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The end of Today?

29 June 2020

By Jamie Williams (Senior Executive) and Tim Le Couilliard (Senior Executive)

Times Radio hit the airwaves at 6AM this morning. Available across DAB, online, the app and via smart speakers (isn’t everything now?), the station aims to offer “thought-provoking news and conversation.” Haven’t we heard that one before? 

So, how did its first day go? Well, for starters, some people had some trouble tuning in. Times Radio Malawi saw an impressive bounce in their figures as Amazon’s Alexa diverted listeners to the African Radio station. However once listers made it to the correct station, it became apparent that the line-up was impressive. Times Radio kicked off with the most sort over guest in the land: The Prime Minister. Heightened by the government’s on-off boycott of the Today Programme, Boris’ interview was a big boost for the station giving only his third broadcast interview of the year, and first since returning to work following his personal fight with Covid-19. Given he hasn’t appeared on the Today Programme since October 2019 (and to think what’s happened since then…), this is quite the statement from Downing Street.

Interestingly, the interview took place at 8:05, just five minutes before Sir Keir Starmer appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme. The famous 8:10 slot on Today has been renowned for driving the news agenda, with interviews often making a splash on the next day’s front pages. There is no doubt that the timing of the PM’s keynote interview on Times Radio was a statement of intent: to remove Today from its perch as Britain’s most influential breakfast radio news show. 

Bought by Murdoch in 2016, Wireless Group runs the station. And there is no doubt that Murdoch has splashed the cash to secure a notable line-up of presenters. Names include BBC’s former deputy political editor, John Pienaar, and the former Times Red Box editor, Matt Chorley. 

Listening into the station throughout the day, there is certainly a unique style. The tone is softer than its counterparts, with a clear objective to stay well clear of the combative style which has come to characterise Today and Good Morning Britain. Interviews also seem more personal, with both interviewees and interviews sharing their own real-life experiences, rather than simply regurgitating PR speak. 

Another reflection upon listening was the clear intention to hear from different geographies. The Times newspaper is known for its impressive presence in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the station is building upon this local knowledge. It has emerged that the station is broadcasting one show a day from Manchester. There is clearly an attempt not only to reflect the views of London but also the “forgotten regions”. One benefit of Times Radio, in comparison to its competitors such as LBC, is the impressive range and depth of foreign correspondents who have been drafted in to give their expert views on global events. 

In an interview last week the stations’ Launch Director Stig Abell stated that Times Radio primary intension is to produce “useful” content for its audience; output that is considered by expert-driven analysis and news that the audience does not already know. This is a difficult feat in a social media world which delivers news at lightning speed to your pocket. During the last decade, LBC has risen in popularity and Nick Ferrari’s breakfast show has taken viewers away from Today. So is Times Radio just another radio station entering an already crowded market, or will this shake up the radio landscape? Time will tell.