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July 1, 2020

5 things you need to know about Times Radio


Times Radio launched this week.  Here, James Staunton offers five things you need to know about the latest outlet in speech radio

1. The line-up’s legendary.  Matt Chorley is on between 10am and 1pm.  Mariella Frostrop has the 1pm to 4pm slot.  John Pienaar does Drivetime.  Giles Coren, Cathy Newman, and Michael Portillo have weekly slots on Friday.  Hugo Rifkin has a Saturday morning show.  So Times Radio’s got plenty of high-profile presenters.  Who has TalkRADIO got to meet the challenge?  Eamonn Holmes is well-known, certainly, but the big-hitter list stretches to Mike Graham and (the admittedly excellent) Julia Hartley-Brewer.  (TalkRADIO and TalkSPORT are part of the same stable as Times Radio). Meanwhile, LBC has canned Nigel Farage – and Nick Ferrari can’t be much longer for the station.  Eddie Mair aside, I’m not sure presenters like Rachel Johnson and Declan Curry are in the same league as the Times Radio team.

2. They give good guests.  On launch day, Boris was on Times Radio Breakfast, giving his first broadcast interview since having Covid-19 (in contrast LBC’s James O’Brien had Gavin Williamson on). Matt Chorley followed that with a double-header with former Chancellor’s Lord Darling & George Osborne.  John Pienaar had the Shadow Chancellor on later in the day.  Chorley has interviewed Julia Gillard, former Australian PM.  David Baddiel is on with Giles Coren on Friday.  On Saturday, former Prime Minister Tony Blair is on.  On the one hand, there are lot of “formers” in there (and, I suppose, with the best will in the world, David Baddiel isn’t exactly cutting edge).  On the other hand, you can’t argue with getting Boris on.  He hasn’t done Today since last October…

3. Times Radio is anti-antagonism.  The interviews aren’t savage.  They’re wide ranging and guests have the time to expand their points.  Osborne and Darling, for instance, were on for about half an hour.  The interviews are thoughtful and funny, full of warmth and wit.  They feel less combative than Today.  The problem is that the two morning presenters, Aasmah Mir and Stig Abell, didn’t get that memo – they were desperate to Humphreys it up a bit with Boris.  I worry they’ll cave to rival journalists to “pin down” their guests.  I hope not.  Times Radio is a really civilised station.  I’d call it slow radio and I really like it.  Speech radio is a growing market and this feels like a great addition to the mix.

4. Big Budgets.  Not only is the app free, there aren’t any adverts either.  While the back office must be tiny (I have heard a few clips played at the wrong time etc), given the presenter line-up, it must be costing a fortune…

5. Business Briefings.  If there’s a weakness, it might be the business coverage.  The station’s quite politics-focused.  Matt Chorley and John Pienaar are “Westminster”.  While Pienaar had John Holland-Kaye, CEO of Heathrow airport, on his first drivetime show, it wasn’t really a business piece.  Pienaar wanted to talk job losses, not business strategy.  And the first story on Business Briefing was really a personal finance piece about people falling behind with their bills.  While Richard Fletcher (the Times business editor) offers the update, he only got two stories in his first outing (on at 7:50am, by the way).   Ian King Live this is not.  Early Breakfast (5am – 6am) includes business updates but at the moment, I am nervous Times Radio will become the sort of outlet that cares more about on exec pay and dividends than interesting news from the corporate sphere.  I’d like to see it get a bit more Patience Wheatcroft.  At the moment, it could do with a healthy injection of Jeff Randall…

Setting that minor quibble aside, I quit listening to the BBC on a daily basis about seven or eight years ago (to avoid Today and the banality of Thought for the Day).  I have been rotating around TalkRADIO and Global’s stable.  But I’m sticking with Times Radio now.  I’m a convert.