Why radio has fended off the new kids on the block

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Twenty years on, their prophecy has thankfully not come true. Radio listening is on the up and video has been superseded by DVD, which is now on the way out with the arrival of blu-ray. Being a complete technophobe this is all double-Dutch to me. Four years on, I have still to master the art of recording on my shiny slim DVD player; now I have to contend with something that sounds more like an Australian ‘wild’ swimmer.

My inability to master, and fear of, electronic gadgets stems from childhood when every time I got within touching distance of any expensive household item or family heirloom I was warned off with the admonishment: ‘Don’t touch that, you’ll break it!’

Regular admonishments of that nature set the pattern for adulthood; hence I have grown up to be a total ignoramus when it comes to understanding the workings of DVDs, digital cameras and computers.

Fortunately, my childhood exclusion zones did not extend to a radio which vied with my first Jack Russell for the job of constant companion as I grew up. There is not a day when I don’t listen to radio. I have worn out quite a few, broken the odd one, but if given a choice between listening to a radio and watching a television, the modern equivalent of the wireless set wins more often than not.

A television set sits on a shelf, hangs on a wall or rests on a stand; a fixed screen dominating living rooms like an idol expecting to be worshipped. It has done more to destroy the art of conversation and interactive family life than any other invention in the history of man’s ingenuity. A radio, on the other hand, can be taken anywhere and, unlike its inanimate rival, it lets the listener’s imagination put pictures to words and faces to characters.

A radio opens doors in the mind that a television cannot. When songs and music are broadcast the listener is obliged to sing along but the overriding appeal of radio over television is that it does not require the listener’s full attention. Instead of being glued to the spot in front of a screen, a radio listener can multi-task by indulging in a variety of productive and worthwhile activities without losing concentration.

When it comes to drama and serialisations, the radio is in a league of its own. A cherished novel never fails to live up to expectations when serialised on radio – such as Lord of the Rings and the Forsyth Saga, both spread over 26 weeks and done true justice by the time devoted to telling the story in its entirety.

Yet turn such classics into a television series – invariably cut and adapted to fit airtime and advertising breaks – and with the exception of Pride and Prejudice and Brideshead Revisited, the result is disappointing by its brevity.

My life has been lived entirely in the age of television, having arrived in this world after the demise of the wireless as the focal point of a family home. Long gone are the days when parents and children huddled together around a wireless set in the evening.

Nonetheless, my early childhood was dominated by radio entertainment. I still associate the smell of a Sunday roast dinner with Family Favourites and the taste of rice pudding with such classic radio comedy shows as the Navy Lark or Round the Horn. At the other end of the emotional scale the familiar tones of the theme to Sing Something Simple never fails to dampen my spirits as the Sunday evening sing-along show was the portend of another school week.

My sense of humour was honed on radio shows such as the Navy Lark, The Goons, I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again, I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue (still so wonderfully going strong), Hancock and The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Now Radio Two, the old dullard of music radio, is uber cool and up there in the top ratings with Radio 4. If BBC Television has sold out to the ‘ten seconds attention span’ society, then radio has stayed true to the principles of broadcasting excellence. It is only the endearing qualities of BBC radio that prevents Lord Reith spinning in his grave.

In a nation that craves national treasures to put on cultural pedestals, then radio is a rich breeding ground for the best of British.

Tomorrow morning a broadcasting era comes to an end when a deservedly acknowledged national treasure, Terry Wogan, closes the mike for the last time on his breakfast show.

Love him or loath him, Sir Tel has been part of BBC radio listeners’ lives for more than 40 years. With a regular audience of over eight million for his morning ramblings, he is the most listened to radio broadcaster in Europe.

The secret of his – and other radio stars – popularity and mateship with their audience is down to the intimate relationship radio creates and which television as an entertainment medium cannot.

In watching a television the viewer is aware that they are part of a nationwide or global audience of millions. Yet turn on a radio to listen to a master of the airwaves such as Sir Terry, and you become part of a club with in jokes and an on-going dialogue such as that exists between friends and colleagues.

Although my preferred morning listening is Radio 4’s Today, Wogan’s banter and hilarious features such as the tales of Janet and John are the perfect entertainment to survive the stress of rush hour traffic. Like millions of others from John O’Groats to Green Island, I shall miss him but will now be spared the embarrassment of attracting public attention by spontaneously bursting out laughing while stuck in a traffic jam.

With a Christmas television schedule that promises the usual diatribe of personal disasters, community traumas and sudden, sinister deaths in Albert Square and Coronation Street, and talentless so-called talent shows, why not switch off the box and turn on the radio?

You will be pleasantly surprised.

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