Radio - Rachel Cooke

The more perky Christian O'Connell sounds, the more I want to stay under the covers

An update on my search for breakfast-time listening. This past week, Christian O'Connell began his new show on Virgin Radio. I expect you are aware of this: where I live, it seems every street corner features a tomato-red billboard promoting his arrival. O'Connell, who used to work in sales and as a stand-up comedian, is an award-winning DJ. At the London indie station Xfm, whose breakfast show he hosted for five years, he won several Sony Awards and was acclaimed as the leading talent of his generation.

Naturally, Virgin is excited by its new signing, though its listeners may be a little more nonplussed. If they live outside the M25, they are unlikely to have heard of O'Connell, unless they caught him when he replaced Chris Moyles, Radio 1's breakfast host, on Channel 5's ill-fated TV show Live With . . . (It was produced by Chris Evans, who also used to do Virgin's breakfast show. See how DJs stick together?)

So what's he like, this O'Connell? A safe pair of hands, I'd say. I had read that his style is quite wacky - "inimitable" is the word his fans favour - and that his skill lies in building up a relationship with his audience (on Xfm he ran a competition called Rock School to find the capital's best teenage band). To me, however, he sounds like any other chirpy breakfast-show host. Tuning in last Monday, I was reminded of the DJs I used to listen to on Hallam, a station in Sheffield, where I grew up. In those days, all the determined cheeriness in the world couldn't change the fact that I hadn't bothered to do my homework; with O'Connell, it's just the same. His plodding brightness has absolutely no effect on how I feel about the sky outside being the colour of old underwear, or about the traffic already building to a slow roar. Quite the reverse, actually. The more perky he sounds, the more I want to stay under the covers.

At the time of writing, one of O'Connell's obsessions is with TV ads. He wants to know whether the man in the Cillit Bang ad is real or an alien, and he wants to find out what happened to the Milky Bar Kid. If I were his producer, I would discourage this. O'Connell is mildly amusing when he's on a roll - he is certainly more entertaining than his rival on Capital, Johnny Vaughan, whose inane ramblings make me want to set about him with a large rubber cosh - but talking about ads when listeners already have to endure so many of them is surely a bad idea. Capital is apparently experimenting with cutting back on the number of ads it plays; on Virgin, they still gather like midges over a bog. Combine this with the show's sponsorship by Orange, and it starts to feel like the radio equivalent of a freesheet. I always put freesheets straight into the bin.

Meanwhile, over on Radio 4, the controller, Mark Damazer, still has his pruning shears firmly in hand. Following the axing of Home Truths and the 5.30am "UK Theme", it is rumoured that changes are afoot to The News Quiz, with one of its best-known names on the point of leaving. Hmm. I sincerely hope that Damazer isn't after the head of Linda Smith, who is not only hilarious, but one of the few women who are allowed to grace this clubby show. Another of Damazer's innovations is the Saturday profile, an attempt to look, close up, at a name in the news. So far, we have had studies of Ehud Olmert, acting prime minister of Israel; Sir Terry Leahy, boss of Tesco; and Porter Goss, head of the CIA. Some critics feel that the show is superficial. I agree. But I think it could work. The problem is its length. A whole career in 15 minutes? Couldn't Damazer trim 15 minutes - or more - from Any Answers? (the world's most annoying radio programme) and hand them over, gift-wrapped, to the Profile team?

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