It’s the end of an era. Paxman quits Newsnight, and amid the speculation of who can fill the space left by his gnashers there’s a raft of superlatives from the bosses saying how wonderful he’s been. I admire Paxo for many reasons – not least the fact that he won’t cross an NUJ picket line. Though part of me wanted to punch him recently when he quipped that he didn’t really understand why the BBC bothered with Radio 1Xtra. The backlash – from Radio 1’s boss – made all the wrong headlines for the BBC. Yet again.
So, fast forward to this week and the BBC Trust’s review into News and Current Affairs output. Another hot potato in the world of radio, and as sure as eggs is eggs, it’s the commercial radio sector opening several kettles of fish. This sounds like Masterchef… and criticism doesn’t get much tougher than this. Unsurprisingly, the biggest gripe is aimed at the other Jeremy.
The history behind this factoid can be dated back to the very start of Radio 2, and prior to that, the Light Programme. Vine took over from Jimmy Young, whose mix of music and chat were a mainstay of the network for decades. Nowadays, Jeremy mixes phone ins with current affairs coverage and tunes. But, according to the commercial radio lobby, too much music.
In its submission to the BBC Trust the industry body RadioCentre moans that Radio 2 – in its analysis – is failing to meet its current affairs remit. It concludes that “52% of the content is not news”, and refers back to the network’s Service Licence, which demands 100% speech in this slot.
What RadioCentre has highlighted is an anomaly of the prescriptive Service Licences – as defined by the same BBC Trust that carried out this review. But it’s presented by the commercial lobby as some sort of heinous crime, which must immediately be corrected. Basically, they’d like Radio 2 lunchtimes to be completely music free.
Of course, this would greatly help the majority of commercial stations, effectively wiping out their middle of the road competition in the middle of the day. And Radio Centre might have a point, if the BBC was – as a whole – failing to provide and form of News or Current Affairs in this slot. Of course, Radios 4 and 5 Live do just that. And the former is actually praised by RadioCentre for its depth of programming and coverage.
Commercial radio is forever facing challenges to cut costs while also demonstrating some form of commitment to local and national news. Maybe – just maybe – if one of the big groups provided a real and credible alternative to the Vine show – they might have a point (LBC excepted). And before the sector whines about an overstaffed BBC, Vine is actually run on a relatively small team compared to its Radio 4 counterparts. It would be “doable” on, say Smooth or Heart.
Of course, the commercial groups would never dream of such a mix at lunchtime. Bosses would call the notion “absurd”. But before they do, they should examine the credibility of their own demands.