Monday 25 June 2007

In praise of Radio 5 Live

A word of praise for Radio 5 Live's coverage of the Labour leadership handover yesterday. Julian Worricker was based in Manchester for the event and his programme moved effortlessly from intelligent discussion of the deputy leadership contest, to an absorbing report on the regeneration of Manchester city centre, and then to the current uncertainties over the ownership/management of Manchester City.

The programme, like much of Radio 5's output, demonstrated that continuous news coverage doesn't have to consist of inane timefilling and repetition (BBC News 24 take note), and that a regionally-based show needn't be patronising or superficial about life outside London. It's worth singling out the channel for praise, as there's often a residual snobbery towards it: I remember hearing Jenni Murray on Radio 4 wondering whether it represented a 'dumbing down' of current affairs coverage. I don't think she can have been listening properly. Personally, I've usually found Radio 5's coverage of key political events serious, professional and well-informed, in contrast to the often tendentious, whimsical and summary treatment they receive on Radio 4 programmes like Today.

And I think Simon Mayo is arguably the best presenter and interviewer the UK has right now. Thank goodness for his weekday afternoon show, which has rescued me from the wasteland that is Radio 4 drama on many a car journey. Mayo's Friday afternoon film review slot with Mark Kermode is a regular highlight, and his book and TV shows also manage to be both intelligent and popular. That's the other advantage that Radio 5 has over Radio 4: it understands popular culture and takes it seriously. The Today programme's recent forays into covering contemporary music, by contrast, have been generally embarrassing.

I write all this as someone who was brought up on Radio 4 and still has his radio tuned by default to 198 long wave. But whenever it's time for Thought for the Day, the Daily Service or The Archers, or the announcer proclaims those words to make the heart sink - 'And now for a brand new Radio 4 comedy series..' (see Pootergeek on this), I give thanks for Radio 5 Live.

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