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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 June, 2004, 14:09 GMT 15:09 UK
US voices replace Cooke's Letters
Alistair Cooke
Cooke presented his show for nearly 60 years
A series of programmes on life in the US from local writers is to replace Alistair Cooke's weekly Letter From America on BBC Radio 4.

The series, called State of the Union, will start on 9 July featuring local views on life in the US in the run-up to November's presidential elections.

Editor Maria Balinska said the series of "10-minute shows would give "information and insight" into US life.

Cooke's iconic series ended just before his death earlier this year, aged 95.

"We'll be having a range of journalists' voices from across the US, and from across the political spectrum," Ms Balinska told BBC News Online.

The programme's commentators include Robert Hodierne, an editor from Military Times, which publishes "in-house" titles for the US armed forces.

'Political range'

Other writers include Pulitzer-nominated Detroit News writer Betty DeRamus and Paul Greenberg, the Arkansas journalist who coined former President Bill Clinton's nickname "Slick Willy".

"These are voices the Radio 4 audience has not heard before," Ms Balinska said. "There is a political range, and we don't have any axe-grinders.

It is impossible to replace him
Alistair Cooke's editor Maria Balinska

"I think this will really complement the mainstream coverage of the elections," she said.

She added the programmes would reflect US life as much as political preparations.

Cooke's Letter to America slot on the BBC World Service has also been replaced with a strand called Letter, featuring views from African, Asian and Latin American journalists based in the US.

Ms Balinska said Letter to America's producers had never considered replacing Cooke with a new host.

"Our thinking was always to have a show with a group of people. It is impossible to replace him," she said.

Cooke hosted Letter From America for 58 years, stepping down only a few weeks before his death.

State of the Union is broadcast on Friday evenings at 2050 BST on Radio 4.


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