Live talk radio at its best should be something like a swan. On the
surface, a beautiful white feathered bird glides gently across the
water, underneath the legs are paddling frantically and the water froths
up like it’s boiling.
When it comes to Five Live’s breakfast programme, editor Bill Rogers is
the hardest working pair of swan’s legs in the business. Ratings
continue to rise, with over ten per cent of the population tuning in
each week, and this year the prestigious Sony awards not only handed out
a gong for best station to Five Live but created a new award for best
news presentation and gave it to the breakfast programme.
Rogers describes the show, which puts out 15 hours of live programming a
week, as controlled chaos. There can be strenuous times, such as last
Sunday, when the expected guests just don’t show up and the team have to
fill for half an hour, and there can be thrilling times, such as when
the bomb went off at the Olympics in Atlanta two minutes before the show
went on air and Jane Garvey was standing by in the US to feed reports
through as the situation developed.
‘When we can rely on our information I don’t have a problem with
exposing the workings of the show and letting the listeners in on what’s
happening,’ he says. ‘I think that gives the show the real feel of news
radio - that you can get the facts faster than anyone else and get them
to the audience before anyone else can.
‘We’ve done it particularly strongly with our reports of the Dunblane
tragedy and the assasination of Yitzak Rabin.’
Rogers’ love of journalism started during his time at university. He
went to St Catherine’s College, Cambridge where he read law. ‘Well,
barely read it,’ he says. ‘There are a lot of long words in law books.
‘I think I earned the worst third that the university had handed out. I
was spending too much time on student journalism. Law was never really
an option. When I graduated I only applied for two jobs, at the BBC and
J Walter Thompson. JWT offered me a job as a copywriter but I opted for
the BBC to the detriment of my pocket.’
He joined the BBC news training scheme, became a sub-editor at Ceefax
and then moved into radio when he realised how easy it was. He worked on
Radio One’s Newsbeat where his proudest moment was a 15-minute special
on the day the pound reached parity with the dollar where there were 15
separate interviews from all around the world.
He can also claim to have played a key role in designing the BBC’s
state-of-the-art news and current affairs HQ in White City as a kind of
journalists’ ‘user representative’. In the end, budgets were cut and the
centre was never built.
Rogers’ one great regret in life, as a dedicated Everton fan, is his
uncomfortable proximity to Arsenal’s Highbury stadium. Starved of Scouse
soccer, he’s felt compelled to attend Arsenal home games to get a
football fix. But does his Merseyside devotion mean that Everton are
always the network’s top sporting story? ‘Not as far as I’m aware,’ says
Rogers. ‘We do have a lunchtime editor who I think distorts his
bulletins in favour of the Arsenal, but I’m not going to mention his
1979 Producer, Newsbeat
1987 Special assistant to the White City project
1990 Assistant editor Radio 4’s Today programme
1993 Editor, The Breakfast Programme