Emma Barnett: the wit of 5 Live listeners gets me through the news misery

The radio presenter says jokes and poems sent in from listeners make the headlines a bit less gloomy

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Regardless of how you voted in the EU referendum last June, one thing neither side signed up for were brain-numbingly boring radio or TV programmes.

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While Brexit negotiations may be posing the biggest challenge to Whitehall mandarins and government ministers since the Second World War, they’re also testing news editors, producers and broadcasters alike to bring this Brussels trudge to life – day in, day out. Especially now Theresa May’s team has finally started publishing the UK’s sexily entitled “position papers”, aka our opening negotiating stances.

Buckle up, folks – we’ve got at least 18 months more of this stuff, and that’s not even counting the “time-limited transition period” we’ve been promised. We’ll get through it together, I swear.

Jokes aside, our role as journalists has never been more crucial, as all involved must be held to account on the many technical details of arguably the most important deal to be negotiated in modern peacetime Britain.

I raise this because August used to be the silly season for news – but no more. The headline on a recent edition of The Big Issue perfectly summed up the season that has just been: “The Summer of Love and Hate”. It was referring to the race riots in Detroit in 1967 as a lens through which to view the USA then and now, but the title also works to describe the tragic and depressing news agenda of late.

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From the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, that saw the death of one woman and 19 people injured, to the two deadly terrorist attacks in Spain and, closer to home, the horrendous Grenfell Tower fire in June, it’s been an undeniably harsh and devastating summer.

And yet, the survivors battle on and so do the rest of the us – hoping for better and finding, where we can, laughter through the tears.

It’s that good-humoured human nature I want to address – specifically from my witty Radio 5 Live listeners. Every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday morning, we craft a programme to inform, enlighten, provide answers from our law-makers and hopefully entertain, too.

But it is you, the listeners, I have relied upon to do the latter. A few weeks ago, when the new Premier League season began, I asked the listeners to send me odes to their football team or favourite player. And my, did they deliver. Take this gem from James, a listener in York:

Premier League? I don’t give a stuff.

Wasting our time with this arrogant guff.

Obsessed with the money, the fans left behind,

The beautiful game sacrificed on a corporate shrine.

For true sport, true passion, I know where my loyalty lies…

Give me York City, every time

Neither did they let me down on National Tell a Joke Day, with one listener texting in her favourite gag: A duck was about to cross the road when a chicken ran up and said, “Don’t bother. You’ll never hear the end of it.”

So I want to use this esteemed Radio Times perch to say a huge thank you to the warm-hearted and generous listeners of 5 Live for keeping us all going – in good times and, sadly, in bad times, too. I can’t tell you how much we all appreciate it on the other side of the glass. By Emma Barnett

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Emma Barnett presents 5 Live Daily, Wed—Fri 10am Radio 5 Live