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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Why the battle for breakfast radio listeners is taking an unexpected lie in

Which perhaps explains the decision by some stations to shift their most headline-grabbing programmes a little later. Campbell is a lead presenter for 5 Live, so this move is not a demotion; in the current listening climate, his new, later slot is a step up. Similarly, Radio 4 has begun beefing up its 9am offering with more high-profile, in-depth features.

For instance, this week Jon Ronson began presenting Things Fell Apart (Tuesday, Radio 4), tracing the surprising origin stories behind the culture wars. By culture war, Ronson says, he means “anything that people yell at each other about on social media”. The first episode explored abortion, and the history of the evangelical Christian Right’s concern with the issue in America.

Ronson told the story of how, until the 1970s, abortion was largely ignored by US evangelicals and treated as a Roman Catholic issue, until one evangelical sect made a series of short films on the subject. The films were so dramatic and galvanising that they inspired an outraged movement of evangelical anti-abortion campaigners taking increasingly extreme actions, including the bombing of clinics. A gynaecologist was shot dead in his home in front of his children. 

“I have no words to express my sorrow and the depths of my repentance for my stupidity,” said Frank Schaeffer, who had made one of the original films inspiring the movement, in a statement to Ronson. “I beg for forgiveness. I am ardently pro-choice and work to defend women’s rights.” Ronson’s programme was, as Ronson always is, observational and reserved, though never quite as unbiased as he pretends to be. Other divisive topics he plans to tackle will include QAnon, feminism and transgender identity.

Still, the first episode did what morning radio should always do: leave you with something surprising to power your thinking, discuss with your family and colleagues, and digest slowly as the day goes on. Even if it’s a little more like brunch these days, breakfast radio is still the most important meal of the day.

Have your radio listening habits changed recently as a result of the pandemic? Let us know in the comments section

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