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How long before every hour is Woman’s Hour on BBC radio?


In 2012 Danny Baker berated on air the ‘pinhead weasels’ running BBC Radio London who had just dropped the garlanded broadcaster’s daily show. Subsequently confined to a (highly recommended) two-hour Saturday morning slot on BBC 5 Live, even now Baker alludes caustically to cowardly bosses who have in the past ‘refreshed’ him from their schedules.

Simon Mayo, who has just announced his departure from Radio 2, is much more of a diplomat, framing it as an opportunity for ‘other radio adventures’ and to spend more time on a writing career of which relatively few will even be aware. Nonetheless, by referring euphemistically to his former Drivetime show having been ‘reconfigured’ earlier this year, Mayo elegantly signalled his own contempt for BBC management who sacrificed on the altar of gender diversity a highly regarded radio show and, ultimately, its popular presenter.

Under pressure by prominent female broadcasters to increase the pay and profile of, er, prominent female broadcasters, the BBC had taken fright at its most listened-to radio station having a daytime roster which was entirely male, pale and, ergo, stale. Crowbarring into the mix a woman – any woman – as part of an enforced double act was tokenistic enough; but selecting Jo Whiley, who had been broadcasting 8-10pm, for that particular timeslot was inexplicable. Simon Mayo has gallantly defended ‘a warm-hearted and loyal friend’, although his claim that ‘when the show was “reconfigured” she was my first and only choice’, makes one wonder which other options, if any, he had.

Whatever Whiley’s other qualities, as a candidate to be the female co-host of what previously had been an aural light entertainment show, requiring relaxed repartee both within the studio and with callers, Jo probably ranks somewhere between Harriet Harman and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

Yet as a conspicuous gesture towards correcting a gender imbalance, BBC management inflicted upon teatime listeners Jo Whiley & Simon Mayo, with the woman receiving top billing. Even the trails that Radio 2 ran for the new programme, which presumably were edited for maximum impact, contained stilted exchanges between the pair that were far less enticing than the way the station previously had promoted Mayo’s former show.

Jo Whiley is entirely competent when being the earnest presenter of modish music; it is a mystery why she ever came to Radio 2 rather than join her former Radio 1 partner Steve Lamacq at BBC 6 Music. Being amongst those hepcats remains a more suitable niche for Whiley than the evening slot (now to be 7-9pm, one hour earlier than before) which she will soon reoccupy at Radio 2. Still, the failed experiment was reported at the time to have earned Whiley a huge pay rise, which presumably she will retain when reverting to the evening shift.

Jo Whiley began her previous evening show on Radio 2 in 2011 when there were far fewer female presenters on the station than now. Although it is not an exact parallel, at that time Whiley was the replacement for Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie whose double-hander had for several years been essential listening; Radio 2’s loss became 6 Music’s gain (still 1-4pm weekdays). Although Jo Whiley’s effort ostensibly contained similar ingredients – guests, studio performances and interesting recordings new and old – it palpably lacked the wit, warmth and wisdom which had characterised Radcliffe & Maconie; I was one evening listener who soon lost interest.

It is already confirmed that Zoe Ball will succeed Chris Evans on the Radio 2 Breakfast Show and it is a safe bet that the new late-afternoon presenter will be also be a woman, current odds-on favourite being Sara Cox. Which is justifiable: although no musicologist, Cox is an engaging personality to whom daytime listeners have already warmed when she has covered during Evans’s (frequent) absences.

Of the white, middle-aged, male quintet who throughout this decade have occupied the Radio 2’s daytime schedule, that is now two down, three to go.

Jeremy Vine is not to everyone’s taste and his Tiggerish demeanour can certainly grate. That said, a two-hour assortment of music, serious news and frivolity is not a straightforward gig and overall the amiable Vine makes a decent fist of blending the disparate requirements. However, despite having seemingly taken a substantial pay cut, Jezza remains high on the BBC pay list and it would be no surprise if in due course he is ‘persuaded’ to concentrate solely on his new morning TV show on Channel 5.

According to the last pay list, the BBC salary of afternoon presenter Steve Wright actually increased during 2017-18 to the thick end of £600,000. As Wright himself might put it, this is serious earnin’, with no ‘g’. It is a sum unlikely to be matched whenever his contract is next up for renewal, especially if by that point the station has another woman lined up and champing at the bit to take over.

However much the BBC searches for a new morning presenter, Radio 2 is unlikely to find any female capable of replacing Ken Bruce. Well, not unless her impersonation can match that of Rob Brydon.

Still in situ at Radio 2 is station head Lewis Carnie. ‘With Simon leaving we’ve taken this opportunity to take a fresh look at the schedule,’ read his bland press release. But had one of his most respected presenters not voluntarily ended everyone’s misery by quitting the station, the tin-eared Carnie would be continuing to dismiss as ‘very change-resistant’ the many listeners who had protested to BBC management at their prioritising diversity dogma over programme quality.

Perhaps the next change at Radio 2 should be a replacement for Lewis Carnie, the gender gerrymanderer.

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Gary Oliver
Gary Oliver
Gary Oliver is an accountant who lives in East Lothian.

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