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The Wrap: Jonathan Wall, Controller of BBC Radio 5 live


Each Friday in The Wrap, one of the North’s leading media and creative figures will be giving us their take on the news covered by Prolific North over the last seven days.

This week it’s the turn of Jonathan Wall, Controller of BBC Radio 5 live

We’ve covered many harrowing stories at BBC Radio 5 live but none before have been so close to home. We know we will have to report on tragic events but when it’s here, in the place that has welcomed so many of our staff with such warmth in the last six years, it adds a whole new level of emotional attachment

It was hard because of the sheer heart breaking panic we could feel when we heard the stories of the young people involved. Harder still when we knew there were so many fatalities, and when we stopped to think about the pain of the loved ones waiting for news.

And then there was the thing that crept up on us from nowhere – the realisation that we are part of this community too. Knowing our Warrington accents from our Salford accents, our M60 from our M56, and the places that trip off the tongue – Deansgate to Albert Square, and Salford Quays to Manchester Arena.

So many extraordinary stories have emerged since Monday night: the passers-by who ran into the Arena to help, the health professionals who came into work to attend to the injured, and the incredibly moving vigil in central Manchester on Tuesday.

I thought my team were extraordinary. From yet another tour de force breaking news performance from Phil Williams and the late team followed up by Dotun Adebayo overnight. I then sat close up to watch a quite stunning production performance from the 5 live breakfast crew getting the very best out of those top presenters.

And the quality of programmes, of interviews, of emotional connection to a story packed with so much emotion,  just kept coming. From the anguish of victims to a moment of defiance at the vigil.  A word for Colin Paterson who got off his sofa to stand outside the arena and handle those eye witness interviews with such care.

“I went back into the arena” was a phrase I heard from about 15 interviewees on Tuesday. All said without any hint of doing anything unusual or brave. We put some special people on the radio on Tuesday. 

Our colleagues at BBC Radio Manchester and BBC Breakfast have risen to the occasion too. Radio Manchester’s indefatigable Allan Beswick was on air for an additional four hours overnight on Monday. Later on the same station, Mike Sweeney, a son of Salford, was live in the city centre, sharing in the shock with Mancunians.  BBC North West Tonight’s teatime bulletin was simulcast on the BBC News Channel. BBC Newsround teams, also based here, deserve special praise for their careful handling of the story for young audiences.  Local commercial radio did a great job too of adjusting their tone to connect so sensitively with people across the city.

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And then there is the magnificent Manchester Evening News, whose fundraising page set up for families of those killed or injured in the bomb attack on Monday night has raised over £1 million. The biggest story on the paper’s patch in a generation and it did its city proud. 

The community of Manchester has pulled together to show the very best of humanity amidst the darkness – and it has been our job right across the media to show that and to properly pay tribute to it.  

 Everyone at the BBC in Salford sends our heartfelt sympathy to the families of the victims and our prayers are with those still in hospital.

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