Sorry, Kelvin, I don't miss you at all
Paul Robinson swapped four-letter Talk Radio for family Disney. And he knows which is doing better
Tuesday 25 April 2000
One of the more curious ads on TV at the moment is of a middle-aged man in a baseball cap begging viewers to listen to his radio station because he needs the money. Kelvin MacKenzie is in ironic mode (probably), even if it is a little presumptuous to believe the nation's viewers recognise him.
One viewer who definitely does recognise him is Paul Robinson, managing director and vice president of Disney Television, UK. Robinson was managing director of Talk Radio when MacKenzie took it over. Parting company with Robinson was one of the first things MacKenzie did.
Robinson is now responsible for all Disney TV across satellite and terrestrial broadcasts. Disney Branded Television is a $100m annual turnover business, responsible for more hours of children's programming than any other single children's production entity in the UK. This includes the Disney Channel and productions including the number-one rated weekend show Diggit (GMTV), Draw Your Own Toons (ITV) and Disney Club Ireland. A year ago, just after Robinson joined, Disney Channel was the number-four rated kids' channel in homes where it was available. Today it is number one, up there ahead of Nickleodeon, Cartoon Network, Fox Kids and Trouble.
At Talk Radio, well before MacKenzie turned it into an all-sport station, Robinson, a former head of strategy at BBC Radio, successfully negotiated Talk's first sports right, including the removal of the Manchester United Champions League from Radio 5 Live.
He was also responsible for breaking the BBC monopoly on the Nationwide League rights and securing European rights for Aston Villa and Chelsea Football Clubs. He signed presenters including Danny Baker, Anna Raeburn, Lorraine Kelly, Andy Gray, Paul Gambaccini and Russell Grant.
Until now he has not spoken about his departure or about MacKenzie. But looking back from the vantage point of a hugely successful year at Disney, and from the vantage point of a golf course in Bedfordshire where he lives with his wife and two children, he says: "Kelvin and I had lunch together and decided we were not going to work together. Our styles were totally different.
"My approach is to take staff with you. I ran it like a family. Kelvin's lunch with me was all four-letter words and how he was going to sack people. And he sacked 80 people in his first year and lost over one million listeners. He sacked people I brought in and thought were very good, such as Anna Raeburn and Russell Grant.
"The test of the all-sport format will be this summer. Now the Beeb have got cricket back, I believe he might suffer. For the sport format to work you need to get premier league football, and Greg [Dyke] will do everything he can to keep it.
"I was trying to position the old Talk Radio as the Daily Mail or The Daily Express and be more female-oriented, with presenters like Kirsty Young and Lorraine Kelly. It was a real niche, because Radio 5 Live is quite male; but it is a niche which has now been lost. I did try to buy the company myself, but Kelvin beat us on price."
The four-letter words and refusal to work "as a family" must have gone down particularly badly with a man who has rapidly espoused Disney values in his new job. "I do believe our programmes should be positive and should not portray violence or sex or any behaviour that is inappropriate for children," he says. "We wouldn't put on PokÃ©mon or Power Rangers. They are pretty vacuous and pretty violent."
With four million subscribers in the UK, Robinson is faring well in one of the most competitive markets. He plans to broaden the production base in the UK to increase the number of dramas and kids' magazine shows as well as animations. He has introduced a movie each day at 7pm "to get in before the soaps" and extended the daily 9am to 2pm pre-school shows to include old BBC-style fare such as helping Mum to make biscuits.
"The big advantage at Disney is that we do know children," he says. "PokÃ©mon may be hot at the moment. But believe me, it will go the way of Ninja Turtles."
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