Radio head: Covering the riots

In times of trouble it seems people turn to the radio for impressive detail and context The radio has barely been off since Saturday.


Television news might have the dramatic pictures, but radio does the detail and context swiftly and impressively. And it seems that in times of trouble, we turn to radio in even greater numbers: LBC yesterday reported an unprecedented 20,000 calls to the station in 24 hours.

Some of the calls making it on air will stay for a while with anyone who heard them. Nick Ferrari – whose strong style suited the shocking grimness of the morning’s news – spoke to Helen, a musician who had to flee her flat in Ealing when the shop downstairs was looted.

“The entire building was shaking,” she told him. “We were utterly terrified. We could hear people downstairs shouting ‘let’s start fires’.” She called the police for 20 minutes, to no avail, then left.

As she walked away, a car with two hooded passengers pulled up. “Get off this road,” one said, “‘cos it’s coming this way.” Returning yesterday morning, there was a tiny positive note. A violin with huge sentimental value had survived the mauling of the building and the water damage. “It’s still in one piece, and it’s still in tune,” she said.

5 Live’s coverage has been excellent. Reporter Lesley Ashmall brought powerful stories from Tottenham on Monday afternoon. Yvonne Simmons, who lost everything in the Carpetright building fire, spoke movingly about realising nobody was going to save their homes.

“The premises would have to burn,” she said, “because there were not enough people to escort [the fire service] to our flats.” She listed what she’d lost, her voice slipping into a quiet, heart-breaking wail.

ByTuesday, coverage turned questioning and analytical. One especially knowledgable commentator was Kids Company founder Camilla Batmanghelidjh, talking to Richard Bacon. The rioters, she argued, are “a completely ignored underclass” who are “left in the ghettos of Britain, surviving”. Their only role models, she added, are “people who made it good through criminality”.

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