Radio 5 Live’s decision to make a programme just for men is puzzling — not least for men. So what’s the thinking and what do listeners want?
When Radio 5 Live announced that it was launching a new weekly show called Men’s Hour, which would be the “cheeky younger brother” of Woman’s Hour, the response from some women was immediate and scathing. The news was, as the show’s host Tim Samuels puts it, “manna from heaven for female columnists”.
“I checked the date but it was July 1, not April Fool’s Day,” wrote one, who complained that men have “whole channels shamelessly devoted to their interests. And aren’t we in the middle of Men’s Month at the moment, otherwise known as the World Cup?”
Another suggested that “the whole of Radio 5 is tonally for men”. A third mused: “For all we know, Men’s Hour could be not the most puzzling piece of 5 Live commissioning ever but masculinity’s last, terrible, wounded cry to be heard.”
Samuels’s response to this onslaught is cautious. “I suppose if you stick yourself up as a counterpart or the younger brother of Woman’s Hour, people are going to come with preconceptions. I think it is slightly rich for people to draw conclusions before it comes on air.”
He appeared on one programme with Lynne Franks, the PR supremo turned lifestyle guru. “She launched a whole radio station for women,” Samuels says. He thinks his will be the sort of programme that “women like her” would want men to listen to. “It’s not Loadedon the radio.”
So what is it? It is billed as a show that will “delve into uncharted emotional territory for men”, discussing work and life issues that Samuels believes are underexplored. One planned segment will be on monogamy and “practical and psychological ways to try and maintain a level of attraction over a long period of time”.
A regular feature, in what will initially be a run of six programmes, will be “60-second hypochondria” featuring “questions you don’t ask your doctor. But it won’t be po-faced. When you are addressing hypochondria you have to have a wry smile.” He believes that humour generally helps men to open up more.
Samuels, a former Newsnight reporter and documentary-maker, also wants to get to grips, if that is the right phrase, with men’s testicles. Specifically he wants to explore recent research on the size of testicles. “Chimps have huge testicles and like to put it around,” he says. Gorillas have comparatively small testicles and are more faithful. Men are somewhere in between, but closer to gorillas than chimps.
While readers of Nuts might hail such bollocks as proof that men are biologically incapable of monogamy, Samuels is more measured. “I don’t think it would wash with the missus if you had an affair: ‘Don’t blame me, blame my testicle size.’ ”
The size of their testicles aside, are men really going to want to listen to their own dedicated show? Won’t they suspect that it is the radio version of a hand-wringing men’s group and run a mile? Samuels says that men today are readier than previous generations to talk about the pressures of work, relationships and health issues. He says that his show won’t appeal to every man but that those who wouldn’t necessarily want to go out and buy a book about a problem might well tune in to a radio programme. “Radio is a fairly passive experience and these are fairly universal issues.”