What constitutes “conviviality” in a station? Launched some two months ago, Times Radio’s thrust was to be unambiguously genial – an answer to Radio 4’s exhausted political scab-picking. The opener was a cordial interview with the Prime Minister – natch. Johnson managed to become PM on the very back of benefiting from the whole idea of “civil discourse”. Let’s have a game of whiff-whaff, or tennis! This is civility as a political tool, when really politics is all about thoroughly defanging interactions.
Since then, the IQ of the station has been settling. There are the endless reminders that you are listening to Times Radio; media conglomerate thrillerish jingle music; and some amusingly eggy trailers for upcoming features. (“Lemn Sissay talks about using his writing as an escape!”)
On the breakfast show, Aasmah Mir and Stig Abell turn to each other TV-ishly to confab on a point, firmly underlining their allyship – something outlawed on Radio 4’s Today, whose rolling roster of two presenters delivers random and sometimes ill-fitting combinations, like a demented fruit machine. (Will it be Nick Robinson with Mishal Husain? Can I cope?)
The other day, looking through tweets, Mir and Abell solemnly reassured each other that suggesting worrying about the number of migrants now landing in Kent was “not racist”. Heads were sadly (but convivially) shaken. “Goodness me!” exclaimed Mir, another morning, when sympathising with an interviewee in decimated Beirut. I’m not sure the phrase was exactly appropriate. (On Today, on 12 August, after interviewing a weeping Neville Lawrence about the now “inactive” investigation into the murder of his son, Katya Adler signed off, “Thank you for your time, and sorry for your pain.” That was exquisitely done.)
But I’ve yet to hear a presenter anywhere deal with a line dropping out as well as John Pienaar on his afternoon Times show, managing to precis what the suddenly missing person had been booked to say, while the producer fished them back up. Slick. And always with that extra sliver of conviviality – making everything that little bit simpler. The world pared back. Cleaner. For winners. Is it wrong to find it… foreboding?