I have been asked many times over the past few days why I defended Stephen Nolan last week on my U105 radio show. Apparently radio rivals are supposed to be at each other’s throats. That simply isn’t our style.
About fourteen years ago I was approached by the bosses of the fledgling station and asked to develop a phone-in format that would provide an alternative to Stephen’s well established Radio Ulster programme. When I joined there were just 16,000 listeners. The figure for my mid-morning slot is now close to 120,000.
Stephen however, has more. He has the biggest show in the county and he’s not afraid to say so. There is no reason why he shouldn’t be successful. He is broadcasting on numerous platforms, he has the backing of a large BBC production team and he only has 90 minutes to fill.
That however is not the full story. Stephen is different from other broadcasters. He is fearless. Some say he is ruthless and critics argue he is reckless. It was this suggestion I refuted on my radio show. A caller described him as “incendiary”. He said, “he pours petrol on the flames of division”. There are many who say he is “stirring it”.
I don’t agree. Nolan is driven by determination to discover the truth. He is not afraid to turn up every stone in the search for answers. This is to be commended. There is nobody in broadcasting who works harder and people wonder how he manages to cope with the demands of working seven days a week for both radio and television.
He seems obsessed with his career and the rich financial rewards that go with it but the money is hard earned. His refusal to allow elements of the RHI scandal to drop made him unpopular with the DUP. His attitude to the Bobby Storey funeral made him enemies in the republican community. He is blamed for the on air squabbles that pepper his broadcasts. There are many people who love his style of presentation and there are growing numbers who reject it. Sadly some who have had enough have resorted to unacceptable ways of expressing their dislike for both the format and the presenter. The social media campaign against Nolan is vicious. He has recently been able to demand compensation from some people who have attempted to destroy his career and ruin his reputation. He struck back on behalf of everyone being bullied online and he’s now over £100,000 better off. He should be commended for his tenacity.
There are many who begrudge him the windfall. They believe his aggressive interrogating style deserves a harsh retaliation. They are entitled to challenge him and harshly if they wish, but it should be to his face on air or in person online. Hiding behind a keyboard is the cowardly choice. He’s well paid to be a broadcaster but no one is ever paid enough to be a victim of cruel attacks that must be mentally shattering.
I know how demanding it is to host a radio phone-in. It calls for total concentration. Both Stephen and I are lucky to follow on from two highly rated breakfast programmes. We inherit and keep a high audience rating but we adopt different styles when doing it. When I was asked to provide an alternative to Nolan that’s exactly what I did. The same topics, issues and debates in a totally different style.
There is room for both of us but there are times when it could be argued there is a need for the likes of Nolan.
He has the massive resources to put decision makers and law breakers under intense pressure. He does have a role to play in holding people to account. Whether or not he needs to do it every day is up for debate. His combative style on every issue might be overkill. We should however appreciate his output and see it as an important part of a broadcasting mix that is vital in Northern Ireland. It’s intense and sometimes bitter. If you like it with just a hint of sweetener and a somewhat calmer air you’ve probably chosen U105 and for that I thank you.
Frank presents U105 Phone In Mon-Fri from 9am-noon