The Week In Radio: Why Mr Angry wins the vote of confidence
Thursday 11 February 2010
In the final days, apparently, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Well, we're nowhere near the final days of this election campaign, and we've already had the Prime Minister weeping on TV and Alastair Campbell being alarmingly upset. Radio doesn't do weeping, but it does gnashing of teeth very well and here Nick Ferrari, "The Man That Politicians Fear", is something of an expert. His LBC breakfast show gives us a taste of what politicians really face as they meet the voters on the doorstep and it's not a pretty sight. No wonder they cry.
"Over half of our MPs are going to have to repay £1.1 million of their second-home expenses. Does this settle the matter for you or do you think they've got away with blue murder?" Ferrari asked last week and the clue is in the second half of the question. Unlike the BBC's agonising striving for balance, the queue of citizens lining up to denounce politicians as worthless scum feeding from the trough seemed never-ending. It was like, "If you haven't got anything nice to say, why not ring LBC?" This being independent radio, Ferrari gets to join in, with gusto. When conversation veered onto the candidature of Esther Rantzen, he expostulated, "As if Luton hasn't suffered enough! To have Esther Rantzen as your MP! Dear God, where will it end?"
It has been a very good week for Ferrari, with new ratings figures revealing his listenership went up from 398,000 to 567,000 in a year, part of a strong overall success story for LBC. As an alumnus of tabloid journalism, listening to Ferrari going through the papers, evaluating which stories have legs and which will impact with his own listenership is a lot like sitting in a Fleet Street news conference. He has a likeable manner, an unerring eye for Middle England's concerns and handles his callers respectfully. But as the election nears, it's a good bet that phoned-in outpourings of voter disgust are going to dominate the airwaves, perhaps in lieu of more in-depth scrutiny.
Not that there was any escape for MPs over at the BBC. "Have you forgiven your MP yet?" asked Nicky Campbell on 5 Live, though if you need to ask that you must be living on Mars. "They wouldn't know what the real world is if it fell on them," said Tony from Scunthorpe, in a fair representation of majority opinion. Just like at LBC, the voters had plenty unsavoury to say but the BBC has impartiality to think of and Campbell tries hard to give a balanced viewpoint. When someone else said: "What do they need second homes for anyway, I'm happy with a camp bed in the office," Nicky's response was merely an exasperated "Oh for goodness' sake!"
Yet if political radio looks likely to dissolve into slanging matches between here and electoral Judgement Day, the world of financial reporting has looked up no end since the apocalypse arrived. Whereas once, financial journalism meant Money Box Live, or You and Yours working out whether you were entitled to 30p more in benefits, the business world is now a white-knuckle ride and how things have changed. Anyone like me obliged to be awake at 6.15 am gets to hear the Today programme's engaging Adam Shaw deliver a business bulletin that while gloomy, is rarely less than fascinating and Evan Davis's The Bottom Line provides a valuable insight into the human stories behind the business world.
One of the most intriguing business stories of the week was I Was a Teenage Dotcom Millionaire. A decade ago Benjamin Cohen, now technology correspondent for Channel 4 News, was 16 when he had the idea of setting up a community website called JewishNet. Within months, the dotcom boom had taken off and it was valued at £5 million. "I was higher than Prince William on The Sunday Times rich list!" he recalled. "I was coming out of my A level English class and getting a call from the Israeli Embassy saying we need you to meet Benjamin Netanyahu at 2.30 and I thought I've got economics at 2.15."
Things went sour when he developed a site called Hunt for Porn, the BBC made a documentary about him and the Jewish community averted their eyes in distaste. With trepidation, Cohen went back to his office to find out how awful he had been as a teenage boss. What made this such an endearing programme was Cohen's reflections on his younger self and how he had changed since his millionaire days. "I was in a relationship and I kind of just grew up. It seemed like the thing to do, but now I don't think it's everything. There is more to life than being a squillionaire."
Now if only a few more MPs had thought of that.
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