Friday 28 March 2014, 15:37
BBC Radio 5 live and I go back a long way. It was my route into radio. My earliest radio memories are listening to the football scores with my Dad during Radio Sport on Radio 2 back in 1979. Fifteen years later - a postgrad journalism student at Falmouth College - I was listening to the 5 live launch day. I was desperate to get a job in the media and looking back now I think listening to the launch must have helped me to eventually get into the trade, because it happened only a few months later: as a sports and news broadcast journalist in local radio at Radio Humberside. Jane Garvey presents 5 live's first programme broadcast at 5am 28 Mar 1994.
As a journalism student inerested in politics and sport, 5 live was a sort of dream station for me. Radio Five, it's predecessor, had been a mish-mash of children's programmes, sport, education output and some news - something a little bit more difficult for me as a listener to understand what it was exactly. But a dedicated news and sport station for the network from 1994 made more obvious sense and with more radio output needed for more live broadcasting hours, little wonder it stimulated local radio, providing more opportunities for new-starters.
Soon after I joined Humberside, I moved into TV sport as a researcher in 1996. But I realised soon after that I missed the excitement of live radio. A job as a sports bulletin producer for 5 live followed in 1998. I became Deputy Controller in 2008, and Controller just last year.
During that time, I think the station's enduring appeal has been the conversational tone which was then - and to a certain extent still is now - one of the most unique things in radio. 5 live has a largely unscripted conversation with the audience threaded through its output. Its a topical, live debate, breaking news and sport station. There are plenty of similarities with how we were as a station twenty years ago: we've stayed true to what our purpose in life is.
But there's something rather special about its spirit. Something that people who visit Salford have commented to me back in London. It's to do with the energy which comes from the 5 live operation. Energy you can hear from the output.
Putting our news and sport alongside one another has definitely energised staff - sport's reporting has benefitted news, and storytelling techniques in news have benefitted our sports journalism. Bringing those two things closer together helps share skills and experience more readily. More than that though, I believe that if you're an all-day live radio station, there's excitement from every part of the station wherever you are on the floor. It's infectious as you walk around the building here in Salford.
Of course, there's a challenge with that: you have to make all the different subject areas gel together. We've done that this week with swapping presenters around for the 20th anniversary and its really worked well, in the same way that the bringing together of Olympics and 5 live did so successfully in 2012. When it works well you can see it in the office and hear it on the radio too.
The ability to set ourselves up in Salford has had a massive effect on us too. Getting the technical side set up exactly how we needed it to be for our programmes was a great opportunity for us. Practically it made it better for us to work as one station. Inevitably, when the entire station moved, new people arrived too - so there's been a re-energising from that as well.
With any birthday, a card needs to be written. (We'll be having cake too, on Friday lunchtime, cut by our very own Peter Allen). So, what would I say in the birthday card? I suspect I'd need a big card. There are a lot of people to shout out to. First, I'd thank the people who've worked on the station over the last 20 years and cared so much about it: a committed hard-working bunch of people who love working on 5 Live and are responsible for making it all happen. But, the audience gets a share of the birthday love too, an audience with whom we have, what I think is, a unique relationship. They'll tell us when they like it and they'll also tell us when they think we've got it wrong - we really appreciate that. It's a special thing for me because it demonstrates that the audience truly are part of the shows we make, as much as the production staff and the presenters.
Thank you, all of you. Share in the birthday love. And if there's not enough cake to go round, I'll just take half a slice.
Jonathan Wall is Controller of Radio 5 live.
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