Friday 8 February 2013

Matthew Bannister

Matthew visited Avenue Campus where he opened a radio production room bearing his name before taking part in a Northampton Chronicles special.

For the Northampton Chronicles Matthew was in conversation with his former BBC colleague Kate Williams, now Senior Lecturer in Broadcast Journalism. Matthew talked the audience through his media career, from BBC Greater London Radio to BBC World Service, via BBC Radio 1 and Capital.

“My love of radio came from my dad, a passionate radio fan”, explained Matthew. “I fell in love with comedy and the imaginative pictures the radio can paint.” This passion led him to a career in news at both Radio 1 and Capital Radio. He described Capital Radio as fun, a station with a very different agenda to the BBC, which would report on Rod Stewart’s divorce over EU policy every time.

In 1993, Matthew joined Radio 1 as controller. He led a period of radical change, in a bid to attract a younger audience. “The BBC is like a vicar in trainers at the youth club,” Matthew explained, “[it is] not at ease with young people”. After dramatically changing the staff – and being dubbed ‘Mr Nasty’ by the tabloid press in the process – Matthew brought in new presenters including Jo Whiley, Steve Lamacq, Chris Evans, Trevor Nelson and Zoë Ball.

Under Matthew’s leadership, Radio 1 strived to be different to everything else available. “The luxury of public funding allows you to take risks. Only the BBC should take the risk of offending people,” he explained. “Can you be both popular and different? I believe you can.”

The BBC’s service to the public was paramount in communicating news on the day of the London bombings. When asked for advice on dealing with such an event, Matthew commented: “First rule: be absolutely clear about what you know and don’t know. Do not speculate, unless you clearly say that you are speculating. Your job is to keep calm for listeners. “[Crises like this] are when the BBC plays to its strengths.”

Matthew ended his Northampton Chronicles session with his top tips for the University of Northampton’s journalism students: “You’ve got to really want this. How do you stand out from the crowd? You need passion. You need commitment. People will crush you in the rush to get the job.”

The next Northampton Chronicles will feature Fiona Chesterton, former Commissioning Editor at Channel 4, at 1pm on Thursday 14 February. Fiona’s conversation will take place in Newton Main Hall, Avenue campus.

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