The Enduring Success of ‘Sommar i P1’

Since 1959, Sommar i P1 has a been a staple of Swedish summer. The programme started out on SR P3, with DJs presenting live scripts, but the format now sees public figures host a ninety-minute radio show on a subject of their choice, interspersed with their favourite music…

Xander Brett

On 11th June 2021, the Swedish nation tuned in for an important announcement. Sveriges Radio released the list of their Sommar i P1 guests, or ‘sommarpratare’. The 62nd series ended yesterday. It’s a national institution, where fifty-eight public figures a year are asked to host a ninety-minute radio show on a topic of their choice, interspersed with music. Receiving an invitation has been described as the equivalent of a knighthood. Knowing someone on the waiting list, I can verify this. Episodes, which air at 1pm, every day from Midsummer’s Day to the end of August, will be heard by an audience of one million live and three million on catch up. That’s almost half the population in total. The most popular participants will also be asked to record a version in English. Last year, it was Greta Thunberg, whose episode was sold to BBC Radio 4.

As a Brit, it’s impossible not to search for parallels with Desert Island Discs, Roy Plumley’s series where a public figure chooses eight tracks to take with them to an imaginary desert island. Desert Island Discs began in 1942, Sommar i P1 in 1959. Despite its seniority, however – and the Swedish tendency to lift BBC shows – Bibi Rödöö, its chief producer, says one didn’t inspire the other. “The big difference is that our guests don’t mention their personal life,” she tells me. “They include it, but they talk primarily about what they do. We have fifteen reviews a day in newspapers, so the idea is that they’re specific topics the nation will discuss.”

Like Desert Island Discs, however, Sommar i P1 episodes are mostly pre-recorded. With half the population listening, participants are simply too terrified to go live. Every guest visits the studio in the run up to recording, talking over the music and rehearsing the script. Some, though, like the buzz and choose to go on air from studios across the country. This year, Rödöö will be producing her friend Hans Rosenfeldt, creator of The Bridge, as he presents the show direct.

The process starts in September. Rödöö meets with her team to discuss that summer’s series. In October, the naming committee start to look forward. Over Christmas, there’s a spin-off Vinter i P1, featuring the most popular summer hosts. After that’s done, new colleagues join the group and it’s time to phone successful hosts. The list is complete five days before announcement, and an accompanying programme for SVT is hastily assembled. Rödöö has headed the fourteen-strong production team since the late 1990s and has the honour of calling successful candidates. She says responses range from giggling to weeping. This year, singer Zara Larsson and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg are among the guests. Stoltenberg last spoke on the programme in 2004, when he was Prime Minister of Norway. Sveriges Radio requested his presence at the announcement press conference. His staff were reluctant. Why, they asked, would he need to make time in a busy schedule and fly to Stockholm? Stoltenberg, though, aware of the programme’s importance, overrode them. When he arrived, however, even he was overwhelmed. “What is this?!” he cried to Rödöö, facing ten news crews live on air. “I don’t get it!”. But the Swedes do get it. Sommer i P1 is more than a radio show. It’s a national event, and an essential part of their summer.

This article is a Fika Online exclusive.

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