Switch on the radio on Sundays and you’ll wake up to Paul Coia – PHIL CREIGHTON finds out how the star makes the radio magic happen.
If Paul Coia ever gets picked for Celebrity Mastermind, don’t expect him to go for mundane subjects such as the history of The Beatles or Johnny Depp films.
He probably wouldn’t even pick his favourite subject of chocolate bars and how to eat them.
No, he’d probably choose the history of religion to face John Humphrys – all the way from the stone age to the present day.
The broadcaster, who has been hosting BBC Radio Berkshire’s Sunday morning breakfast show – which has a focus on faith in the Thames Valley – has been back at the books to ensure he’s never caught out by his guests.
“You have to be confident to carry out conversations rather than go ‘Woah! I’m out of my depth here’,” he says of his presenting role.
“But I would not say I’m 100% confident when I go on air – there’s always a fear you’ll get caught out.”
The show is broadcast from the very early hour of 7am every Sunday morning – quite a time to be tackling hot potatoes live on air.
And because it features guests who come from all corners of the faith spectrum, he’s been brushing up his knowledge, like a taxi driver knowing the streets before they get in the cab.
“It’s been a revelation for me,” he says. “I’ve done my homework, I’ve got lots of books from all sorts of different angles on faith: the history of faith, the need for faith and faith going back to stone age man. I’ve been fascinated by a whole area I didn’t know at all… it’s been an education.”
But the education doesn’t just come from the studying.
“On the programme, I’ve learnt so much, I genuinely have,” the youthful 53-year-old presenter says.
The show is a typical magazine-style breakfast show: lots of guests talking about issues of the day, what’s in the Sunday papers and how faith can help people make sense of the world around them.
It also includes a segment where Paul visits Thames Valley places of worship to see what makes them unique, which he loves.
Paul is still surprised that he was asked to host it.
“I’m not a priest, I’m not a vicar – I’m just a normal individual,” he says, adding that before he joined he asked the Beeb’s bosses “What do I bring to this [show]?”
They told him simply to be himself and he has, deftly switching between the serious and light-hearted with aplomb while also managing to keep the newsreaders on their toes with some good natured banter.
“We cover some very heavy topics on the programme and I’ll be very disappointed if anyone went away offended,” Paul says.
Running a radio show that starts at 7am is a challenge for anyone, not least a busy schedule which sees him travel the globe for a mixture of broadcasters, TV companies and corporate clients.
As well as being a familiar voice on our radio sets, Paul has been a familiar face for years on our TV screens. He was the first voice heard on Channel 4 (announcing Countdown, no less), hosted Pebble Mill at One, had his own quiz show Catchword and hosted numerous telethons.
He even had his own weekly pop music column in a Scottish newspaper back in the 80s.
So why, with such a successful career, has he pitched up at Radio Berkshire, setting his alarm for stupid o’clock once a week, eschewing his Sunday lie-in in the process?
“Well, because they asked me,” he laughs. “I love it too, I wouldn’t do it otherwise.
“When I joined, it was simply to fill in for people taking holidays. They asked me if I would take on the Sunday morning faith programme.
“I asked them why and they said, ‘Because we think you can do it’. I thought, ‘Great, bring it on, let’s do it!'”
To ensure he makes the journey from his London home to Berkshire’s Caversham studios in time, he sets his clock. And his iPhone. And his iPad.
“I have three alarms that go off in the morning,” he laughs again. “They’re set at 4.30am on Sunday morning – I haven’t, touch wood, had a problem yet.”
Paul loves interviewing everyone from the famous to ordinary Joe and he tries hard to make each of his guests feel at home.
“I’ve had years of doing interviews with Prime Ministers and Hollywood stars to the man in the street; you come up with ways in which you hope are getting the nuggets out,” he says.
The show is getting a mini-makeover in time for Easter and aims to be more reflective of how faith matters in Berkshire.
Paul says: “Whether you have faith or not, no one can deny that it is a huge issue to people in the United Kingdom – and in Berkshire specifically. Faith is such as fundamental part of the DNA of people in Berkshire, and it cannot be ignored.
“It’s whole real life soap opera if you like, it’s reality communication. It’s reality media – it’s faith in action.”
And with a year under his belt, Paul feels that he’s started and he’s not finished yet. And he hopes you’ll listen with no passes.
Catch Paul every Sunday morning from 6am on BBC Radio Berkshire. Tune in on 94.1FM, 104.1FM, DAB or via bbc.co.uk/berkshire.