Global Radio, the owners of the last remaining talking radio station in the UK, LBC 97.3 (FM in London, and around the country via DAB), have sacked long-time drive time talk presenter James Whale.
Ok, not ‘sacked’, just not renewed his contract of the last 5 years.
And, as is the way of commercial radio operators, they just ripped him off the air. He presented Monday’s LBC drive time show oblivious to the fact that it would be his last. Once he was off air he was told he was no longer required. Until a replacement is announced the remainder of the week is in the hands of the Sports presenter from Saturdays.
Global Radio owns most of the major station networks – Capital, Heart, Classic, XFM, Choice, Gold, etc. – and part of their homogenising of commercial music radio is to make the presenter less and less important to the listener. By systematically removing ‘personalities’ from everywhere apart from breakfast shows, and replacing them with people who sound like railway station platform announcers, they are able, at a whim, to replace the voice that speaks three times an hour inbetween songs. Listeners don’t notice. One railway station announcer on the radio sounds pretty much like any other, especially when they’ve learned the Global Radio corporate ‘affected voice’ technique. This reduces the wage bill, since the ‘presenters’ are no longer ‘stars’, and allows for minimum wage employees to be shuffled in and out without the listeners noticing.
Commercial music radio is centred on the station ‘brand’, of which the ‘presenter’ is not a part. Dumping the presenter off and replacing him causes no ripples whatsoever. Listeners just don’t notice or care.
In contrast, talking radio requires the listeners to make a connection with the presenter. It’s not about the music (there isn’t any), but about what is being said and how it is being said. The personality of the voice the audience is listening to is what they are listening to. It’s what they welcome into their lives. It’s the reason they are listening.
So, throwing James Whale off the air without a chance to say goodbye is cruel and disrespectful to the listeners.
Granted, Global were probably trying to avoid something being said on air that might embarrass them. Recently the BBC, who do give their presenters plenty of advance notice of non-renewal of contracts and allow them to continue on air for some weeks, suffered the on-air ranting of Danny Baker when his BBC London show was axed. And then of course there was the final show from Chris Moyles. It took a whole month to play out, and by the end the listeners were suffering from ‘goodbye fatigue’.
Yes, getting the ‘talent’ off the air as quickly as you can does make sense in some respects, to avoid the long goodbyes. Years ago it was also to avoid them slagging off the company sacking them. These days nobody in their right mind will dare slag off the company on air. Back in the day there were so many different companies to hop to. Today, slagging off your employer on air shuts you out from any of the stations they own, and probably shuts you out of the stations owned by the few rival companies who might see you as a hot potato or loose canon. Saying anything nasty is probably career suicide (except on the BBC of course).
With this in mind, it might have been nicer to allow James Whale a dignified exit from LBC, a chance to say goodbye and maybe ‘hand on’ to his successor in the way that a politician may hand on when he is defeated at the polls.
Indeed, if they feared a rant that would have embarrassed them, why not include a pre-recorded section to the broadcast, or an ‘interview’ with the outgoing personality? They could have asked Whale to pre-record, or to keep to the corporate message and not slag them off. Indeed, since the whole output is constantly running in 10 seconds of delay, they could have ‘dumped’ anything he started to say before it got to air.
Instead, they are facing an uproar and social media (Twitter, mainly), which incidentally is 90% complimentary of James Whale, and only 10% full of anti-Whale trolling, campaigns designed to boycott and bring to the public eye the way ‘their’ afternoon broadcaster was treated by Global.
In the end its making Global look as petty and ridiculous as they looked when they banned One Direction from being played or even mentioned across their radio stations after one of them accidentally thanked Radio 1 instead of Capital Radio for an award they received.