8 September 2010

Just give it to Alex

It's a bit too easy to declare why Sarah Kennedy was such a divisive figure with the Radio 2 audience. It's far more interesting to speculate on what will happen next.

It's interesting, for a start, to note that Kennedy has been given the opportunity to state that the decision to leave was hers. Most of the papers claimed she quit the network and used that slightly sick-making quote about being able to destroy her alarm clock.

Given that she had caused more problems with her performances on air and sudden absences from it than all of the other weekday presenters put together, it's hard to imagine that the hierarchy within the network are not all breathing at least a mild sigh of relief that it's over. And her taking of the credit for the decision also deflects any tiresome further criticism from the vehement anti-BBC press about their treatment of older women.

Beyond the highly-publicised crass remarks over the years, I found Kennedy to be unaware that she actually had any kind of audience. She was the radio equivalent of those Big Brother contestants who say or do unspeakable things and then express surprise, upon leaving the house, that we all know about them.

There was an element of car-crash temptation about her, and while I'm in no doubt that the majority of her sizeable audience loved her, I also have little doubt that a good chunk of those who ticked next to her name at diary time did so because they got a kind of sport from hearing her self-destruct. People who, as Terry Wogan once deliciously put it, sit by their radios waiting to be offended.

She was also quite extraordinarily bad, or slapdash, or just uncaring, about the mechanics and formats of radio. The only jingle she played was the news jingle, and even then she'd not have finished her ramble by the time it came on, meaning that she either forgot, ignored, mistimed or just rushed the incue for the long-suffering newsreaders on her watch. Far worse than this was her tendency to start a record with just a minute - or less - to the pips, and it didn't matter if it was a 1.59 ditty like From Me To You or a 6.30 epic like Hotel California, you knew that it was going to be ruined.

The sound effects during travel bulletins. Gaaah. And in the last couple of years she has witlessly banged on about her expensive holidays despite a lot of the audience going through financial hell. Lack of awareness again, both of herself and the needs of those who relied on her.

When Wogan left and people got shuffled about to accommodate Chris Evans' arrival, Kennedy was shifted from 6-7.30am to 5am-7am, gaining half an hour but starting an hour earlier. Now you know I'm unashamedly loyal to Alex Lester, but it could have been Slobodan Milosevic that she took the 5am hour from and he still wouldn't have deserved all the texts from "dawn patrollers" proclaiming just how oh so wonderful it was to have her on at 5 o'clock now. That kind of behaviour stinks, especially when the presenter who used to have that hour is still in an adjacent studio after coming off air. It wasn't the texts per se that provided the problem, it was her self-serving decision to read them out.

And playing It's 5 O'Clock Somewhere as her first song in her new slot? As clich├ęs go, that's right up there with playing a certain U2 song every January 1st.

On to the matter of replacing her, and, well, you know what I'm going to say. Alex is big enough (figuratively) and battle-hardened enough not to need his audience and his radio comrades to fight his corner, but it's happening anyway. Leaving my loyalties aside and putting it purely on radio terms, it appears that he seems to be contesting the role with Liza Tarbuck and Aled Jones.

Or, if you prefer, an experienced career broadcaster, an actress and a singer.

Put it like that and it should be a no-brainer. But then you have to remind yourself of just how much Radio 2 has embraced the celeb presenter in recent years. Any number of people famous for other things have come in because they generate instant headlines and publicity, if not instant ratings. They don't embrace what radio is about though, not in the slightest. They don't have the technical skills, the patience to feel an audience build, the one-on-one qualities and, in some cases, have never performed a broadcast live before. Telly is well and good, but so much of it is done in takes until you get it right. Daytime radio is one chance and it's gone.

Given that - assuming the hours don't change - the Kennedy replacement will be providing breakfast radio against successful commercial radio hosts all over the nation, then installing a beginner for whom radio is not their chosen livelihood but a nice little sideline for a bit would be suicidal. An actress like Liza Tarbuck, amiable though she may be, wants to win acting roles, and in the event of being offered a good one, do you not think for a moment she won't choose to take any number of weeks off from her little radio show to go do it?

As for Aled Jones, I actually don't mind him. He's affable but has a formatting to his delivery that suggests he'd be better off on local radio as a big cheese rather than doing safety first stuff on the biggest network in the country.

This leaves Alex, along with his professional contemporaries Richard Allinson and Lynn Parsons. These are all proper radio people - clever, focussed, coherent. The other two get regular depping time on the early slot - Lynn Parsons is in the chair right now - while Alex only tended to get it when Kennedy decided she was too pi... er, unwell to come in and so he'd get a call on the ex-directory asking him to carry on after 5.

Evidently I endorse Alex for the slot - a judicious increase of the Janice Long and Evans shows would mean they could save Kennedy's salary, aside from anything else - but ultimately the decision is about picking a real communicator who will be reliable and professional, or a famous person who will rely entirely on faceless backroom people and expect results immediately. It shouldn't even be a tough call.


Roger Clarke said...

I'm sure this subject will be much chewed over at the next nerd night. The well discussed subject of why national radio more often than not employ famous people to present purely on the basis of them being familiar in the public eye really annoys me. Gone are the days of "unknowns" or "little known" broadcasters being nurtured and honing their skills. The Dark Lord certainly arrived at the right time before management stupidity took over.

Louis Barfe said...

If the Dark Lord wants the gig, it should be his. Simple as that. He's what Radio 2 should be all about: knows his music but isn't an out-and-out music presenter, and has a big personality without being a Big Personality with all the evil that entails. I've been a fan for years.

Matthew Rudd said...

I wish I'd said that.

Bright Ambassador said...

I've just written a very long reply to this and lost it, I can't be arsed to write it again.
I'll just say that I hate her guts and can't wait to see the back of her, the rancid old sow.
I don't care who gets the gig. They can give it to Robert Mugabe for me, anyone's an improevment.

SWs to you.

Jon Peake said...

My money's on Lynn Parsons. A woman breaks it up a bit and there's no one else except Janice Long in the dead of night.

Mondo said...

I'm surprised she's lasted so long - I thought her card would have been marked years ago, what with all the drin.. ermm fatigue problems