With the news, here's Howard Hughes

Usually, a telephone interview is seen as inferior to doing one face to face. In the case of Howard Hughes, Smooth FM's newsreader and veteran of both BBC and commercial radio, it turns out that a telephone interview is best – because that's how you can fully appreciate his transatlantic tones, the ebb and flow of a voice adept at both soothing and sensationalising.

Hughes has just been honoured with a special award from IRN (Independent Radio News) for services to the industry after more than 25 years.

His award is timely, considering the current hoopla over Moira Stuart and the role of the newsreader after BBC boss Mark Thompson said the traditional newsreader's role had "virtually died out across BBC services" to be replaced by trained journalists.

It's a surprise to learn – probably because his delivery is more that of a disc jockey than a classic newsreader – that Hughes is a fully trained journalist.

He agrees that his journalistic grounding has informed his work. Having started in his native city, Liverpool, sending in tapes to Radio City there, he eventually landed the first place on its graduate training course, based at Cardiff University.

Hughes says that although he never intended to be a newsreader – favouring the disc jockey route – the journalist inside him was inspired.

"The general view was, and I think it's absolutely right – and something we have seen in the two decades since – you don't have people who just read the news any more.

"In order to be able to read and understand the news, you have to know something about it and, if you are involved in the process of putting it together, writing it in a way that fits your mouth. Assembling the stories, you are bound to deliver it better.

"Plus you're a much more saleable proposition to radio stations because you're not just a gob on a stick."

After graduation, Hughes returned to Radio City and spent the early 1980s moving between BBC and commercial stations, with a summer on a pirate station in Dublin.

His CV is a list of firsts. He launched the first short-form news in the UK at Power FM – a 90-second news bulletin over a music bed – and was the first voice on the air at BBC Berkshire.

Despite plenty of airtime on BBC Local Radio, he feels that ultimately, he's a commercial radio presenter.

"In my early days I was not completely right for BBC Local Radio. I spoke a little too fast and was probably a little bit too common for them. Everything's changed now. They have had a complete change of mindset. They are doing some great work."

Hughes recalls one BBC local station where they would hand him "the bogroll" for the news bulletin.

"It was a computer printout I'd hang from the ceiling to the floor. There'd be a cue into an item that would usually be four paragraphs long about, say, ‘Crisis in elderly beds'. Then there would be a list of 25 questions and the producer would expect you to ask all 25 questions, hopefully in that order. Things have changed enormously since then."

Hughes can't help but mention each radio station in the same creamy smooth tones he would have used on air, such as "wonderful Radio Wyvern in Worcester", where he returned to commercial radio in the mid-1980s.

Norman Bilton ran the station and, in any one week, Hughes would do presentation, the news, and a talk show called Personal Choice – a bit like Desert Island Discs.

There is something of the old-school disc jockey about him – as lampooned by Harry Enfield's Smashie and Nicey and Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights – but he seems to get the joke himself.

"I'd do outside broadcasts, open shops. I once got £70 for opening a shop in a shopping centre in Herefordshire. I had to stand outside with a sound system all day, extolling the virtues of the shop. I think it went bust two years later."

Hughes moved to Capital in 1993 and stayed almost 10 years. That, after a period at IRN, meant changing his newsreading style – from the straight delivery of IRN to the "Hi-NRG" of the Capital breakfast show, fronted by Chris Tarrant. At its 8am peak, the show had 2.5 million listeners.

"It was about reading the news snappily – I had to brighten and tone up," says Hughes.

He used his journalistic training, too. "I thought: ‘let's do something different here'. So I started generating my own audio, making my own contacts, recording my own soundbites.

"I started using the internet – I was arguably the first radio newsreader to use the internet as a news source and a news aid and a way of monitoring other radio stations from around the world to see what was going on."

Hughes was transfixed by news details emerging from the Virginia Tech massacre on 16 April and did his own bit of digging. He contacted the campus radio station, WUVT – which was still on air – and its British presenter, Tom Porter.

Hughes got the first interview with Porter and ran the audiofile on his news programme the next morning. "The great news line that came out of it was – it was just a throwaway comment – ‘I left London to get away from the crime'. What a great line.

"To get that interview at that point is primary journalism – doing a bit of legwork, using a computer instead of legs and tracking people down. I still get off on that stuff – very much."

Hughes' path to his current gig at Smooth is littered with further stints across London stations. After nearly a decade at Capital, he moved to LBC – where he suffered the only "canning" of a show in his career.

"It was a shock," says Hughes. "I'd never been in that situation, I'd been very lucky. I contacted Kelvin MacKenzie and that's how I got the gig on TalkSport."

That gig was probably Hughes' oddest – a late-night talkshow on Saturdays called The Unexplained, in which anything from Diana's death conspiracies to UFOs were dissected. Hughes continues to produce the show from his home and send it out over the internet.

On MacKenzie, he says: "Kelvin was inspirational. He's the kind of man who will give a thing a go. He loves wacky and outrageous ideas. I said ‘I've some good ideas and the one I've always wanted to do is the one I think you won't like. I'd love to do this show about ghosts and aliens and conspiracy'. And he said: ‘Love it. Go and do it.'"

While at TalkSport, Hughes' shifts at Jazz FM – since rebranded Smooth Radio – led to his current full-time newsreader role there.

And after more than 25 years, he's still got the taste for news presenting: "I love the news. I never wanted to do this, I wanted to do presenting. But news is in my blood – it's almost like an instinct, it's something that I do now. It's need."

He adds: "The zest for news is coming back. There was a period when showbiz news was all that counted.

"But I think the penny has dropped that people want their news – they don't want it at length or boringly put together, but they want to know the world is still turning, the information relevant to them and what Angelina Jolie's up to."

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