OPINION: Radio needs to take PR lessons from reality TV

Pop Idol is probably one of the worse TV shows I've ever seen but

it also has one of the best-ever PR machines behind it - better even

than Big Brother.

I wouldn't be surprised if the PR department has a bigger budget than

the programme itself. They have fed the tabloids a regular supply of

gossip from the programme - much of it has been turned into front-page

stories. The papers have been falling over themselves to 'buy up' the

latest talentless contestant axed from the show who will reveal all

about the remaining wannabes' sex-lives or, in the case of one

contestant, a lack of a sex-life.

To make sure they are ahead of the game, the papers even do their own

phone votes and encourage their readers to vote for the 'star' of their

choice. This all helps the bookies, who never miss an opportunity to get

in on a story.

Last summer, when newspaper sales were falling and ad revenue was

disappearing, Mirror editor Piers Morgan was adamant that Big Brother

stories kept sales up, though it was the paper's more serious reporting

that won it the ' Newspaper of the Year' title.

I confess that I have never watched Pop Idol, but I also confess to

reading about it. The most telling statistic is the number of young

people who watch the programme and who vote by phone for the 'star' they

want to win.

During the final stages of the second Big Brother series last summer,

the media reported that more 18 to 25-year-olds had voted than did so in

the General Election. I remember being harangued by a couple of

teenagers to vote 'Nasty Nick' off the first Big Brother series on my

mobile in a pub - I can't imagine them trying to persuade me to vote for

'Tony' quite so vigorously.

What I find most fascinating about programmes that make instant

celebrities is that we never get to know their surnames - they are all

known only by their first names. It's as if they aren't real people,

which I suppose they aren't. At the end of the day, though, you can't

help but admire the PR machines behind these programmes.

I know I'm biased, but radio consistently provides better entertainment

than a lot of the rubbish on TV. I only wish that radio was as

successful with it's PR as the TV people. TV audiences are, in fact,

steadily falling and more people are now tuning into their radios - but

who knows about it? Why can't radio hype its programmes in the way that

TV does?

Rory Bremner came to plug his TV show on my Radio 5 Live show last

weekend, not because he loves the show, but because his PR people know

that more people are listening to the radio than watching the TV. The

number of people listening to my programme, Sunday Service, has doubled

in recent years and the number of Radio 5 Live listeners has now risen

to 6.2 million a week. The station has come a long way since it was

called 'rolling bollocks' at its launch eight years ago.

You would expect me to enthuse about 5 Live, but it's not just this

station that has seen more people tuning in. Radio 4 now has ten million

listeners and Britain's most popular station, Radio 2, now pulls in 12.3

million listeners. Even Kelvin Mackenzie's talkSPORT put on 300,000

listeners last year, giving the station a total audience of 2.4


Occasionally a radio story does make it into the newspapers. It

sometimes makes it into The Daily Telegraph that Radio 4 show Book at

Bedtime has been moved five minutes or one of The Archers characters is

having an abortion.

But I won't be happy until radio can hype its very own radio version of

Pop Idol or Big Brother, though I do, of course, hope the content will

be much better.

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