Archive — Radio
I’ve been aware of Paddy McAloon’s 2003 album I Trawl the Megahertz for a while. While I’d always meant to pick it up, I never got round to it. In a sense it’s just as well, as this year it was re-released, remastered, and repackaged as a Prefab Sprout album.
Suffering with health problems, Paddy McAloon spent his time at home, listening to radio phone-ins. This formed the basis of the material on the album. The stunning 22 minute long title track features a splicing together of fragments of these broadcasts to tell a story in spoken word.
Most of the rest of the album is instrumental, but I’m 49 returns to the radio broadcasts, this time sampling them directly.
As pointed out by Paddy McAloon in this reissue’s liner notes, it’s not the first time the musicality of found voices has been exploited by a musician. He namechecks Gavin Bryars’ Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet. Steve Reich’s Different Trains also springs to mind. Musically, the albums seems to take a clear cue from American minimalist composers.
The story of the making of the album — centred around Paddy McAloon’s ill health — also reminds me of how Brian Eno is said to have pursued ambient music. It is said that Brian Eno was in bed, unable to get up to adjust the volume of his radio, and ended up being inspired by the sparseness of the resulting sound.
I Trawl the Megahertz has a melancholic vibe. “I’m 49, divorced.” What makes ordinary people bare their souls to radio hosts? This seems to be the question asked by the album. But the album also provides an answer — to adversity. Faced with illness, like Brian Eno, Paddy McAloon created some wonderful music.
Now I only wonder why it took me until now to discover it properly.
Note — 2019-05-29
Does anyone I know fancy coming with me to see the Rabbit Hole with Iain Lee and Katherine Boyle in Glasgow this Saturday? I unexpectedly have a spare ticket.
Photo — 2019-05-10
If you think the way they measure radio audiences is primitive now (and, by the way, it is), then wait until you read about the Audimeter. A great look at the history of radio ratings, and the early days of trying to measure the impact of advertising.
Could Brexit break the BBC? The tensions, the bewildering question of ‘balance’ — and how to get it right — Mark Damazer, Prospect Magazine
An impressively thoughtful piece from the former Radio 4 controller, on why the BBC is struggling to remain unbiased amid Brexit.
One senior presenter put it like this: “We should encourage debate… while being more militant about our core approach—that we are fact-based, and question and test all sides of the debate. We should not be doing vanilla ‘on the one hand’ versus ‘on the other hand’ journalism. I am sympathetic to the arguments about the danger of ‘false equivalence,’ and think we should be clear about the weight of arguments. But if a substantial number of people believe, so to speak, that bananas are blue we have to treat that seriously. Seriously, but robustly.”
This article also briefly covers some of the limitations of TV news bulletins, and explains why in some aspects radio performs better. I do find it difficult to watch a bulletin like the 10 O’Clock News (I think I even watched the piece he mentions from Mansfield, with my head in my hands). In that format, it is impossible to cover anything in real depth — and that seems to be the true problem at the moment.
Note — 2019-03-06
I hate to be that guy, but the latest update to the Pocket Casts Android app has completely destroyed it.
Overnight, the player widget was erased. But worse still, all the playlists I have created have disappeared and there appears to be no way of recreating them. The playlists feature has vanished. There is a mysterious new ‘Filters’ option that I can’t make head nor tail of. Whenever I try to create a new filter, it crashes.
I’d move to Google Podcasts, but that doesn’t support playlists either… Ugh.
The other day we heard Windowlicker by Aphex Twin being played on BBC Radio 6 Music in the morning. On the one hand, this is very excellent. On the other, it has made it less likely that Alex will let me set the radio alarm to wake us up with 6 Music in the new year.
Needless to say, Windowlicker is a masterpiece. At the time it was mind-bendingly futuristic-sounding. 20 years on it still sounds pretty fresh and exciting.
It was also the last thing Aphex Twin released before Drukqs, which might explain why the album got mixed reviews.
When the video for Windowlicker was featured on one of those Channel 4 top 100 programmes, it resulted in this fantastic TV moment, featuring Frank Sidebottom.
Radio host Iain Lee kept a suicidal caller to his show on the line for half an hour while emergency services tracked him down after he revealed he had taken an overdose.
I didn’t hear this particular call. It sounds like it must have been an extraordinary piece of radio, handled brilliantly by Iain Lee and Katherine Boyle.
This is another example of why Iain Lee’s Late Night Alternative is one of the most important programmes on radio.
Mental health has been a running theme of the programme almost since day one. I have probably learnt more about mental health from the Late Night Alternative than anywhere else.
But above all, it’s a programme about life.
Last week, one highly amusing caller talked about how her family had accidentally walked in on her father masturbating. The next caller apologised for making a clunky gear change, before talking about how his wife had died that day.
How extraordinary to think that people in this sort of position would turn to a radio show. Iain Lee sets out to provide an alternative to endless Brexit phone-ins. Continually, this programme demonstrates why we need that alternative.
Photo — 2018-11-23
The Apple Podcasts Chart is screwed. How should we replace it?
This article by James Cridland lays bare just how widespread the gaming of Apple’s podcasts chart is.
I have heard presenters pleading with their listeners to unsubscribe, then resubscribe to help improve their position in the chart. Apparently it works.
What I don’t understand is why Apple let this happen? I’m sure it’s not an easy problem to fix. But it surely can’t be as hard as penalising dodgy SEO tactics or email spam filters. What’s in it for Apple?
Robert Peston: BBC not impartial during EU referendum campaign
I do think that they went through a period of just not being confident enough. Impartial journalism is not giving equal airtime to two people one of whom says the world is flat and the other one says the world is round. That is not balanced, impartial journalism.
It is often said (including by me) that if you are accusing the BBC of bias, it is probably because you are losing the argument.
