Opportunity knocks, from Boston, Mass. to Broadcasting House, W1A 1AA

David Aaronovitch never dreamed he'd hear himself say `And this is Barry Manilow', but then he'd never dreamed of standing in for Jimmy Young on Radio 2

For more than 30 years Jimmy Young, former crooner, DJ and latterly interviewer, has presided over one of the most successful programmes on British radio. At midday, half an hour into JY's Prog, there is no radio show being listened to by more people. Its daily "reach" (folks tuning in for some part of the show) is 2.06 million. Party leaders appear with Jim, and are succeeded in the interviewee's chair by the doctor who advises on prostates. So when I got the call and a voice asked me if I would like to stand in for Jim when he took his annual hols in Florida, I thought it was a leg-pull. First, this was far too big a programme for even the most capricious management to give over to some spotty tyro to ruin. I had done some radio presentation before, but in far less high-profile slots.

Second, I had always thought of myself as a kind of Radio 4 voice, doing things like "Analysis" on local government financing. It had never occurred to me that I had the personality to anchor a programme that required me to introduce popular music, read out listener's comments (an essential part of the JY experience) and say, in warm tones, "88 to 91 FM: that's Radio 2, from the BBC". And all of it live. Miss the little cue green light, and drop off the edge of the world! In fact I was so bamboozled by the offer, that until two weeks before getting in to the hot seat, I thought I had been booked just for three Mondays. In fact I had the whole three weeks.

It has been - as they used to say - a gas. In each show I've taken over from Ken Bruce, said "hello", done a little menu of what's coming up, conducted four interviews - usually one political, one on an "issue" of the day, one on a report (often concerning health, or transport) and one lighter one - read out reader's comments, introduced and back-announced nice music and, two hours later, handed on to Debbie Thrower.

The interviews are set up for me, researched, briefs written and questions suggested by a team of four, whose capacity to move from subject to subject is pretty remarkable (the main producer himself turned down a job on the Today programme to stay with JY; lucky for me he did). As for the listener's comments, well those have been something of a surprise. On EMU, for instance, more than half of those who phoned in were actually in favour of monetary union, which is not what you'd expect from an audience of predominantly over-60-year-old Britons. And where listeners relate their own direct experiences, there have often been moments for me of real insight into the way we live. When I was ill last week, and had to miss a show, I was actually sent "get well" cards. My mum tuned in to Radio 2 to hear me - and she likes it. My partner also tuned in. And she likes it too.

In the late Eighties Radio 2 was, by popular consent, a wrinkled pensioner of a station that would be given over to the private sector to do with as it wished, this to propitiate the Thatcherite gods of privatisation.

It may be that senior management never shared this prejudice; anyway, the matter never came to the test, because two things happened: Thatcher fell, the Beeb-friendly John Major (may his name in this context be forever blessed) took over - and the perception of Radio 2, even inside the BBC, began to alter. Partly this re-evaluation happened because of the revamp at Radio 1. Bannister's Purge, a necessarily bloody and long overdue affair, led some to notice that - for some time - Radio 2 had not been suffering from the audience slicer of competition. Far from it. This derided station had been gaining listeners.

It is a radio station for those who want something a bit gentler and melodic. But that doesn't just mean radio for the retired and elderly. It is also a station for those whose lives are busy enough without the radio going all testosterone on them; whose kids and jobs provide them with all the freneticism and conflict they need, and whose radio station should be there to relax and - yes - to inform them.

It does mean compromise, though. I suppose that my own moment of truth came when - without a catch in my voice - I heard myself finish reading one comment, and then saying huskily into the mike: "And this is Barry Manilow." And, my God, it was.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
News
UK Border Control
i100
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Marketing Communications Strategist / Marcomms Strategist

Competitive (DOE) + Bonus & Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing...

Ashdown Group: Content Manager - Publishing

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Guru Careers: Translation Project Manager

£20 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for Translation Project Managers...

Guru Careers: Service Delivery Manager

£35 - 50k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Service Delivery Manager is needed to join on...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn