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A few years ago, the format of our local commercial radio station changed dramatically, following a change of ownership, and many of the established presenters either left or were given their marching orders by the new regime, who clearly wanted to revamp the station's style to make it more appealing to the under 25s. Among the casualties was the breakfast show, which had been an entertaining mix of music, jokes, and banter between the presenters, the traffic reporters and members of the public, who took part in regular `phone in features. In its place came a brash, egotistical young presenter with little more than a few brain cells and a vocabulary to match, accompanied by a hideous noise, masquerading as music, which was guaranteed to wake not only us in the morning, but the neighbours on either side too.
We searched around for an alternative, and then my husband suggested we try Radio 2, the only station he was able to receive on the battered old radio installed in his clapped out works van. He'd listened to Sarah Kennedy's breakfast show, known as the Dawn Patrol, a few times, and said that he'd quite liked it, being similar to the kind of thing we had been used to. I must confess, I'd never had any time for Game for a Laugh, the TV programme in which Sarah had been one of four presenters some years back, and which was the only time I'd ever heard of her, but we decided to give the show a hearing. It turned out to be a good decision, and the bedside radio alarm is now permanently set for 6am, when Sarah's show begins.
The show lasts for one and a half hours only, relatively short for a radio programme, but as lots of people are getting ready for and travelling to work around that time, it's unlikely that many would be able to listen to the whole show, were it to be on for a longer period. As you would expect from a breakfast show, there are half hourly news bulletins and a couple of traffic reports, which by virtue of it being a nationally transmitted programme, by no means cover every major train delay, or traffic hold-up, but many incidents around the country get a mention, courtesy of commuters who call in to report them.
I would say that less than half the show is given over to music, which tends to be rather varied, although inoffensive to the ear, and which is ideal for such an early hour of the day. You might find yourself listening to anybody from Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, Rod Stewart and Van Morrison, to, at the other end of the scale, current hits from the likes of Coldplay, Keane or Robbie Williams, etc. For anybody under the age of, say, 25 or even 30, it probably wouldn't be anything like their cup of tea, but for me personally, there's very little to object to in this area. I don't know how much influence Sarah has over the choice of music, but I suspect that she has a certain amount of say in the matter. Obviously, the show is aimed at the 30 upwards bracket, and the music is naturally chosen to suit people in all parts of that group, with Radio 1 there to cater for the younger section of the population.
The remainder of the show is dedicated to Sarah's observations on current affairs, and on life in general, with numerous anecdotes about her cats, the Dearly Beloved, as she refers to her husband, and the children of various friends and relatives, regaling us with the many jokes and malapropisms uttered by them. The jokes became such a popular feature some time ago, with listeners sending in their favourite corny jokes, that they were compiled into a book, with the proceeds going to charity. Indeed, there is a huge amount of audience participation in the show, with Sarah, or Bunty, as she is known to Dawn Patrollers (I don't know the origin of this, but it suits her to a tee), regularly reading out letters and e-mails, from people commenting on her previous remarks and observations. Often there will be a long-running subject for discussion, one of which is Sarah's predilection with Brussels sprouts, and how soon you should start preparing them ready for the Christmas lunch. (The latest estimate, I think, was about mid- April.) She also has a large following among British ex-pats, who listen in via the Internet, and indeed, Sarah's show has recently been added to the BBC's 'listen again' section of its website, which I find very useful if I've dozed off in between the time the alarm goes off and the time I actually drag myself out of bed.
One of the regular features of the programme, and probably my favourite, is the review of the daily newspapers, which happens at around 6.45. Leaving aside the stories which she knows will be mentioned in the 7 o'clock news bulletin, Sarah reads from all the major papers, both broadsheet and tabloid, highlighting and commenting on the serious items of the day, together with the more light-hearted articles from the 'red tops'. She does her research well here, given the short time available, and although she tries to remain non-political, it isn't difficult to work out her where her allegiances lie. It's also clear that she has little time for the shenanigans of various public figures, who, despite claiming to be hounded by the press, probably couldn't thrive without the publicity. Her observations are wry, witty and more often than not, exactly what you yourself are thinking about a particular person or event, and she's not afraid to air her opinions, within reason. She has a wicked sense of humour, too, sometimes unexpectedly near the mark, recently remarking on the story of a famous cricketer's 'lunchbox' having been airbrushed out of a painting: "What a shame, we girls found it quite promising!" I say unexpectedly, because, convent-educated Sarah has an accent which makes you think of jolly hockey sticks and W.I. jam making sessions, and somehow this makes it all the more funny when she comes out with something a tad rude.
Whilst being somewhat outspoken in her views on life, Sarah does have a sympathetic side to her nature, something which emerges when commenting on the tragic events happening in the world, and it's clear that her show is a source of great comfort to many people living alone, the sick, and those who have been bereaved, a number of whom write in simply to thank her for brightening up their day. She has a knack of making you feel that she's not really presenting a radio programme, but just having a chat with friends, and I'm sure, from the things they write, that many older people regard her as they would, say, a favourite niece. She'll start a sentence with "Do you remember when I told you about...." and you forget that she's actually talking to perhaps a million other people too, such is her conversational manner.
Away from the serious side, she has conjured up a repertoire of silly, but amusing nicknames for people and organisations, such as Kate Twin-Set, the actress, and Daniel Bedding Plants, the singer. Many of these have crept into our family's vocabulary and my children find it hilarious to ask us if we're going to Sainsbugs for the weekly shopping. I was amazed to learn recently, when it was announced that Sarah had been awarded the MBE in the Queen's birthday honours list, that it was she who had coined the phrase 'White Van Man' - I had assumed it had been around for years.
Other regular features of the show include the Pause for Thought slot, where prominent people from different religions speak for two or three minutes on moral and social issues, and this is followed appropriately by a short and usually well known piece of classical music, enabling Sarah to have a break from speaking before embarking on the rest of the programme. Towards the end of the programme there is 'Showtime', where listeners request a favourite tune from a musical or a film: this can either be current, or one of the classic show tunes.
For anybody looking for wall to wall music in the mornings, this programme will not appeal, nor would I expect young people to tune in, but I have reached the stage in life where I prefer to be gently coaxed out of my slumber by pleasant music and some intelligent, but not too serious patter, rather than being blasted out of bed by a loud noise, and the inane ramblings of somebody who can barely string a decent sentence together. I can appreciate that there are, perhaps, people who might find Sarah's style irritating, but I find that her views frequently echo mine, and I enjoy the gentle pace of the show, and the humour - once you've been listening for a while, you get to recognise the little in-jokes, and the long running topics of discussion. I'd recommend this show to anybody over the age of 35, who has a sense of humour and who doesn't take life too seriously.