to its audiences what 'due impartiality' is and how it - genuinely - tries to achieve that. In good hands, the BBC's reputation in news here and around the World will continue to be rightly recognised. 

The BBC will also need to be more efficiently run. That means less and better management. And thus, as most BBC staff will tell you, those lower costs will generate better radio, not worse.

With the 1970s legacy rules swept aside at last by Ofcom, commercial radio will be equipped to do what it feels is best for its audiences and, therefore, clients. Stations which may not have been sustainable in a changing world will have new resilience and fresh options.

As podcasting, streaming and audio on demand continues to grow quickly, from its current low base, our medium will be further invigorated. As I've said before, it's really all 'radio'. Voice control, currently responsible for but a fraction of listening, will grow too - and here again it's about recall of the biggest brands and performers. Unless the gatekeepers themselves wade in with quality offerings.

114 years on from the first ever radio 'programme' - comprising piano playing and bible readings beamed to a few lonely ships at sea -  there has never been a more exciting time for this wonderful medium. Whatever the future holds, people will still have two ears and will look to occupy them.

I work with radio stations around the world in a range of areas. From programme strategy to research, key brand work and marketing strategy. From presenter training to compliance, consultation responses and licensing. Talk to me via

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. Available in paperback or ebook.

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