Radio Times celebrates the voices around the UK who lighten up lockdown

Eight famous faces tell us how local radio has helped them over lockdown.

Local radio has been a life-line for many over the past 12 months, and has not only provided up-to-date information about what the pandemic restrictions mean to each regional area but has importantly been a friendly, familiar voice every day for millions.

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Below, eight famous faces tell us their favourite regional radio presenters and how they’ve proven invaluable not only through lockdown, but in everyday life, too.

Richard Coles, broadcaster and vicar, on Bernie Keith, BBC Radio Northampton

I’m the vicar at Finedon in Northamptonshire, and I’ve been listening to Bernie Keith’s midweek morning show on BBC Radio Northamptonshire for about 10 years. He’s the most wonderful broadcaster. His co-presenter is his schnauzer called Riley. Bernie is very clever, very funny, and he has this extraordinarily close relationship with his listeners. He seems to understand about everything — from the latest roadworks to life itself. He has terrific brio — a sensibility a bit like Graham Norton. He knows how to go far, but not too far. He’s astringent, intelligent, not cheesy, a great advocate for local radio generally. He’s fought a good fight. He’s worked in local radio all over the place, but he’s found a home at BBC Northampton, and I’d say he was as dear to the county as the Spencers of Althorp. I’ve been a guest on the programme many times and it’s always lovely to enter the world of Bernie. There’s something compelling about him. I’m told he’s the highest-paid presenter on local radio, and he deserves to be. He’s like a national figure, but he’s local. When Bernie meets his maker there will be crowds thronging the centre of Northampton.

Eliza Carthy, musician, on Sam Hindley, Sheffield Live!

I live in Robin Hood’s Bay on the Yorkshire coast and my local radio hero is a music broadcaster on Sheffield Live!, a community radio station that does great work generally. Sam Hindley is a proper champion of folk music — fabulously enthusiastic and knowledgable. He co-presents with James Fagan a weekly show called Thank Goodness It’s Folk Music on a Friday. Sam has cerebral palsy but he doesn’t let his physical difficulties get in the way of anything. Sheffield has a tremendous folk scene and Sam is at the heart of it.

Kirill Karabits, chief conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, on Steve Harris and Sarah Farmer, BBC Radio Solent

Steve Harris and Sarah Farmer present on BBC Radio Solent and they have always been a great support to us at the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Lockdown meant the orchestra was forced to take the longest break in its 127-year history, and Sarah was there for our opening rehearsals when we finally made our return to the stage in the autumn. They’re both across every aspect of community life here on the south coast. They have such energy, and an infectious curiosity.

DJ Taylor, writer, on Rob Butler, BBC Radio Norfolk

Rob Butler does the evening show on BBC Radio Norfolk. He’s a Norwich boy and he’s very down to earth. He does a phone-in and when Norwich City are playing it’s interspersed with commentaries. Rob will go to the home games with a roving microphone. I like that he’s so interested in local culture. He manages to popularise some quite serious stuff about the area’s heritage. He does a weekly feature about the Norfolk dialect, for example, with an expert called Peter Trudgill. It’s all great stuff — an absolute validation of the principle of local radio.

Libby Purves, broadcaster and author, on Lesley Dolphin, BBC Radio Suffolk

Lesley Dolphin presents the afternoon show on BBC Radio Suffolk. She is always a pleasure to listen to — she’s cheerful, intelligent, interested, and she has always done any necessary homework. She’s never patronising and she puts even the shyest people at their ease. She’s interviewed me a few times, and what I get from her is a real sense of being pleased to talk to a community she understands, rather than wanting to be a “famous personality”.

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Ricky Ross, musician and broadcaster, on Bryan Burnett, BBC Radio Scotland

I’m going to nominate a fellow presenter on BBC Radio Scotland. Get It On with Bryan Burnett is weekdays, 6pm till 8, and is basically a request show, with Bryan picking a theme for the night. Recent themes have been Winter Songs, Secrets and Lies, and The Song that Sums Up the Year, with listeners choosing the songs. The programme could be done quite lazily but the beauty of the thing is that with Bryan every night is like the first night. He presents the show with such commitment. He has real respect for the listener. He’ll try and give people their head, and really listen to what they are telling him. He’s genuinely moved by people’s stories, and his enthusiasm for the music is tremendous. I had COVID in 2020 and was in bed for a while, and listening to Bryan really cheered me up.

Robert Bathurst, actor, on Dominic King, BBC Radio Kent

I live in East Sussex and the local radio I listen to is Johnny Cantor on BBC Sussex for commentaries on Brighton football matches, and, over the border, Dominic King on BBC Radio Kent. Dominic does an early evening midweek show, very arts-based and he fills it his own playlist. He’s really good. He’s unabashedly Kent and he celebrates Kent. He’s been kind enough to have me on the show a few times. Local radio can be grating, but Dominic just has this very engaging manner. He engages with everyone he talks to. He’s bright without being cheesy, and he’s a tremendous champion of local musicians and arts people.

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Tanni Grey-Thompson, Paralympian and member of the House of Lords, on Neil Green of BBC Radio Tees.

I live in County Durham and I’ve been listening to Neil Green for about 20 years. He’s had various slots on BBC Radio Tees, his current one as co-presenter of the breakfast show. What I like about him is he can be chatty and friendly, but at the same time ask tough questions. He’s brilliant on phone-ins. I’ve done radio presenting myself and I know how difficult they can be. Neil knows exactly how to maintain a conversation, how to end a conversation, deal with people who go off on a tangent. He’s been especially good during lockdown. Local radio relies on local events happening. Without them, Neil has had to work his socks off to make sure the show has stayed relevant. I really admire him.

This story originally appeared in the Radio Times magazine. For the biggest interviews and the best TV listings subscribe to Radio Times now and never miss a copy.