Hurricane Danny 

1 November 2012

Danny Baker appears to be one of those presenters you either love or hate with a passion, but either way he’s difficult to ignore altogether as a permanent fixture of the London airwaves for many years. But today all of this abruptly came to an end as he discovered he had lost his presenting job with the minimum of notice. Listen to some of the highlights of his final BBC Radio London show here, or you can catch his final show on the iPlayer whilst it is still there.

Baker’s one of those modern rarities, namely the complete opposite of a typical anodyne modern radio presenter who frequently just seems to be there for the ride and to not upset anyone or anything. Once upon a time, radio was full of similarly loud personalities such as Kenny Everett, Emperor Rosko, Adrian Juste, Steve Wright, etc., but now these personality people have largely been banished to the margins even on BBC radio stations which are supposedly more adventurous with their presenter choices compared to “play it safe” commercial radio.

Even Steve Wright on Radio 2 these days has predominantly done away with the mad voices and zoo atmosphere – even if it was a concept borrowed from American DJ Rick Dees – that characterised his Radio 1 stint, and everything has to be thoroughly pre-checked these days courtesy of a certain ‘Sachsgate’ incident striking fear into the BBC’s middle management. True spontaneity has been been shown the exit for fear of upsetting too many people, which has also had an unwanted byproduct of reducing the distinction between the BBC and its commercial competitors.

Indeed over at Radio 1, Scott Mills is about as exciting as it gets on daytime these days since the departure of Chris Moyles (another love-or-hate personality who could be highly controversial), though Mills is odds-on favourite to be edged out of the station on the next reshuffle purely because he’s now the wrong side of 40. (This is despite Greg James sounding like a copycat Mills despite being circa 20 years younger.) Nick Grimshaw may be a competent presenter but hardly sets the world alight with his originality, and parts of Radio 1 now bear a greater resemblance to older local radio features in terms of their character.

Hardly ground-breaking by any standards.

Of course it was the manner in which Baker departed from BBC Radio London that caused most consternation, and nobody could honestly expect anything less from someone like him especially as management perhaps foolishly allowed him to go on air for one last time after he was told of his dismissal. He was not going to go quietly into the night, that was for sure.

Baker was deeply scathing of the BBC’s management, accusing them of being naïve and hopelessly out of touch amongst several other things, and much of the criticism is perhaps valid under the circumstances even if it could equally apply right across the media industry. (Look at the current state of Channel 4 for an even narrower world view, aided and abetted by the prejudice(s) of its advertisers and sales teams.)

So where did it all go horribly wrong for Baker’s local radio career to end this way, and what remaining lessons (if any) still have to be learnt by BBC management?

Superficially it appears at this stage that the demise of Danny Baker’s radio slot ties in with cutbacks being made to BBC local radio across the board as part of the continuing “Delivering Quality First” initiative set in motion by Mark Thompson. Local radio was initially destined to have even more savage cutbacks but the resulting protests caused a change of heart in this regard and more money was subsequently found to at least ensure the greater preservation of BBC local radio services.

But all of this inevitably has a downside. I’ve stated before that BBC management appears to have a blinkered view of local radio in general; local radio was on management’s hitlists because of its generic phone-ins and chat aimed at an older audience, therefore local radio restructuring was initially devised to network (and therefore dispose) of a perceived duplication of resources. And when people protested at the cutbacks, a misguided perception of what local radio was all about may have caused the wrong parts of local radio stations to be preserved as a byproduct of this skewed way of thinking.

Hence Danny Baker may have been dispensed with partly because of this narrow mindset of what bits of local radio were truly worth preserving; management cannot ‘unlearn’ overnight years and years of neglect when it came to local radio and what it means to people in a region. Oh, and perhaps it was also because of his expense compared to a provincial local radio presenter, never mind the fact that his show caters for one of the largest capital cities in Europe.

So why wasn’t Danny Baker’s show networked on other BBC local radio stations in order to to cut costs that way? Perhaps he sounded a bit too ‘London’ for a BBC trying to self-consciously devolve into regional units in order to further justify itself (think Salford, the promotion of other regional accents on TV and radio, etc.); a networked radio presenter with a London accent could give a possibly false impression of London continuing to impose its will on the rest of the UK, especially on BBC local radio stations, for better or for worse.

All things considered, this upset couldn’t have come at a worse time for the BBC’s management; itself reeling from the currently-ongoing Jimmy Savile scandal that has placed immense pressure upon everyone regardless of their involvement in the saga, therefore what might otherwise have been a medium-sized upset threatens to take on a whole new and very unwelcome dimension in itself. Danny Baker may well get another job either at the BBC or elsewhere as a result of all the protests – 6 Music seems to be a favoured option – but all of this still doesn’t do the BBC any favours whatsoever.

Just a week ago I thought that the BBC was still relatively safe as a public institution despite certain sections of the media trying to capitalise on the Savile scandal as a means of revenge post-Leveson inquiry, but that state of affairs would largely depend on the integrity of BBC management being maintained as investigations are ongoing. Having a PR death wish in the form of Danny Baker’s dismissal mishandling might ultimately prove to be be one misstep too many under these admittedly unusual circumstances, especially if George Entwistle is subsequently forced to resign as a result of being too close to the Newsnight/Savile scandal because that would cast doubt over those who appointed him as Director-General in the first place.

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