The early moron shift

Ever thought that all breakfast shows sound as if they're produced to an identikit pattern, with their tired banter, innuendo and brazen wind-ups? Well, they are
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The Independent Online

First, a confession. I used to be a breakfast-show disc jockey on commercial radio, "the bright, good-morning voice that's heard but never seen," as Harry Chapin put it in his song "W.O.L.D.". Harry, by the way, sadly died before he could reveal whose bright, good-morning voice is ever seen? Horses, I suppose, on a cold day. Anyway, these days - an age thing, probably - I do not have much of an appetite for bright, good-morning voices.

First, a confession. I used to be a breakfast-show disc jockey on commercial radio, "the bright, good-morning voice that's heard but never seen," as Harry Chapin put it in his song "W.O.L.D.". Harry, by the way, sadly died before he could reveal whose bright, good-morning voice is ever seen? Horses, I suppose, on a cold day. Anyway, these days - an age thing, probably - I do not have much of an appetite for bright, good-morning voices.

Should I find myself in the car first thing, I will whack on Radio 5 Live briefly for a bit of news and sport and then sink back, Victor Meldrew-like, into an old Nina Simone album. If I am ferrying children around, however, they will invariably insist on the radio being tuned to something called Aire FM, forcing me to listen to whichever Spice Girls single is currently being plugged, followed by what I expect is intended as banter between the disc jockey and the female travel reporter.

Fair enough. It wasn't all that different when I did the same job 20 years ago, although I like to think I was slightly less reliant on personal abuse, knob gags, and mind-numbing showbiz gossip. In one respect, though, it was entirely different. What I did in Sheffield, Leeds, and various other northern cities too cold to mention, may not have been the apotheosis of the broadcaster's art, but at least it was - give or take some judicious borrowings from the top comic talent of the day - all my own work and originated locally.

If it was judged at all, it was judged entirely on my own turf; by the local audience, the programme boss just down the corridor, and by the board, who would typically include the millionaire owner of a successful chain of local butchers' shops, a regional organiser for a trade union, and some minor entertainment personality who happened to live in the area. (One board, I am told, once enthusiastically courted a local musician who claimed to have backed Tony Bennett, until they found out he had actually backed the international singing star out of a particularly tight spot in the Batley Variety Club car park.)

In those days it was called Independent Local Radio, and more or less was. They still call it ILR, I believe, but I assume that is postmodern irony as all the big commercial radio stations are now owned and controlled - with a heavy emphasis on control - by just three companies; Capital, Emap, and GWR, who roll out pretty well the same formula everywhere.

I feel confident in writing about my local station, Emap-owned Aire FM, knowing you will have access to an almost identical product wherever in Britain you live. The three major players have England and Wales stitched up like feudal barons of old, except the barons were probably not quite as rich nor as ruthless. Not that the business side of the arrangement need concern us too much here.

Let us talk about what comes out of the speakers. Musically, obviously nothing that could in any way surprise, delight, enrage or do any of those other things music is supposed to do; Robbie Williams, Melanie C, Posh Spice, Spiller. It is pointless, I suppose, for me to say it all sounds rather bland, given that I also think policemen are looking younger and am having difficulty getting used to the new money. Hit music is hit music. I played Level 42 and Bananarama. I am not proud of it, but I did, so I have no room to talk.

In between the tunes, (insert name of your local presenter here, mine is called Simon Logan) does chat, features, and competitions. These features include the record of the week, which he calls his "breakfast whopper", and a question to which the answer is delayed, and so is naturally called his "dangly bit". I think Gary Davies started this tiresome business on Radio 1 some years ago with "Gary's Bit In The Middle". There is clearly a thesis to be written on the phallocentricity of the male disc jockey. Logan's not so bons mots are, of course, welcomed like choice pearls from the Algonquin round table by his giggling travel girl, a formula you will find replicated on your local station, the "tart'n'twat format", as it was described to me.

Comedy is provided by Dick Dastard, who goes out with a hidden microphone and tries to persuade car dealers to let him take a car for a test run despite the fact that he cannot drive, or asks people in public toilets to give up their cubicle for him because he is desperate. Mr Dastard gives a fairly nerveless performance which, if you can still muster any enthusiasm for wind-ups, may make you smile.

You might hear Dastard on your own local station, as he is the creation of Brett Harley, a Sheffield disc jockey who syndicates jokes, features, and characters to many of the breakfast shows, including Chris Tarrant's on Capital. There are a number of these so-called show prep services mailing carefully scripted "ad-libs" to disc jockeys all over the country, which is why, when I drive down to London, careful route planning can ensure that I hear the same joke three times.

These indentikit breakfast shows, I should say, are extremely successful. In most markets they are number one, ahead of Sara Cox, Chris Evans, Terry Wogan, et al, but I should like to think there could be a niche in the market for some guy or girl with a box of records (or those new fangled CDs) living off their own wits. I just would not want to go broke trying to prove it.

There's nothing, then, on your commercial radio breakfast show that could remotely be described as drollery, but plenty on last Thursday's There'll Never Be Another on Radio 2, which profiled Les Dawson: "Ada, when you went to Blackpool on your honeymoon," asked Cissy, "were you, er - this is girl talk, this - were you virgo intacta?" Ada, after a pause: "No, I think we were bed and breakfast."

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