Friday, 11 January 2013

Nick Clegg on LBC

Nick Clegg's phone in on LBC was was a masterclass in making the most of an excellent opportunity.

Securing the Deputy Prime Minister's time for a weekly phone-in was a coup in itself, and the station rightly went to town when it was announced on Monday. No other serving cabinet minister has signed up to present a weekly phone-in radio show before. LBC described this as "historic". It is.

I am a big fan of what LBC does, and did a number of production shifts for them before and after Christmas. As a result I'm listening to as much as I can (whilst also staying loyal to BBC Surrey, of course, where I present a weekly show).

Throughout this week on LBC, every presenter I heard flagged up the deputy PM's debut, and the schedule was liberally sprinkled with pre-recorded trails so regular listeners knew to tune in on Thursday at 9am.

On the morning of the broadcast the entire station was geared towards turning "Call Clegg" into Event Radio. The news bulletins and the breakfast show presenter Nick Ferrari primed us, as did tweets from the main LBC account and the staff working in the building. The live video feed started rolling, the live blog kicked in ("8:45: Nick Clegg is almost ready.") and the deputy PM's name began trending, as did the hashtag #callclegg.

The broadcast itself passed off smoothly. The listeners were polite and respectful, even the one who told Nick Clegg he'd ripped up his Lib Dem membership card because the party had betrayed everything it said it stood for. That confrontation gave the bulletin and print journalists eg (Mirror, Daily Mail) their news line.

Nick Ferrari did a faultless job in pushing the DPM when his answers avoided the question, yet still backed off and gave the listeners space to make their points and have their say.

You got a sense, as the broadcast was progressing, that LBC's audience felt this was their opportunity to hold a powerful politician to account.

For me, the real masterstroke was the debrief. Rather than just leave it to the bulletins desk to pull out the strongest audio, and trail ahead to next week's appearance, in the final half hour of the breakfast show, Nick Ferrari got the station's political correspondent Tom Cheal in to talk us through the "historic" broadcast.

Tom gave some relaxed and authoritative analysis on the serious side of what the DPM and the listeners had said, mentioned that #callclegg was trending worldwide ("above Justin Timberlake at one stage") and rightly pointed out Nick had a scoop when a listener prompted Nick Clegg to reveal he owned a onesie. This, said Tom, was something that was very likely to inspire the next day's newspaper cartoonists. It did.

Onesiegate is a political sketchwriter's dream. The BBCGuardian, Telegraph and Spectator all used it to to get into their pieces and even The Independent's fashion blogger got on the case. Each article was suffused with a tone of grudging respect for LBC, which is about the highest praise you're going to get from competitors.

Back at the ranch, James O'Brien devoted the first hour of his mid-morning show to a debate on whether the listeners were prepared to see Nick Clegg in a new light as a result of his decision to do a regular phone-in on LBC.

I didn't hear all of it as I had to do something for Radio 2, but there were the beginnings of a fascinating discussion on the deputy PM's poll ratings and the direction he'd taken his party.

As I was driving the girls back from their swimming lesson yesterday evening, I tuned to LBC, heard Nick Clegg's voice and assumed I was listening to the 7pm news bulletin. No, they had taken a chunk out of Iain Dale's programme to repeat the entire half hour phone-in from 7pm. Iain (who I like a lot) has written a good blog post on Clegg's performance and what it means for the station.

In summary, the activity around a simple piece of phone-in radio was a lesson for all of us in ambition, execution and promotion. LBC is going places. Nick Clegg will be back next week.

I have not asked for permission to use the images in this post, although I have used a credit and/or linked back. If you are the copyright owner and want your image removed please let me know and I'll take it down immediately.


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