The Week in Radio: Why waking up with Frank Skinner is an absolute joy


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The Independent Culture

"This is like The Very Hungry Caterpillar winning the Booker Prize," grinned Frank Skinner at the Radio Academy Awards (formerly the Sonys) on Monday as he picked up his prize for Best Speech Programme. "I'd like to apologise to Absolute Radio who pay me to host a music show."

Skinner's Absolute show may indeed be ostensibly built around music but in this case the judges were right – the joy is the chat.

I say that as a person with a ferocious allergy to the breakfast show format. Unnatural as it may seem to the 10 or so million Chris Evans fans out there, I would rather not have my nervous system assaulted by absurdly cheerful presenters talking at several decibels louder than is natural at the crack of bloody dawn. As for Saturday mornings, come within my earshot with your excitable shout-outs, your "hilarious" texts and zany weekend plans and there will, I promise you, be bloodshed.

Thank heavens, then, for Skinner whose Saturday morning conversation on Absolute is slow moving, whimsical and comparatively gentle on the ears. In terms of subject matter, there is nothing especially challenging in what he does but I'm OK with that. Hard-hitting political exchanges and ideological hand-wringing are best saved for week days.

Skinner's show – which is aired on four Absolute stations and also comes as a downloadable podcast – may come as a surprise to those, like me, who were reared on the comic's gobby Nineties output, rife with laddish in-jokes and mucky innuendo. Here he seems to specialise in temperate silliness, with running themes about AE Housman and Cadbury's Creme Eggs.

The gentle ribbing between Skinner and his co-presenters Emily Dean and Alun Cochrane is similarly a far cry from the chest-thumping rivalry of other comic types thrown together in a studio in a monstrous battle of ego.

This week's edition found the three of them reflecting on restaurants with daft names, the pronunciation of "jalapeños", Ben Fogle's knuckles and our host's novel new invention: "A radio alarm clock that has bogus news reports that are shocking. 'Sir Elton John kills eight people in a McDonald's in Utah!' and, look, you're awake."

These aren't cutting-edge gags and Skinner's show isn't comedy with a capital "C". It's essentially a man murmuring amusingly into a microphone while listeners drift in and out of consciousness. There's serious craft in this uniquely casual style of broadcasting and Skinner has perfected it.

Other worthy winners at the Academy Awards included Victoria Derbyshire, whose 5 Live phone-in show has refashioned a traditionally overwrought format into something measured, intelligent and infinitely listenable, and also PM, Radio 4's news analysis programme that has unfairly sat in the shadow of its early-morning counterpart Today.

Not only does PM have some of the network's best current-affairs presenters but it also has the depth and detail that Today can lack in its haste to cover all of the day's news stories.

On Monday the programme ran an interview with TV presenters Judy Finnigan and Richard Madeley following a newspaper article in which they said they would consider assisted suicide in certain circumstances. Their efforts to lighten the tone – "We're still quite young!" whined Madeley – didn't deter presenter Eddie Mair from an unflinchingly direct interview in which he questioned both the semantics and the wisdom of this kind of celebrity endorsement.

Rather than fans the flames of a potentially hysterical news story, Mair cut straight to the heart of the story. Gold-standard interviewing, you might even say.