But Robert Peston is not the first to make this point, that the BBC is giving equal platforms to viewpoints with very unequal merits.
It’s getting difficult to disagree that this is currently a major problem for the BBC. It is particularly acute on particular programmes, such as the Today programme, which is more interested in generating heat than light.
The radio institution celebrates its 70th birthday today. I enjoyed this history of the programme from Andy Walmsley.
I had no idea that Any Questions? was originally developed as a stop-gap to fill a hole in a regional schedule. From its beginnings on the West of England Home Service, within two years it was being regularly broadcast nationwide — first on the Home Service, but quickly also on the Light Programme.
Within quite a short time, sixteen million people were regularly listening to the programme. Frank Gillard had got his mass audience.
(Despite its appeal to the masses, it’s difficult to imagine a programme like this on the modern-day Radio 2.)
It seems that the programme has changed little in its 70 years, which is an extraordinary feat of longevity. Not only that, its carbon copy TV version, Question Time, appears as popular as ever. I can’t really stand to listen to or watch either of them.
I’ve recently been digging this old Stereolab song. By chance, this Peel session was recorded 25 years ago today.
After Chris Evans — Why women are leading the race for the breakfast slot
In a sense, it’s no surprise to see women as front-runners to replace Chris Evans as BBC Radio 2 breakfast show presenter. It is a scandal that, until recently, no women had a regular slot during the day on Radio 2 since the 1990s.
Radio 2 always explained that the male presenters were hugely popular. And I can think of several people who would likely switch off the Radio 2 breakfast show if Sara Cox were to get the gig. But as Miranda Sawyer notes:
[Sara] Cox and [Zoë] Ball are considered the women most likely to break Radio 2’s all-male daytime club because many men still think of them as “one of the lads”.
I am a relatively reluctant listener to the Radio 2 breakfast show. I’m not averse to Sara Cox per se.
But regardless of who takes over, Alex and I have already decided we will listen instead to Lauren Laverne when she takes the helm of the BBC Radio 6 Music breakfast show in January. I have avoided its current host Shaun Keaveny because… I find it too blokey.
Why is Radio 4’s Today programme losing so many listeners?
The Today programme has lost 800,000 listeners in the past year. That’s about a tenth of its audience, gone.
I listen to the Today programme, but I want to stop. It is unmistakably weak at the moment. Sometimes it’s for reasons you can’t quite put your finger on. It just sounds uncomfortable and clumsy at the moment. Many recent features have felt contrived and uninteresting, almost like dad dancing. Certain presenters need to be put out to pasture (and Sarah Montague wasn’t one of them).
Then of course there are the manufactured polarised debates. These have always been a staple of the Today programme, and even the publicity shot in this Radio Times piece depicts the presenters having a debate at the breakfast table, complete with finger-pointing, as if that’s a selling point. In today’s highly charged political atmosphere, it is frankly the last thing we need more of.
All this means that I have found myself switching off the radio in disgust quite a lot recently.
I haven’t yet switched off completely — but only because I can’t think of what an alternative morning listen might be. Any suggestions?
Authenticity and character
An interesting comparison between modern-day radio presenting and that of previous generations: “That smiling deep disc jockey voice, broadcasting seemingly from a parallel mid-Atlantic world.”
Rarely has radio been quite so authentic.
In previous generations, it was enough to have a ‘voice on a stick’ as one of my colleagues used to call it…
Now – you tune in and you hear real life.
Listening to clips of old radio programmes, it is extraordinary how much times have changed. The Radio 1 Vintage broadcasts last year as part of Radio 1’s 50th birthday celebrations highlighted this starkly. Tony Blackburn’s live recreation of the first Radio 1 breakfast show even skipped over some of the content, tacitly acknowledging that it some of it was too cheesy (or perhaps offensive?) to be broadcast today.
There is an argument to say that people sometimes want to hear a bit of showbiz, and don’t necessarily always want to hear a voice that could be their neighbour’s.
But in the era of Spotify, a “voice on a stick” won’t do. Good content is essential for the long-term survival of radio.
Podcast listeners really are the holy grail advertisers hoped they’d be
On average, according to Midroll’s data, podcast listeners are making it through about 90 percent of a given episode, and relatively few are skipping through ads.
This is interesting, and in the detail is some cheering news for podcast listeners.
But I wonder how long it will last? I’ve been listening to podcasts for well over ten years, but I am becoming increasingly tired of the ads that are taking up more and more time during my day.
As ever, it’s a balancing act. News publishers messed this up big time by bombarding their website users with horrific ad experiences. Podcasters have to be careful not to go the same way.
Legends of the ancient web
Maciej Cegłowski considers the parallels between the early decades of radio, and the web. He notes how radio became a crucial propaganda tool for the fascists of the 1930s.
In less than four decades, radio had completed the journey from fledgeling technology, to nerdy hobby, to big business, to potent political weapon.
It’s a great history lesson. Read on to find the silver lining in his talk.
Note — 2018-01-15
There may be no real science behind the concept of Blue Monday. But there is definitely something strange about mornings in January.
I always go back to work as soon as possible after the new year. On my morning walk to work, the streets are dark unlike any other time of year, and eerily quiet.
It’s now a new year tradition of mine to spend my first morning walk of each week listening to Blue Jam. Chris Morris’s peerless radio programme of the late 1990s mixed dark comedy with downtempo music. It was originally broadcast on BBC Radio 1 in the small hours of the morning, maximising its unsettling vibe.
That vibe seems to suit these weird, dark Mondays in January.
Note — 2017-10-19
It’s great to see Iain Lee winning a big radio award for best (non-breakfast) speech presenter. I’ve written before about how brilliant Iain Lee’s radio work is. His TalkRadio show is, by some margin, the most interesting on radio today.