Radio 5 live: If it ain’t broke don’t fix it!

An article in The Guardian on Tuesday 19th February asked its readers: ’BBC Radio 5 live: where shou

An article in The Guardian on Tuesday 19th February asked its readers: ’BBC Radio 5 live: where should it go from here?’ Quite frankly, I don’t wish it to go anywhere.

It has 6.1 million listeners a week and I am proud to say I am one of them. Every radio I own is tuned to 5 live (and I tend to keep one in every room) with the possibility that I may switch to Radio 4 for something specific. Now before you drown me out with shouts of ‘heathen’, the reason is R4 has the type of output that requires having the time to listen to a whole programme and I no longer have that privilege.

Apart from that, 5 live is perfect for rolling news and ‘dipping into’ programming. I also have to declare my bias having been asked to appear on the Victoria Derbyshire, Shelagh Fogarty and the Richard Bacon programme. (Okay, I sort of invited myself to the latter but I do contribute regularly to the podcast—his words, not mine.)

There have been complaints that since moving to Salford over a year ago that staff have not been committed to the station. I do not see it this way. Surely the main point of moving to the North West and away from London was to save the organisation money. With today’s transport links and improved technology there is little reason to have the station based in the capital. If some presenters wish to stay in London for family or lifestyle reasons and are prepared to commute why shouldn’t they?

The new controller, Jonathan Wall, who does live full time in the North West, is committed to 5 live and felt he has inherited a ‘station in good health after the successful move to Salford and the wonderful London 2012 coverage. We have the potential to build on all of that and grow even stronger.’

The mix that occurs on The Breakfast show with Nicky Campbell and Rachel Burden works excellently – and she had some big shoes to fill after Shelagh Fogarty moved to the lunchtime slot. The sports presenters and financial experts’ contributions throughout the show are second to none. I particularly enjoy George Riley who has a great sense of humour and dedication to his work that is evident in his reporting. I could continue to list some excellent presenters throughout the day – all of them committed to bringing news, sport and reviews across in a familiar yet competent manner.

Once you have been listening to them for a while you feel as if you are part of the 5 live family, with Mr. Peter Allen on Drive as head of the brood. The presenters who are prolific on Twitter interact with their audience and the ‘lack of commitment’ they are accused of seems very unfair.

A recent review by the BBC Trust pointed out that “clearer commitments on news output were needed along with fewer ‘non news’ features in news programmes, also other feature items should be ‘driven by news or topical issues’.” It also stated that they should appeal to more female listeners.

I’m not sure what else they can do. Are there really that many females not interested in news or sport? As a regular listener I find that they do give priority to news items—I listen to 5 live for that very reason. If a story breaks they are there with the news – and because it is a nationwide coverage they have their reporter on the scene. It is rather like Twitter but with greater characters, and I mean that in both senses of the word.

Consumer rights and political programmes are aired at the weekend which may act as a balance to the sports heavy programming of these times. The good thing about 5 live is their abundance of podcasts which are available to download, so if you are not able to listen at the time you have no excuse for not catching it later. (I tend to do that with my Radio 4 shows because I’m too busy listening to 5 live—you get the picture.)

Of course you can’t please everyone. If you aren’t into your sports and particularly your football then maybe this isn’t the station for you. They have been accused of covering too much football but it isn’t the only sport they cover, and whether you like it or not, football plays a major part in our country’s heritage. The spending from 5 live on sports rights has fallen from £16.38 million in 2009-10 to £12.85 million in 2010-11. This was brought about largely by broadcasting fewer live Premier League football matches.

There are plenty of discussion programmes, phone-ins and thoughtful programme makers who create poignant yet important coverage of sporting disasters as well as triumphs. Only last week I switched on to hear a report on the Bradford fire—the worst fire disaster in the history of English football. It stopped me in my tracks and took me right back to that fateful day in 1985. They cover non-league football as well as the Premier matches and always seem informed when talking to fans of teams lower down the league.

When Radio 5 first took to the airwaves as a station that would cover breaking news and sport I remember people asking what happens if there is a huge news story and a huge sports match occurring at the same time. I think over the years 5 live have been able to juggle these occasions with respect and fairness to both. There are times when less newsy programmes such as Richard Bacon’s afternoon show has been ‘interrupted’ by having to report from parliament as a story breaks or an important speech takes longer to deliver than expected. But this is the ‘edge’ of breaking news stations and as a 5 live listener it is what we come to expect.

The coverage of the Olympics and Paralympics last year was exceptional in capturing the atmosphere—another nod to good research, reporting and presenting. I have found myself hooked to their golf coverage, a sentence I never thought I’d ever type, and this is down to the 5 live style of making sports interesting. They bring you the personalities of the participants, the human stories behind the headlines. Yes the minor sports fans are heard asking why their particular sport is not covered in greater detail but in my opinion 5 Live are seeking to address this.

With their enthusiastic, well informed and cheery presenters, this station is staying well and truly put on my radio.

What is your take on Radio 5 live? What do you like or don’t like about it? Have your say in the comments section below, on Facebook or on Twitter.