"All part of the rich tapestry of political life," said one BBC news executive philosophically about the weekend attacks on John Humphrys. To those with a long enough memory it seems an uncanny, even shameless re-run of the 1986/87 Conservative attack on the Corporation's output - except that Jonathan Aitken does not have the rottweiler aggression of Lord Tebbit. But the message is that an election cannot be far away, and the Conservative Party is turning again to BBC-bashing to divert attention from its own agonies.
The talk on Talk Radio UK is not good. Apart from significantly upping the broadcast quota of "bollocks" and similar profanities, the industry consensus is that Britain's newest commercial station adds precious little to radio output, either in quality or innovation. The real measure of its success - official audience figures - will not be available until late next month. In the meantime, we have to make do with the station's internal data on listener calls.
Statistics for weekdays between the 4 and 10 March show that a fairly impressive total of 813,769 calls were made to the station. However, the figures for individual shows reveal wide variations. The runaway success is shock-jock Caeser the Geezer's late-night show, which accounted for two-thirds (527,612) of all calls made to Talk Radio. In contrast, Samantha and Sean's four-hour breakfast slog attracted a meagre 0.5 per cent or 4,093 calls. One half of the team, Samantha Meah, left Talk Radio UK last Monday, after it became clear that she would not be part of the station's revised thinking for the slot, which appears to involve transforming it from a forum for idle chat and showbiz gossip into a more consumer-focused, daytime-TV style show. "It's good that things are changing," a spokeswoman said. "It shows we're learning from our mistakes."
The other big line-up change is the departure a fortnight ago of Wild Al Kelly, the mad-dog host of the 1 to 5am graveyard show. Despite being the station's second most popular weekday presenter in terms of calls made (16.4 per cent or 133,496 lights on the switchboard), Wild Al left after rubbing up rather too closely to the Radio Authority's guidelines on taste and decency. Tommy Boyd's afternoon show from 3 to 7pm appeared to be the station's only other significant other, accounting for 10.8 per cent of calls made. The mustachioed Antipodean heavy hitter, Scott Chisholm, proved a speech radio lightweight, provoking just 14,397 callers for the week, while Anna Raeburn's two-hour show managed only 9,205.
Voices of the nation
Some of Britain's leading newspaper companies last week accused the Government of paralysis as it faced the challenge to reform the existing rules on cross-media ownership. Failure to act decisively could damage the economy and drive domestic investment abroad, warned Sir David English, of the British Media Industry Group, which comprises Associated Newspapers, the Guardian Media Group, Telegraph Plc and Pearson. It now seems likely that the Heritage Department's long awaited review will come next month. Stephen Dorrell's final list of options is likely to shy away from any radical shake-up in the short term. Instead, Mr Dorrell is more likely to play with thresholds, perhaps raising the stake in an ITV franchise that a newspaper can own, from 20 to 29 per cent.
Sir David was speaking as the BMIG published its contribution to the debate. Using a new methodology (partly modelled on the points system used by the Radio Authority) for measuring a media company's influence, the BMIG has established a national media market from which share of national voice can be calculated. All the Government has to do is determine the maximum share of national voice it considers healthy and leave it to media groups to decide how they wish to achieve it. According to the report, the BBC's dominance of television and radio means the corporation has a 20 per cent share of national voice, nearly double that enjoyed by News International.
Teenage blues jeans
Jeans ads conjure up a predictable set of images - male models with jaw-lines to die for overlaid with a pop classic destined for No 1 on re-release. Pepe Jeans, historically a willing accomplice to the stereotype, now looks determined to debunk the genre with a series of press and cinema ads which dwell more on adolescent angst than teenage dreams. A Mintel report last week found that young people were increasingly worried about jobs and financial security and are developing a "new spirit of rebellion" against a world which they see as having largely failed them. In Pepe's cinema ad, a disillusioned youth takes his father's Mercedes and hangs it from a crane in the shadow of Canary Wharf tower. Another features a press cutting about a teenage suicide. The message? Life's a bitch, so buy a pair of jeans.
On March 14 we ran a piece about breakfast television. GMTV has asked to point out that it has consistently commanded the highest ratings at 8am over the last six months, being topped on only one occasion by The Big Breakfast. It also says that its weekly viewing reach of 17.7 million viewers (Oct 1994) compares favourably with TV-am's 15.2 million in October 1989.