Headlines announcing that Radio 4’s flagship Today programme is losing its audience while Radio 3’s Breakfast has put on numbers got me up and listening extra early to find out which of all the presenters is most likely to keep me tuned in. Why have the efforts to brighten up Today, with longer interviews, more arts coverage, puzzles and news items from the web, not gone down well? What’s been happening on 3 to encourage more people to tune in first thing? And, further afield, how’s Classic FM doing, or those other breakfast stalwarts, Nick Grimshaw and Chris Evans?
Evans was off-duty when I tuned in to Radio 2 one morning last week, but Sara Cox sounded as if she was loving every minute of being in his chair. Evans had better watch out. She was so cheerful and encouraging, in that let’s-get-up-and-enjoy-whatever-comes sort of way that she really changed my day. Who could be grumpy after listening to Alicia Keys in the ‘diva o’clock’ slot at eight, after which Cox recommended that we all, ‘Full on yodel at the lights’?
It’s not just her enthusiasm that draws you in; she knows how to make an immediate connection, talking about what’s going on in the studio and asking her manager to ‘boost him up’ when she realised that Gary, the travel reporter, was not on full throttle. Or creating a theme for the morning from the lies that parents tell their children. Listen to this, she says, mock horror in her voice, as she tells us about the dad who had phoned in to say that he had told his kids they couldn’t have a pet guinea pig because it would grow up into a pig and there wouldn’t be space in the house for it. Trust me, it sounded better on air, in her voice. The Radio 2 breakfast slot is full of great radio voices, especially Moira Stuart reading the news. Poach Stuart for Radio 4, I say. She’ll get us tuning in just for the silky way she says, ‘President Trump…’
When I reluctantly switched over from Cox to the Today programme, Martha and Mishal were in charge. At 14 minutes past seven, George Soros was being interviewed about the economic consequences of Brexit. His warnings are ‘almost apocalyptic’ concluded Husain, which sent me straight back to Cox. The gloomy outlook on 4 was even worse when I went back at eight. The big interview after the news was with one of the firefighters who had been called out to the fire at Grenfell Tower. After telling us about his experience of going into the building in full breathing apparatus, climbing up through the stairwell to reach the trapped residents, what he had seen, what he had done, he was asked whether he agreed that the events of that night were not the Fire Brigade’s ‘finest hour’. What could he say in answer to that? What would he say?
Next on was the writer, and potter, Edmund de Waal, talking about grief as something that was ‘interesting’. Had anyone considered how that might have sounded to listeners who had been tuned in since eight? The assumption is that we’re only half-listening as we put on socks or tights, eat up our bran flakes and pack our handbags or man-bags. No one pays full attention for more than a few minutes. That may be so, but we still like to have the sense that the people in the studio have thought about us and are paying attention to what we might be thinking.
Nick Grimshaw also has a connection problem — no wonder he’s being replaced by Greg James from September. I switched to his show on Radio 1 on a morning when Chris Evans was back from his break. The contrast between the two was striking. Grimshaw used to be high-energy but now sounds so lacklustre and bored, as if he isn’t keen on the music he’s being asked to play (very poppy; no edge) and has nothing really to talk about. In fact, there was very little chat on his show, except for gossip about Love Island and Britain’s Got Talent. But does anyone in the Radio 1 demographic (ages 15 to 29) still watch terrestrial TV?
Petroc Trelawny was on duty when I tuned in to Radio 3 to be blasted by a few bars of organ music. It was Bach, but still too abrasive for before seven. Not good, so I switched over to Classic FM to find Aled Jones standing in for Tim Lihoreau. ‘Thanks for choosing to start your day with Classic FM,’ he said, immediately making me feel that I wanted to stay tuned. The music comes in much shorter bursts, there’s lots of annoying advert breaks and you’re unlikely to hear anything very edgy. But the voices on Classic FM have much more personality and connection than those on 3. Trelawny knows his stuff and works hard, but perhaps too hard. When he gets a text from Helen from Suffolk who complains, ‘Why do you always sound so apologetic when you play organ music?’, he admits his mistake and promises, ‘I will be proud about the organ going forward.’ But that sounds almost like one of the politicians being interviewed over on 4.