Friday, 17 October 2008

Being Stephen Nolan

It's been a busy week. It started with a 7 hour journey to Manchester on Sunday (thank you Virgin and your incredibly smelly trains) to present Stephen Nolan's show on BBC Radio 5 live.

I'd spent most of that time trying and failing to sleep. By the time I arrived (late) I was a semi-coherent wreck and was, of course, thrust straight into the studio to talk to Dominic Littlewood about Strictly Come Dancing and the Bishop of Lancaster about gay adoption.

The interview with Dominic was not great, but I had warmed up a bit by the time it came to the Bish. It contrasted my style with Stephen's. He likes to go for the jugular, ripping specious arguments apart. I prefer to give people enough rope and let the audience make up their own minds.

Doing what Stephen does takes some balls - you have to be very confident in your own rhetorical skills and certain that even if you are arguing the toss with someone on a subject they may have studied at length for weeks or months, you can go toe-to-toe with them, live on air. I am always acutely aware of my lack of knowledge on a subject, but even I can see some gaping holes (don't even think it) in the churches' problems with homosexuality.

Curiously, I just didn't want to go on the attack. Whether its because I don't want to unnecessarily antagonise a large chunk of the audience, or whether I'm worried about exposing my own prejudices, or whether it is just having aired the argument, and explored it fully, people are perfectly capable of making up their own mind without me having too much to do with the shaping of their views, I don't know. But it made me realise that even if I was capable of doing what Stephen Nolan does, I wouldn't do it.

So why do they hire me to do Stephen's job? I guess they don't. I guess they hire me to do a job on Stephen's show in my own style, and they like me enough and think Stephen's audience will tolerate me whilst remaining entertaining enough to stop the casual 5live listener from switching off.

As I have absolutely no idea how many people are listening when I cover Nolan or Bacon (it's frankly impossible to measure the impact of a stand-in presenter on the radio unless it's for an entire quarter (the period a rajar diary - the way radio listeners are measured)) it's very hard to know whether you are gaining or losing listeners during a show. I guess I shouldn't worry too much about it.


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