7 April ~ The media interest in shake-ups at BBC radio has focused on Radio Two, where Chris Evans replaced the departing Terry Wogan. But there have also been changes at Radio Five Live, many of which – no doubt to the delight of its controller – have escaped wider attention. Since Adrian van Klaveran took charge in 2008, the station has been on a downward spiral in terms of content, journalistic standards and the quality of presenters. A large amount of the station's output is anchored by Colin Murray, who cut his teeth as a Radio One DJ. Murray admits to liking NFL football and WWE wrestling and on his efforts to date, knows sod all about football or the way people in it operate.
Murray's appointment is indicative of the quite astonishing reversal in the quality of the radio station's output. Avid listener as I was, I'm all for blooding new talent but the controller seems to think that if you were reasonably good at kicking a ball, rowing a boat, running fast in a straight line or being a Radio One DJ you are a shoo-in for a broadcasting job. Robbie Savage is the latest. At the Beeb, they probably think he's funny, off the wall, edgy. He's not. He's just not very bright.
The bar is not set very high for "expert summarisers" given that Stan Collymore preceded Savage and Sally Gunnell was once an athletics commentator, but you'd think they'd know better with presenters. Eleanor Oldroyd is widely regarded as one of the very best presenters on Five Live. Last season, her Sunday lunchtime interviews with managers past and present was compelling. She has since been dropped to Thursday night with Murray taking over the weekends, accompanied on Fridays by Perry Groves and on Saturday mornings by a bunch of people you have never heard of shouting at each other. They call it "Fighting Talk". "The Pits" would be better.
But for Five Live there are more problems on the horizon. The Premier League recently awarded Five Live the rights to four of the seven broadcasting packages on offer for the next three years, two fewer than it currently has. Predictably TalkSport have two but it was a surprise that Absolute Radio won the second-choice Saturday afternoon games. Absolute was once known as Virgin Radio, which was traditionally quite strong in the south-east. So it seems a strange choice, as second-choice matches are almost certainly going to involve teams who don't have a very large following outside the M25.
Five Live will no longer have a lunchtime Sunday game, which can provide more opportunities for "comment" – and even more Colin Murray. The other concern that Five Live will surely face is whether it hang onto its talent. The excellent Mark Saggers left for TalkSport and the occasional Ray Stubbs is now an ESPN man. Where are Absolute going to recruit from? There is really only one source. "Live football is a vital foundation for us," says Van Klaveren, "and we will be working hard to ensure we offer the best and most comprehensive service for football fans that we possibly can." Many will hope this will at least involve reverting to proper sports presenters. Mike Waring