Jo Whiley & Simon Mayo – The New Radio 2 Drivetime Show

Give it time. That’s what they asked for. And it was only fair. But two months on, and I am still reading letters in the Radio Times lamenting the demise of the Drivetime show, as was, on Radio 2. How much time do you give someone to bed in? Is it still too early to judge? Maybe, but I thought I’d give my current verdict on the state of play.

If you didn’t know, back in May, BBC Radio 2 had a bit of a schedule revamp. It led to Simon Mayo, of said Drivetime show, joining forces with Jo Whiley (of the as was 8-10pm slot) for a brand-new three hour show featuring the best in new music, guests from the arts, and regular features. Much like the rest of the Radio 2 listening family, I didn’t quite understand the reason behind the move. If it ain’t broke then don’t fix it, as the old adage goes. And this was certainly the case with Drivetime. The camaraderie between Simon, Matt and Bobby Pryor was wonderfully natural. It felt like spending two hours every evening eavesdropping on a family get-together. Laughter aplenty; fun always to be had. So why change it? In an interview with the Radio Times, the head of BBC Radio, Bob Shennan, explained:

The changes we’ve made have been in order to make sure we keep fresh and relevant for all audiences. You have to keep replenishing at the younger end, but not in a way that deprives anyone.

Speaking as a younger listener (of 27 years old) I would say that the Drivetime show was fresh and relevant to all audiences. You could tell this not only by my listening to it but by the number of children and families ringing up to ‘All Requests Friday’. In a sense, the show represented the best of family entertainment: ‘Homework Sucks’ for the kids, ‘Confessions’ for the adults’, and lots more in between. So why change it? One of the suggestions I have heard mentioned is the need to get a female voice into the prime-time schedule. In terms of equality, I can understand this. But the problem is that this move feels like a shoehorn. And the reason is because it probably is. In my opinion, it would have made far more sense to give one of the current presenters a P45. (Personally, I much prefer Sara Cox of a morning to Chris Evans, and Jo Whiley has done a fine job filling in for Steve Wright in the afternoons before now). Better still, and simply undergo changes naturally, as has been the case with The Blues Show. Incidentally, the choice of Cerys Matthews as the retiring Paul Jones’ successor has been a wise and inspired one. Instead, we are left with an enforced change that doesn’t sound like it will ever be undone. Bob Shennan, in the Radio Times (7-13th July edition), again:

I’m delighted that two of Radio 2’s most popular presenters, Jo and Simon, are now presenting a brand-new show each weekday, which I’m confident will become one of the network’s most listened to shows.

I sincerely hope that he’s right. There is still time to be proved wrong. But, again, how long do you give it?

It’s not terrible by any means. The sessions that they have had with musicians such as George Ezra and Lily Allen have actually worked really well. They are probably the most natural part of the show. The ‘New to 2’ slot is definitely a winner (with extra brownie points from me for their inclusion of Catherine McGrath and Ward Thomas so far!). But the Confessions, although still entertaining, are just not quite the same without that camaraderie I initially mentioned. There’s something quite flat about it all. Plus, the extra hour that the show is on for doesn’t seem to count for anything. The old Drivetime was tightly packed and beautifully ordered. Now, there is far too much space. As a result, there ends up being a lot of back-to-back tracks which, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But when you enjoyed the conversation between the three presenters and the regular features in between the music, then to replace it with near wall-to-wall music isn’t exactly an improvement.

I know that many listeners to the specialist music shows on afterwards have also had a problem with their later start time of 8pm. For some, this is now too late. 7pm was the perfect time for them, and to some degree, I am inclined to agree, although it’s not made a huge difference for me personally. On the other hand, as an avid listener to Bob Harris Country, it’s actually been rather wonderful to hear that a whole new bunch of listeners have tuned in and discovered country music as a result of the later start time (one assumes that this has been similar for other 8pm specialist music shows too). I’m all for more converts to country in that sense!

Perhaps the most puzzling and pointless segment that, in a way, sums up the feelings of many towards this new show though is the box of badges given out to interviewees and ‘End of Days’ players alike. For an audio-only medium, I find this idea most bizarre. As bizarre as the decision to revamp the Drivetime show actually. But as much as we can all wish for it to go back to normal, the reality is that it’s now gone. Finished. Matt isn’t coming back. The showstoppers won’t be returning. I will, of course, carry on listening. It will take more than this to cause me to divorce my beloved radio station. And who knows, perhaps, once I get over the loss of the old, the new will start to grow on me a lot more. Give it time, and maybe we’ll come round. Maybe it’s still too early to judge. Perhaps it is only right that we give them even more time. In any case, what is the alternative? The Jo & Simon show, it seems, is here to stay.

Check it out for yourself here.

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