Eddie Mair: My handy guide to a new national radio network

“Don’t ask me to explain what digital radio multiplexes are. You might as well ask me to explain Mornington Crescent, or gravity”

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Jazz drowned out by chatter? From 11 February, the place on nationwide DAB digital radio that’s been used by Jazz FM will be taken over by the London talk station LBC.

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Don’t ask me to explain what digital radio multiplexes are. You might as well ask me to explain Mornington Crescent, or gravity. All I know is that while it has been possible to pick up LBC in different parts of the country (and worldwide on the web), we’re about to see the station become a truly national digital radio alternative to the BBC.

I thought I’d provide a handy guide to non-London readers who may be a little baffled by what LBC is. Perhaps you’ve picked up snippets on the news and it seems to you that Nick Clegg does the breakfast show, Boris Johnson tackles transport issues, while in all likelihood Ed Miliband doles out advice on relationship troubles, up to but not including how to deal with irksome siblings.

There’s no doubt that with some sharp ideas, well executed, LBC has made spectacular noise with some of its programmes, and its audience in London is booming. But I would draw your attention to two less headline-grabbing staples.

I’m not in a position to say Nick Ferrari does the best breakfast show on radio because I haven’t heard all of them. But it’s among the best I’ve heard. Provocative and funny; irritating and warm. It fizzes with energy. He’s deservedly won several Sony Radio Awards – though I happened to be in the room the night he was nominated for a record-breaking five awards… and came away empty-handed. He was robbed.

Are you a very early riser? Can I also recommend a man called Steve Allen? Not the American talk-show host, who hasn’t risen at any time of day for some time. Steve has been on LBC for almost all its 40 years, a feat that is hard to explain given his on-air refusal to admit he is anything older than 37.

Between 4am and 6.30am you become part of Steve’s world. He does not take calls. The show is just Steve, talking about what interests him. Like a strong black morning coffee it’s beguilingly simple but terribly addictive.

Thanks to Steve I am intimately acquainted with the streets of his native Twickenham, even though I’ve rarely been. I know which celebrities he admires and which he loathes, even though I’d have trouble picking them out of a police line-up. He creates a daily odyssey that’s a broad- casting tour de force. It’s intimate, bitchy and often laugh-out-loud funny. Again, while I can’t vouch for every radio show in the land, I doubt whether anyone is as original as Mr Allen.

I have heard him hold forth for 15 uninterrupted minutes on the subjects of buying a TV from John Lewis and been helpless with laughter. His tongue-in-cheek diatribes against “the North” are not for the faint-hearted. And only send in an email of complaint if you’re willing to be mercilessly mocked.

I know many people in the broadcasting industry, producers and presenters, who admire him because they know how hard it is to achieve what he does, apparently without effort. If 4am is too early for you, podcast him.

He’s a gifted, great, one-off. But don’t tell him, it’ll only go to his head.

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Eddie Mair presents PM, Mon–Sat 5pm, and iPM, Sat 5.45am, both Radio 4