RADIO / Wrong man for the Wright job

Anderson Country, R4 - Steve Wright, R1
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The Independent Culture
It's impossible to talk about radio this week without mentioning the crisis that grips the BBC after the two high-profile resignations of the past 10 days: on the one hand, Gerry Anderson's departure from Radio 4 has been welcomed across the nation, while Steve Wright's from Radio 1 has been treated with the sort of shocked excitement that met Geoffrey Howe's resignation speech. Observing these reactions has been sad, partly because they are disproportionate to the importance of the events - these are, in the end, disc jockeys we're talking about - but also because they seem to reflect so inadequately the talents of the two men involved. Most people find this hard to believe, but Gerry Anderson is actually a very good broadcaster. That's not to defend his performance on Anderson Country, where he has been most of the things people have accused him of being: bland, cliched, inappropriately cheerful, emollient to the point of abrasiveness. What we were listening to here wasn't incompetence given its head, but a horrific mismatch of broadcaster with format and audience. Back in Derry, where he started out, Anderson's morning show was an affair of ramshackle brilliance - he just rambled on for an hour, playing the odd record and getting mildly sarcastic with his callers, and it was very funny. He had an adoring public - Irish people living in London used to get their mother to send them tapes of the show. When he won a Sony award for Local Radio Personality of the Year, most people's reaction was that it was not before its time.

Making the move to Radio 4, he had two problems; first, his strength was clearly in spontaneity, not in scripts. Give him time to think about what he's saying, and he slips into what he may think of as a literary style; really, it's a dull dialect of journalese.

His other problem is that he works best with a small audience (it's arguable this is precisely what he was working for on Radio 4); on Radio Foyle, the jokes didn't have to be that funny, because they were private. On Anderson Country the scale was wrong.

To say all this isn't to excuse Anderson Country. It's just a shame all that venom was directed at him, when it should have been reserved for the hierarchy who felt the need to turn afternoon Radio 4 into a fourth-generation photocopy of Radio 5 Live.

Steve Wright, on the other hand, has always struck me as ludicrously overrated. He is credited with importing "zoo radio" to this country, but listening to his show's clunky "humorous" phone-calls from fictional characters (you know they're humorous because Wright chuckles so much), and Wright's "posse" of bright young things spouting simplistic wisdom (one from last week: women wouldn't worry about the way they look if they weren't told to by the cosmetics industry), you feel that this is not so much azoo as a pets' corner.

Still, at least Steve Wright embodies Radio 1's new aspiration to be clever. When Emma Freud is replaced by Lisa I'Anson, whose between-record patter rarely rises above the level of "Mmm, what a great record - and we've got lots of other amazing sounds coming up," then it looks as though the station has lost its bottle completely. If they really want to show they have guts, they could always offer the breakfast spot to Gerry Anderson. On second thoughts, though, maybe not.

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