It's good to Talk Radio with a real pro in charge

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AT TEN minutes to eight yesterday morning just over 3 million people were listening to Britain's three national speech-based radio stations Give or take the odd air-waved surfer and last-minute defector to Classic FM, the number of listeners per station based on the latest ratings were as follows: 1.8 million listening to Radio 4, Lord Sainsbury on the Today programme talking about the need for British industry to be more science- based; 971,000 tuned into Radio 5's breakfast show interview with James Appleby, British Yo-Yo champion. The remaining 365,000 (correction, 365,001with me) were glued, ears flapping, to the astonishing revelation on Talk Radio that the real love of Diana, Princess of Wales's life was neither Dodi nor James - Charles didn't come into it - but a handsome Harley Street heart surgeon called Hazmit Khan.

The revelation might not have been quite so astonishing had I read the Sunday People the previous day, but hearing it straight from the horse's mouth made it more authentic. Did Neil Wallace, editor of the People, have photographic evidence to back up his story that the Princess, wearing a wig, used to meet her lover in a Kensington chip shop, presenter Clare Catford wanted to know. No, said Mr Wallace, but make no mistake, Khan was the love of Dodi's life. Dodi? Sorry - Diana; he meant to say Diana.

A good breakfast show is the secret of a successful radio station, Kelvin MacKenzie, the new owner of Talk Radio, told me yesterday. It's three weeks since MacKenzie's consortium Talkco bought the station for pounds 24.5m and regular listeners will tell you that things are looking up already, particularly the breakfast show. It's faster, punchier, funnier, a bit like The Sun in its heyday, when MacKenzie edited it. "Look, we're not aiming to compete with BBC breakfast shows. How can we? We haven't got their billions from licence fee revenues. But what we can do is entertain."

Surely he's doing that already. In the breakfast show peak period yesterday, in the half hour between 7.30am and 8am when Radio 4 was featuring Pinochet, European defence commitments, the RUC and Lord Sainsbury and Radio 5 offered social services, the millennium bug, stress in the workplace and Yo-Yos, Clare Catford and her co-presenter Bill Overton were begging listeners to call in with their thoughts on the following: 1. Prince Jackson (son of Michael) going to Stowe - were any of them at school with famous people? 2. Funny vegetables - did anyone else have a potato shaped like Jimmy Hill? 3. Paedophiles - were the social services riddled with them? 4. Richard Bacon, sacked cocaine-sniffing former Blue Peter presenter, about to give his first, exclusive interview to Talk Radio - what did listeners think? And, of course, 5. Diana queen of heart surgeons and bewigged frequenter of chip shops - was she a victim?

MacKenzie said he was pleased with the response to the Bacon interview. Talk Radio was flooded with sympathetic callers berating the Beeb for sacking him. He was also pleased that I liked the breakfast show, but it wasn't quite right yet. If a successful station stands or falls by its breakfast show, a breakfast show does ditto by its presenter. Dan Imus in New York, he thought, was a great breakfast show presenter. He talked to everyone and, more important, everyone wanted to talk to him. If Clinton was in town he would call Imus on his show. Yes, of course it was important to have scoops, but things didn't work that way any more. The wheel has already been invented. It's personalities that count.

Talking of which, what does Anna Raeburn, Talk Radio's personality queen and last year's Sony Gold Award winner, think of her new boss? She hasn't been asked to do her show topless, by the way. "Thank God we've got a professional in charge at last," she said.

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