'Today' presenter becomes yesterday's man

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Peter Hobday, one of the presenters of BBC Radio 4's Today programme is to become yesterday's man. Having reduced his commitment during recent years to the influential morning news programme, the BBC said yesterday that Mr Hobday would be presenting even less. However, a spokesman stressed "he will be presenting occasionally and will continue to be associated with Today". The BBC dismissed as "taken out of proportion" suggestions that Mr Hobday was being dropped because of his age - he is 60 next year - and because of his undiluted middle-class radio image. The spokesman said Mr Hobday was increasing his contractual oblig ations to a BBC Bristol programme and was working on a book about Italy. The notion that the BBC was being "ageist" in reducing Mr Hobday's presenting hours, was strongly denied. The BBC also dismissed any idea that it was seeking a more populist role for Today, by attempting to increase its daily 5 million audience by bringing in younger listeners, increasing the amount of women listeners, and broadening its appeal to regional a udiences who may regard Today as too London-oriented. The immediate problem for the editors and producers of Today is the lack of an obvious successor to Mr Hobday. One internal source suggested the BBC would look to presenters at Radio 5 Live for replacements. The BBC describes Radio 5 Live as "the newspap er of the airwaves". However if Today is a broadsheet heavyweight, Radio 5 is far more tabloid. Any attempt at lightening Today is likely to meet with howls of protest from loyal Today followers. Mr Hobday, educated at Leicester University, first broadcast on Today in 1957 when its style was more entertainment than news. Since then he has worked for the BBC World Service, presented The Financial World Tonight and The World at One. His presentation style is less confrontational that of fellow presenters Jim Naughtie or John Humphrys, who have tended to attract publicity by adopting a devil's advocate style of political interrogation. Today's team of regular presenters also include Sue MacGregor and Anna Ford.