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Lindy McDowell: Phenomenal work rate combined with mass appeal make him worth the cash

Stephen Nolan
Stephen Nolan

By Lindy McDowell

There are some things in life which are obvious bargains - the coat you had your eye on that's now half-price in the summer sales, those "two for the price of one" tubs of ice-cream, an interest free loan, an RHI wood pellet burner...

But Stephen Nolan? With a pay packet somewhere between £325,000 and £329,999 per annum, is Mr Nolan similarly value for money?

That's the question now inevitably being asked about all the BBC's big hitters in the salary scales - not least in the light of the corporation's recent controversial decision to do away with free television licences for millions of pensioners aged 75 and above.

Where Nolan is concerned, I'd say yes. Unequivocally, yes. Taking home around the same as the Beeb's top-earning female presenters (Claudia Winkelman and Zoe Ball), he still is paid only around a quarter of the eye-watering £1.7m deemed an appropriate recompense for the services of Gary 'Walker's Crisps' Lineker. The argument the BBC routinely puts forward for the stratospheric salaries it dishes out to the likes of Lineker is that if it didn't, Gary et al would be poached by vulturistic commercial channels. Yet last year the Beeb's second highest earner Chris Evans vacated the premises for Virgin Radio - and the roof still hasn't fallen in.

Where Nolan is concerned, his worth to the BBC, both here in Northern Ireland and nationally, is based on two things.

His phenomenal work rate.

And his undoubted appeal to the masses.

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According to the report detailing the salaries of the corporation's rich and famous, he presented 210 programmes on BBC Radio Ulster last year, along with 10 editions of his TV show Nolan Live on BBC NI, and a startling 120 programmes on BBC Radio 5 Live.

I say startling because much of his workload involves a gruelling commute between over here and over there as though he was catching the bus from the Ormeau Road to the City Hall. Nolan is, as we say in these parts, "a worker". He's also a brilliant talent. Love him or reach for the off button when his familiar voice or visage hits the airwaves and screen, Nolan has an undeniable connection with his audience that is broadcasting gold.

There is a snooty view that he's nothing more than a shouty wind-up merchant. But listen to Nolan's shows and amid the bluster and the clever skill at, shall we say, teasing out contentious views, there is also the voice of the big-hearted Belfast man who genuinely relates to his audience.

He may rake in more than the price of a fine detached house per annum, but Nolan's background is not silver spoon. "Man of the people" is such an overworked epithet these days it's often means very little. Where Nolan is concerned, it means everything.

He speaks to and for people who don't always get a fair hearing - if indeed any at all. He engages his audience, riles them, ribs them, reduces them (and sometimes himself) to tears. He's provocative and he's entertainment. He's belligerent and he's Barnum.

And he doesn't take himself too seriously. He's honest, sometimes brutally so, about his own struggles, most notably about his ever-fluctuating weight, something that those of us who've had our own battles with the fridge door can empathise with only too well.

Unlike some of his better paid colleagues nationally, he truly would be a major loss to the BBC. Because, in some ways, Nolan is BBC NI.

That's not to take away in any sense from the other considerable talent within the station locally - including the many brilliant people who work there behind the scenes. But the very name 'Nolan' now represents a genre. Mention it to just about any citizen here and they'll know who you mean. That is some accolade. For the BBC, though, the real return it gets for its money is in the audience figures such popularity engenders.

Nolan is nobody's fool. By all accounts he's savvier about money than he is about saving calories. And he is a master at his trade, his primary skill being that he makes it all look easy. Generally, most of us would gulp at the very idea of £329,999 constituting a bargain price for anything.

But Stephen Nolan? I think he's worth it.

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