SQUINTER must confess to not knowing a lot about Cool FM. Mid-Atlantic accents; Taylor Swift songs; cash competitions; co-presenters producing a lot of forced laughter – does that sound about right?

Plenty of people are able to answer that question, it seems, because the station’s morning show has just claimed to have taken the crown of BBC Radio Ulster’s Stephen Nolan as the Biggest Show in the Country. And what’s more, the Belfast Telegraph – a newspaper which formerly devoted vast acres of newsprint to reporting every hiccup and every cough of the Ormeau Avenue Golden Child – delivered the news in brutal fashion: ‘Stephen Nolan “loses biggest show crown” as Cool FM boss hits out at “unwise” tagline’. 

Et tu, Tele?

It’s not the first time that Nolan’s oft-repeated claim to be the Biggest Show in the Country has been challenged, but this time round it all feels entirely different. After a bruising few months during which he apologised for sending sexually explicit pictures to colleagues and was the subject of a series of highly critical stories in the Irish News, the aura of invincibility is losing its glow. Sinn Féin’s electoral fortunes have rocketed since they decided some time ago to have nothing to do with the show – and while there’s no evidence that the two events are connected, the fact that the Shinners have become the Biggest Party in the Country at exactly the same time as they blanked the Biggest Show in the Country has clearly given others pause for thought.

The SDLP now boycotts the show too, as does the aforementioned Irish News, whose well-informed staff were previously part of the finger that Nolan was forced to put in the Sinn Féin-shaped hole in his political coverage. And while Ormeau Avenue bosses who went along with the show’s proposition that Bobby Storey’s funeral was the crime of the century are unlikely to baulk at the absence of Gerry Kelly, the absence from the show of the political wing of the GAA and the Catholic Church has no doubt prompted much uncomfortable tugging at collars in the BBC Ulster boardroom.

Not that the Beeb is meekly applauding while Cool FM performs its victory lap. “Stephen Nolan’s weekday programme on BBC Radio Ulster/Foyle remains the ‘most listened to’ programme for local listeners – something that’s been confirmed by the latest Rajar data,” a spokesperson told Squinter. “We don’t take this success for granted and know that there’s healthy competition in the media marketplace.

“The audience reach of individual programmes takes account of their duration and the number of people listening during that time. This means that direct comparisons aren’t easy to make, or as straightforward as they might seem.”

But as denials go, that lacks passion, Squinter has to say. There was a time when the very suggestion that BBCNI could be bested by a show which takes breaks for corner shop ads would have been met with utter consternation. But countering the brash Cool FM claim with the rather vapid “direct comparisions aren’t easy to make” suggests a certain degree of resignation in the command bunker. Add to that the existence of a significant number of staff at BBCNI who have never been enamoured of the populist vulgarity of the show – its who-you-looking-at? theme tune; its addiction to confrontation; its panting pursuit of exclusives; the host’s eye-watering salary – and it’s hard to escape the conclusion that change may be afoot.

Whenever Squinter has discussed the show with BBC staff past or present, the half-smiles and gentle eyerolls have been the modern equivalent of a Regency dab of the nose with a scented hankie. Clearly, while the show has been viewed by management for years as the Radio Ulster Rainmaker, it’s not as appreciated by those colleagues not under the umbrella and who don’t agree that political analysis is enriched by the input of Norman from Bangor and George from the Shankill.

Squinter can’t see the show being scrubbed – Nolan’s still the only Big Beast on the Ormeau Avenue books and shutting him down might be construed as a post-hoc acknowledgment of the folly of defending him so robustly after he took his own exhortation to ‘Be the news!’ rather too seriously. Nevertheless, change is comin’, as Barack Obama once said. 

The phones may still be “going boogaloo” with the same three elderly callers in the months to come, but perhaps they’re going to have to listen to a bit of Taylor Swift before they get to give off about themmuns gittin’ everything.