Unlike all other media coverage of the general election, when it
comes to national radio the BBC appears to be pretty much the only name
in town. The general perception of Radio 4's Today programme, with six
million listeners, as the flagship outlet for heavy political
interviews, remains intact. But the argument of ITN-owned Independent
Radio News - that its bulletins on 250 regional stations reach 26
million people - should provide politicians with food for thought on
those crucial soundbites.
When it comes to agenda-setting, Today predictably argues it is
pre-eminent. But despite recent reports saying that much of the public
doesn't know what Radio 5 Live is, politicians appear well aware of its
value: all party leaders are scheduled to appear on Nicky Campbell's
morning phone-in show, for example.
In what may be seen as a dull election (big majority + strong poll
ratings for Labour = easy victory), the players insist there are fresh
Today's attempts to get the novelist Will Self accredited to the Tory
campaign - he was discovered in possession of heroin on a John Major
campaign flight in 1997 - makes an interesting sideshow, for one. The
1997 vogue for seeing what 'real people' think about the election will
It is certainly an interesting time for Radio 1 - never before has the
music station had a dedicated political reporter for an election. While
Polly Billington insists it is not her responsibility to get her
audience out to vote, she points out the danger in assuming that people
aged 15-24 have a different political agenda from the rest of the
country. Margaret Thatcher herself saw the logic of consenting to an
interview on Radio 1 in her 1980s heyday and Billington says that it is
too easy to overplay the young's interest in political events such as
the Seattle riots over party politics.
This means that for the first time you will be able to range across the
dial each day from the traditional sound of 'Oh, answer the question,
minister ...' to 'I'm Fatboy Slim and I think the most important
election issue is ...'.
All of which makes Billington's assurance that politicians are now aware
of the pitfalls of cosying up too much to the young even more
If nothing else, it means Tony Blair's student guitar should remain
firmly in its case for the duration.
BBC RADIO 1
Position: political reporter
'Politicians don't talk sense - they talk in jargon and slogans and
that's difficult for listeners. We try to explain issues clearly and
have voices talking about it that the audience can relate to.
'I can summarise policies, but what's more important is asking people
who know how it's going to affect them, what they think - young nurses,
doctors, mothers and students.
'There are two Newsbeats a day, at lunchtime and 5:45pm. There will
probably be one election story per day and some kind of reflection of
the campaign in breakfast bulletins. But there is nothing that's a
greater turn-off than having three politicians talking for a
minute-and-a-half. We're keeping a motto of 'less is more' on
BBC RADIO 4
Position: editor, Today
'I'm afraid it sounds arrogant, but we are the main programme for
'The nature of our interviews is interrogative, rigorous and
inquisitorial. Added to that, partly as a result of politicians becoming
more evasive, we are producing more investigative material.
'We try more often to set the agenda and we have 11 reporters, all with
some specialism now. But we also have an 'anti-election' unit whose job
is to provide a stream of foreign news and domestic non-election
'You can bore listeners to death. You shouldn't pre-plan election
coverage too much. Elections are pretty organic and you can be affected
by events on the day. It's a reactive and febrile thing.'
BBC RADIO 5 LIVE
Position: presenter, 5 Live Breakfast
'During the campaign, either myself or Victoria (Derbyshire,
co-presenter) will be out in different constituencies at different
times. I don't think there'll be a fixed thing of us talking to anyone
at a particular time each day.
'There has not been a conscious effort to put any more politics onto the
breakfast show: it's there simply on whether it merits it or not.
'Our style, which is well-established across the whole network, is more
casual than, say, the Today programme, which means I guess listeners can
take their pick.
'The party leaders will all be on Nicky Campbell's programme and Fi
Glover will be reporting from the major press conferences.'
INDEPENDENT RADIO NEWS
Position: chief editor, ITN News
'IRN provides bulletins for 250 commercial stations for 26 million
people aged 15-to- 55 and we take a middle road.
'We have a parliamentary team at Millbank to provide material. Most of
our audience is listening to pop, so we won't be putting out half-hour
magazine programmes. Short, sharp, succinct messages are the stock of
IRN, though we send out different versions of the same story - longer,
shorter, and so on - at 20 minutes to each hour.
'IRN bulletins mean people listening to music radio will hear things
they wouldn't normally. We can explain issues in many ways. And how many
people listen to the Today programme compared with how many listen to