The week in audio: Boom Radio; The Simon Mayo Drivetime Show; Penny Smith

There’s hot competition among stations moving in to capture middle-aged listeners left cold by modernisation at Radio 2

Boom Radio
The Simon Mayo Drivetime Show Greatest Hits Radio
Penny Smith Scala Radio

When Boom Radio was launched a few weeks ago, I was surprised. Not at the creation of a new niche radio station – they’ve been popping up like, um, podcasts for the past few years – but because the listeners’ age is acknowledged as the defining hook. Usually, radio stations are linked to an era (Absolute 60s, 70s, 80s, and on for ever), or a music genre (Capital Xtra, Jazz FM, Union Jack Rock). To clearly link a station with a specific generation is unusual, at least in the UK. Though we do have Fun Kids and CBeebies Radio, I suppose.

Anyway, Boom Radio has come about because its owners, the very experienced Phil Riley and David Lloyd, think they’ve found a way they can snaffle some Radio 2 listeners. As 2 gradually refreshes its presenter lineups, the music selection and overall atmosphere is changing, too. Zoe Ball (50) and Sara Cox (46) might be middle-aged, but their background is in clubbing, so they mix pop hits with house or hip-hop tracks. Essentially, on Radio 2, the likelihood of hearing Toto’s Africa has been diminished, and you’re even less likely to hear Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich. Boom Radio thinks it can cater for those who miss Toto and Tich.

As it’s my job, I’ve listened to Boom Radio. It’s not for me. I’m Generation X, so perhaps that’s why, but I don’t think so. The main problem with defining listeners according to their age is that this negates their taste. An alternative music lover (or a raver, or a hip-hop fan) tends to remain so even as they grow older – which is exactly why so many stations use music genre as identity. Boom Radio caters for people who don’t really worry about music as long as it’s familiar. Perhaps they can bring themselves to listen to the frankly awful Never Gonna Fall in Love Again by Dana followed by Jim Dale’s Be My Girl. It was beyond my capabilities. Still, presenters include David “Diddy” Hamilton, who is as sweet and likable as ever, and there are many listeners who will find a home at Boom, even though it makes me want to die and, simultaneously, kill.

Anyway. Joining in with trying to nick some Radio 2 listeners is Bauer’s Greatest Hits Radio, which, if you were being mean, could be seen as Smashie and Nicey FM. The station has been busily recruiting names familiar from late 1980s Radio 1 such as Mark Goodier, Janice Long and Paul Gambaccini, and has pulled off a coup by landing the popular Simon Mayo in its Drivetime slot. Drivetime was, of course, the show Mayo hosted for years at Radio 2, until he was pushed out via a forced pairing with Jo Whiley.

(Schedule refreshment can be tricky. There’s a much less bloody rejig happening on 6 Music weekends: last week it was announced that Liz Kershaw’s Saturday afternoon slot will be taken over by Jamz Supernova, and Tom Robinson replaced on his Saturday night show by the Blessed Madonna, real name Marea Stamper. Despite some listener grumbles, Jamz and Stamper will do very well, I think, and Robinson is continuing with Now Playing @6Music on Sundays.)

Back to Greatest Hits Radio. Mayo launched his new show on Monday and it was, unsurprisingly, a joy. The music switchbacked between absolute bangers like ELO’s Mr Blue Sky and Abba’s Take a Chance on Me to, oh God, yup, Toto’s Africa. Mayo was clearly thoroughly enjoying himself, as were sports presenter Matt Williams and producer Suzi Purdie and, judging by their emails, the listeners. Mayo’s links mostly consisted of reading out these cheery missives, along with good-luck wishes from the likes of Gary Barlow and Tony Hadley: there was no small sense of vindication. New features such as Three Steps to Seven were teed up alongside old Mayo favourites, such as Confessions. We were reminded of previous Confessions classics, such as the one where a woman came home without her keys, tried to get in via the cat flap and got stuck: head inside, the rest of her not.

Scala presenter Penny Smith.
Radio Scala’s Penny Smith. Photograph: Eamonn M McCormack/Getty Images for Costa Book Awards

Up against Mayo at his last on-air home, Scala Radio, is Penny Smith. Smith has been in her new slot since the beginning of March. Though she occasionally stumbles, she’s an extremely likable, well-researched host, cheerfully moving between discussing Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty and chatting to a garden expert. Her biggest problem is lack of listener interaction. It’s easy when you have a readymade audience, much harder when you don’t. Smith will be fine, but her job is harder than Mayo’s.

Three shows about what lurks beneath

Into the Grey Zone

Into the Grey Zone
Apple podcasts
This bingeable nine-part series is hosted by Deborah Haynes, foreign affairs editor of Sky News. The clever Haynes demonstrates how, these days, hostile countries are engaged in waging a weaponless nearly-war with other countries almost all the time, whether that’s by stirring up social media rows, influencing foreign politicians, utilising pet journalists, or putting novichok in a perfume bottle and staging the first chemical weapons attack in Europe since the second world war. Haynes’s tone is a bit relentless and the music is OTT, but she interviews everyone from MI5 officers and cybersecurity experts to the former director of the CIA. Immensely interesting.

Naga Munchetty

Naga Munchetty
BBC Radio 5 live
On Tuesday, 5 live’s Naga Munchetty spent much of her show talking to gymnasts and their parents about the abuse that children have suffered in the sport: bullying, grooming, body-shaming, ignoring injuries. Callers told of how, if a complaint was not serious enough for a police investigation, it went back to British Gymnastics, who, allegedly, would busily brush it under the carpet. And how (unlike, say, swimming or football) no parents are allowed to watch their children in a gymnastics class… Seventeen former gymnasts, all women, are suing British Gymnastics for negligence and breach of duty, and 400 people have made submissions to a review into abuse throughout the sport.


The Doodler
This is a new investigative series concerning the deaths of several gay men in mid-1970s San Francisco. All the usual true-crime hooks – unsolved murders; probable serial killer – plus the added icky frisson of the murderer sketching his victims before killing them. Unbelievably, there were two other serial killers on the loose in SF at the same time (and one was the Zodiac Killer), plus the gay community and the police had a difficult relationship, so these cases weren’t given proper priority. San Francisco Chronicle reporter Kevin Fagan is our host, but so far there’s not much to go on. Perhaps this will improve; the series hopes to trigger memories of anyone involved in the local gay scene at the time.


Miranda Sawyer

The GuardianTramp

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