Why 5 Live thinks Colin Murray is the man for the new season

Having quit Radio 1, Colin Murray has a plum new role at the BBC's talk station. A sports fanatic, he tells Ian Burrell he can't wait to start

Monday 03 August 2009 00:01
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Colin Murray hasn't even started his new pivotal role at BBC Radio 5 Live and yet he's already got his eye on a job at Radio 2. His friends warned him he was taking on too much work before he left Radio 1 earlier this year. But the ambitious young Ulsterman can't help himself.

So having landed himself a holiday break between switching BBC radio networks, he spent it writing an 80,000-word book, A Random History of Football, highlighting such oddities as Sheffield United's attempt to sign Diego Maradona. And at 5 Live he will become the station's most hard-working sports presenter, ushering in the weekend with a Friday-night show, and then anchoring the Sunday coverage for more than six hours. In between, he will continue to host the Saturday-morning quiz Fighting Talk, which has grown into Britain's most popular sports podcast.

Yet he's already looking to the future. "Without having any knowledge of Radio 2 wanting me to do a show for them, I'd like to do something for them at some stage," he says, adding that he'll wait a year until the 5 Live shows have bedded in. "After that, I'd like to do one show a week on Radio 2 that does for Radio 2 what Fighting Talk is doing for 5 Live."

Murray already has a plan in mind for a free-form show, in which he would hand out BBC passes to a network of friends and acquaintances, who'd turn up and play records. "If any of these people turn up, they get let in. There's no playlist," he explains, excitedly. "If no one turns up, I will play until someone does, and if Noel Gallagher wants to turn up with his records, he can. It's just a social, not about them plugging what they're doing." Maybe Radio 2 controller Bob Shennan would welcome such a proposal; after all, it was he who – as a former head of 5 Live – brought the presenter to Fighting Talk.

Though Murray thinks of himself as laid-back ("there's no more trampier radio presenter in Britain than me"), he's a man in a hurry. One of the youngest presenters to work at Radio 1, he joined that network having worked as a reporter on the News Letter newspaper in Northern Ireland and after a spell as a journalist in Toronto, where he developed an enduring love for the Blue Jays baseball team. He is the youthful face of channel Five's television football coverage.

"I'm only 32, so I find myself again in that situation where I'm coming into an industry where I'm the youngest doing what I do," he says in his motormouth brogue. "I'm the youngest live football presenter on television, and I'm the youngest member of the 5 Live sports team. I like having to prove myself to guys who've done it for 30 years, and as an ex-news journalist, I'm all about the research. I never go into any situation without knowing the ins and outs of what I'm talking about."

Murray's departure from Radio 1, where he hosted a specialist evening show, was unusual in that he quit the station. He left partly because of his age. "I never wanted to be greying or balding or out of touch when I left Radio 1, and I felt I left when I was more relevant and more in touch with my listeners than ever, and that was important because it is meant to be a youth station – that's its remit."

Though he has "the deepest respect" for the network which gave him his break, he also had issues with Radio 1's music policy. "I wasn't necessarily overwhelmed at the connection between what I was doing at night-time with new music and it translating into the daytime," he says.

"It was frustrating. For example, we campaigned to get Malcolm Middleton's 'We're All Going to Die' to the Christmas No 1, and that didn't get on the playlist. That was a big thing for me. It was no sacrifice, but because it didn't really fit the sound that they wanted, it didn't go on. If GMTV are happy to play it and have me on as a guest, I think it can go on a playlist at Radio 1."

His frustrations "come from having a love of the station", but he complains that Radio 1 does not use its influence more imaginatively. "It would have been nice to see records come through on the playlist when we were playing them and not when they were on adverts later on. Like Born Ruffians, 10 months after I played it, it goes on the playlist. Bat for Lashes, who we had in for a session and played for months, only went on the playlist after a Mercury [Prize] nomination. That's other people telling Radio 1 what they should be playing."

So he has moved on to 5 Live and is bursting with energy about the potential of his three shows. Fighting Talk was previously presented by Johnny Vaughan and Christian O'Connell, but Murray has made it his own. "A quick look at the figures will show who's the most successful of the three presenters," he jokes. "I think the reason my Fighting Talk has been more successful is that I lead with sport. I want it to deliver really honest sporting punditry and I want the humour to come after that."

On Sundays, he hopes to broadcast regularly from inside football grounds, ahead of the match commentary. "I hope I can bring a little more of a fan's point of view and loosen the tie a little bit."

But it is the Friday show, Kicking Off with Colin Murray, that he is most excited about. "I wanted to call it Friday Night Lights, flicking the switch on your weekend of sport," he admits. "They probably rightfully decided that was too ridiculous."

He is hoping to team up with Pat Nevin, his co-presenter on channel Five. On Fridays, a regular "five big tickets" feature will highlight the juiciest sporting events of the weekend ahead. Another feature will parody the inanity of Premier League Friday press conferences, with Murray planning to broadcast such inanities as Sir Alex Ferguson's frequent claim that "Wayne Rooney's a good player" or Rafael Benitez's observation that "tomorrow, we play a game".

Murray will pay special attention to the final half-hour, a round-up of the sporting week gone and a preview of the one ahead that will be turned into a podcast that he hopes will rival the success of Fighting Talk. He's sure he can make it work. "I have confidence in my presenting. I think I've always brought something to every show I've done," he says. "I think I'm a talented broadcaster."

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