Don’t Tune Out Just Yet: On the Virtues of BBC Radio
At 7pm last Tuesday the BBC relaunched BBC Three in a desperate attempt to stay relevant to young people after Tory attacks on the licence fee. Yet their greatest weapon in the fight against Boris’s cost-cutting is the one young people most frequently ignore: radio. A 2020 government report shows that on average 15–24 year-olds listen to four hours less radio than they did a decade ago.
Fewer and fewer students have radios on their bedside tables. Even in the car Bluetooth and Spotify are winning out over Simon Mayo. We are losing the humble art of radio.
Last week, when our whole corridor was woken by my friend’s radio alarm clock, most reactions were less annoyance and more genuine bemusement as to why he still bothered with a radio. Well, let me tell you.
Radio 1 and 2 are populist, but don’t hold that against them. Radio 1 was my baptism into cool music, the sort of thing my dad would roll his eyes at; the anarchic fun of the breakfast show was a revelation to teenage me, even if it now feels painfully contrived. The BBC is still the best place to hear the charts and an important showcase for British talent; it’s telling that the BBC THREE launch party was fronted by Clara Amfo and Greg James, both Radio 1 DJs.
Radio 2 is the ultimate in inoffensive (except Jeremy Vine who I find immensely grating). It’s the music you put on in the car when your phone has died or you want the travel news. For me, “Friday Night is Music Night” will always be the sound of road trips to Cornwall. In truth though, there is little of interest to students on Radio 2. We’re not the target demographic. I genuinely urge you, however, to listen to Eurovision on the radio next year just to appreciate Ken Bruce’s scathing remarks about everyone’s outfits. Radio 3 is the station most people ignore, it’s what my dad has on while eating marmalade in the mornings. That should be reason enough for most people to ignore it. Classical music and opera remain something of an anathema to me. Despite my best efforts to appear cultured, like blue cheese, I still don’t get it. When it comes to experimental music, however, Radio 3 shines like a diamond. Sarah Mohr-Pietsch’s “Night Tracks” may be “an adventurous, immersive soundtrack for late-night listening” but “Late Junction” is straight-up insane. Highlights from the past year include a Christmas single starring a cement mixer, a duet with a nightingale, AI live music, and some utterly bizarre Ethiopian folk singing that I still haven’t fully recovered from. It was anything but “In Tune”.
Radio 4 is perhaps the highlight, an institution we must defend with our lives. “The Today Programme” is simply the best news broadcast out there. “PM” and “The World at One” both follow the same formula of quality reporting, depth, challenging perspectives, and giving news time to breathe. Every IR student should be listening to “From Our Own Correspondent”. National polls cite as favourites “Women’s Hour ” and “The Archers” (an idyllic rural soap opera where nothing interesting ever happens — I love it). For me, though, it has to be the outrageously silly “antidote to panel games”, improv show “I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue”; specifically, I live for “Mornington Crescent”, the tube-station-naming game where contestants make up the rules on the fly. Sandwiched by the dulcet tones of the shipping forecast and the World Service, exporting our weird taste around the globe, Radio 4 must be protected at all costs.
5 Live? It exists. There’s sport on it. It’s nice, I guess. I’ll be honest, I prefer watching my sport in the Whey Pat, but maybe that’s just me.
Finally, there’s Radio 6: a mythical beast. But, like most mythical beasts, one worth seeking out. Hidden from FM listeners, it’s a place for discovery. Taking the best from BBC Introducing and young unsigned artists, Radio 6 continues in the spirit of the legendary John Peel by playing the best in Britain’s guitar-indie and alternative scene. Ultimately, it’s the range of DJs that makes Radio 6 my favourite though: Red Dwarf’s Craig Charles, Lauren Laverne, Steve Lamacq, gay icon Tom Robinson, and my guiltiest pleasure — Iggy Pop.
So next time you’re feeling down with essay blues, turn on, tune in, drop out—to the sound of BBC Radio.
BBC Radio is available on FM, DAB, and the BBC Sounds app and website.