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7AM: 24 Hours in the Life of 5 live

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Nick Duncalf Nick Duncalf | 07:00 UK time, Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Nick Duncalf in the studio with 5 live's Victoria Derbyshire

My name is Nick Duncalf-Five-Live-Travel. At least sometimes I think that's what it is. That's the name I say at the end of 15 traffic reports every morning, and after five years here at 5 live, that's a lot of mentions for my quadruple-barrelled name.

The first thing I do after I get up (very early) is turn on the TV, and watch the weather forecast while I'm drinking my tea. Especially at this time of year. What's happening with the weather can dictate how busy I'm going to be at work. Heavy snows over the past couple of winters can mean that not only am I delivering long, detailed reports on 5 live, but also extra bulletins on the TV, and fielding endless phone calls requesting snow updates.

I love being busy, but not every day thanks. So I'm quite pleased that this morning's forecast is good.

Once I arrive at work, I start checking what's happening on the roads. Our traffic information comes from sources all over the UK; police forces, the Highways Agency, local taxi firms, anyone who's out there and can tell us what's going on. Of course listeners are also a brilliant source of info, and a call reporting an accident to the 5 live Travel Hotline can often mean I'm reporting on it long before it's officially confirmed by the police.

I've also got access to the network of traffic cameras operated by the Highways Agency, so these days not only do I know how many lanes are blocked on the M25, I can tell you the colour of the car that's broken down, and exactly which tyre has been punctured. It may not be vital information, but I've sat in enough traffic jams to know that the more information you have on what's holding you up, the more reassuring it can be.

I've worked at other radio stations, and the great thing about working at 5 live, and particularly on the Breakfast programme, is that you're part of a large team of people working to make the best programme you can. There's such a lot going on all the time, both out in the newsroom, and in the studio. This morning Shelagh and Phil (who's sitting in for Nicky while he's away) have managed to cram in conversations about the AV voting system, recycling bins, a shake-up of the benefits system, and exactly where an adductor muscle is.

Plus Vassos Alexander and I managed to have an on-air trivia-off about when the phrase "the shot heard round the world" was first heard. Vassos said the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in 1914. I said "something to do with a baseball game" (I'm not good with details). Rather predictably, we were both wrong, as it's a line from Ralph Waldo Emerson's poem "Concord Hymn" about the American Revolutionary War. Of course we both tried to save face, but 5 live listeners are pretty sharp and the texts had come flooding in: we knew we were beaten.

Next up, the Phone-In. Or as it's rather more snappily called these days, 5 live Breakfast: Your Call. Normally it's Nicky, but it's Shelagh today. As well as doing my usual traffic reports, I read out a range of texts, Facebook posts and emails addressing the day's topic. The programme's editor selects which are suitable for broadcast (unsurprisingly given the heated nature of these debates, many aren't), and then I choose a selection to read out. It's more of a challenge than it sounds: it's important that there's a range of views represented. Also important that I don't flatten the texts out by reading them in a monotone, but you can't put too much character in or it ends up sounding like I'm one of those voiceover artists reading letters on Points of View...

And then for the final two hours of my shift, on the Victoria Derbyshire programme. I'll tell you something about working on Victoria's show: you need to be on your toes. Victoria is covering the day's unfolding stories, conducting interviews, talking on air to listeners. She's got screens in front of her detailing callers, texts, and tuned to all the TV news channels. It can be chaotic, it's always energetic, and I seem to spend a lot of time running from my desk to the studio because I'm needed early or at late notice as the programme is in constant flux. I'm surprised I haven't worn that carpet out, I must be light on my feet.

By lunchtime I'm ready to go home. And while I'm a 5 live listener, I'll tell you what I don't do when I'm at home: listen to the traffic reports. Too much like work I'm afraid.

A final word: if anyone who works in radio tells you it's not glamorous, don't listen to them. I was once undergoing a (routine) medical examination, and let's just say I wasn't wearing all my clothes at the time... The doctor looks at his notes, puts his cold hand somewhere I'd rather he didn't, and says to me: "Mr Duncalf...are you Nick Duncalf-Five-Live-Travel"?

Related Links
Check out the time-lapse video of the 5 live newsroom

Read the first blog entry for 24 Hours in the Life of 5 live by Breakfast's Chris Hunter

Nick Duncalf is one of 5 live's travel presenters


  • Comment number 1.

    Nick Duncalf has written a great piece about a frenetic daily shift. Bright bloke, probably wasted on this job...............

  • Comment number 2.

    Although I've seen him on the TV News from time to time it's good to know a little more about this broadcaster: I've thought for a long time that he brings detail and character to traffic reports on 5 and on Radio 2 in a way that the others don't.


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