The nation is all ears ahead of the launch of a digital radio station from the group that owns The Times and Sunday Times newspapers.

If one thing has characterised lockdown, it is our need for excellent things to listen to at all times. If we have to empty the dishwasher quite so often, we need some audio stimulation to do it by, right? Podcasts and audio books have served us well, but so, it seems, has radio, that seemingly old-fashioned medium.

Now, News UK, the group that owns The Times and The Sunday Times newspapers, is bringing us a brand-new, ad-free, national radio station: Times Radio.

Launching at 6am on Monday June 29, the digital station will offer news, discussion and commentary and is thought to be a direct rival to BBC Radio 4.

Though plans for Times Radio predate coronavirus (some say News UK’s CEO, Rebekah Brooks, had begun to conceive it back in 2016), the timing of its launch is hugely convenient.

According to The Times: ‘Radio stations have reported a rise in listening during the lockdown, as audiences seek company, distraction and reliable information.’

Stig Abell, the station’s launch director, hopes Times Radio will be ‘a new destination for those people hungry for quality reporting and trusted, expert analysis’.

The station will be available on DAB, online and via smart speakers. Though there will be no commercial breaks, advertisers will be able to sponsor sections of the schedule.

The effervescent line-up of presenters reads like a roll call of the best broadcast journalists in the country. In fact, the list sounds almost too good to be true.

Former BBC deputy political editor John Pienaar will be the drive-time presenter from Monday to Thursday; his brief will be to deal with the issues of the day in Westminster and beyond.

He has said: ‘I’m beyond excited to be part of the newest digital venture under the oldest and greatest title in journalism.’

The gravelly voiced Mariella Frostrup is to host afternoons from Monday to Thursday, looking at topical social and family issues, as well as arts and culture.

She has said: ‘This is such an exciting time to be delivering a live radio programme when trusted and accessible news and big ideas for a changing future are essential.

‘I’m excited that Times Radio have given me the chance to create an ambitious show covering topical news, lifestyle and culture – with some levity along the way – that I hope will become a fixture in listener’s lives. I’m honoured to number among the stellar line-up they’ve assembled.’

Giles Coren and Hugo Rifkind too will bring their quick wit and intelligence to their own shows.

The station’s chief political commentator will be the swoonsome Tom Newton Dunn, who is leaving The Sun after 16 years to join Times Radio. He says: ‘We hope to do everything a little differently and give listeners warmth with intelligence. The world of broadcast is a great new challenge that I can’t wait to throw myself into.’

Newton Dunn will join Gloria De Piero in a Sunday morning show being dubbed ‘G&T’. It will ‘comprise news-making interviews with leading politicians on the big issues of the moment together with a leisurely and informed look through the Sunday papers with a range of guests’.

Making the most of their social media profiles, former Conservative Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, and her daughter, Flora Gill, will have a slot in which to talk about their different takes on the world. (Rudd says she is looking forward to ‘putting Flora in her place’.)

Award-winning Times columnists Rachel Sylvester and Alice Thomson will host a series of interviews in which they talk to leading figures – including Tony Blair, Kirstie Allsop and Brian Cox – about how overcoming the challenges of their early lives shaped the people they have become.

Describing Times Radio in a piece in The Guardian, the media expert Roy Greenslade wrote: ‘Imagine BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, broadcast for three hours each weekday and two on Saturday, running for an anticipated 20-hour stretch.’

But can a bunch of print journalists necessarily pull off a radio station in a highly competitive market? Writing in the New Statesman, Jasper Jackson says: ‘The success of podcasts from print organisations has provided proof of concept – add to that the expertise and infrastructure from News UK’s radio stations, and the Times is in a strong position.’

Here at the Good Web Guide, we are waiting with bated breath to welcome an ambitious new way to consume our news.

By Becky Ladenburg
June 2020

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Becky Ladenburg

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