Nicholas Wheeler tries to disprove my suggestion that he resembles
a young Bruce Springsteen by digging out his idol’s 1996 calendar from
the corner of his otherwise hi-tech office.
Looks aside, the swarthy and slightly dishevelled chief editor of ITN
radio undoubtedly emulates Springsteen’s legendary energy levels.
As well as controlling the Independent Radio News (IRN) service to 133
radio stations, over the past eight months Wheeler has overseen the
adolescence of News Direct 97.3 FM. The coming of age of London’s first
continuous radio news station is marked this week by a pounds 1 million
poster and bus advertising campaign.
’I wanted to get the product right before we started telling people
about it.’ says Wheeler, ’We started broadcasting last April, running
from nine until four while we trained the team. By November it was
running around the clock, seven days a week.’
He sees great scope for the station’s ’news on demand’ service as the
Metropolis’ listeners face a growing array of niche stations and prove
increasingly promiscuous with their tuning dials.
News Direct’s unique rolling format - a 60-minute editorial rotation
with headlines every 15 minutes - is made possible by new
Each journalist has a multimedia workstation which can pull up news from
a variety of sources and edit audio at the desktop.
Wheeler regards News Direct as ’a shop’ of high quality products: ’We
use international news from ITN, City news from Reuters and travel from
AA Vodaphone Road Watch.’
Despite a team of 42 journalists, including sport and entertainment
specialists, Wheeler says there is a wealth of opportunities for PR
people due to the station’s insatiable hunger for news and the ability
to put people live on air at short notice.
Wheeler, 43, began his journalism career on local papers, entering radio
journalism in 1979 as news producer for BBC Radio Solent. ’I soon
realised how exciting radio was,’ he says, ’It’s the ultimately instant
and accessible medium.’
He found his real forte, however, in commercial radio news as editor of
the seminal The Way It Is for Capital Radio: ’It was the first programme
to try to make news popular. I worked with hugely talented people such
as head of news Matthew Bannister, and it was one of those times in life
where a whole team with different ideas is focused on the same aim.’
Wheeler progressed to Capital’s programme controller in 1994 and the
station went on to win two Sony Awards. In 1995 he moved to editor of
Independent Radio News and the rest is history.
So what’s his secret? ’The essence of any good news editor is an
affinity with your niche audience. You can teach this to a degree but a
lot is instinctive. It’s particularly difficult in London, an esoteric
place with a unique blend of international, national and local
As for career ambitions Wheeler refuses to look beyond his present
priorities: ’News Direct is my baby and a dream job for a radio
journalist. As it evolves the format will become sharper and more
refined. IRN also has huge potential.’
A relationship like this is surely born to run.
BBC Radio Solent
News producer, BBC Radio One Newsbeat
Editor, The Way It Is
Chief editor, ITN Radio