The radio, or wireless, to give it its correct title, has always been my preferred medium. It has been described as the friend in the corner, for there is an intimacy about the radio that makes it seem that it speaks to an audience of one. Television, on the other hand, is the spoilt child in the centre of the shopping mall demanding attention with its screeching tantrums. I grew up with the wireless as my constant companion, and thus I learnt how to listen. This kaleidoscopic box of wonders was full of diversity, managing to be endlessly entertaining and informative.
When I started listening to the radio, or rather, when I started to notice that I was listening, there were only three main BBC radio stations: the Light Programme, the Home Service and that marvel of the civilized world – the Third Programme. I happily absorbed that whole eclectic mix as I explored the limits of my tastes, prejudices and perversions from “The Clitheroe Kid” via “The Organist Entertains” to Derek Jewell’s “Sounds Interesting”, with occasional unexpected diversions like Sandy Wilson’s musical “Valmouth” based on Ronald Firbanks camp novels, or Henry Reed’s risqué satires featuring the composeress Hilda Tablet (how did they get away with it?).
Today we have easy access to a multiplicity of niche radio stations catering to supply the ever dwindling peccadillos of specific interest groups all in the name of market choice, yet we are diminished by this illusory expanse. Seldom is there created an opportunity to stumble across something by chance, something unfamiliar and unlooked for, that has the potential of changing our lives forever. It was on the Light Programme, that which became Radio 2, where I first heard, and learnt to understand & enjoy classical music, whilst on sombre Radio 3 I discovered progressive rock and musical theatre – now that’s what I call crossover!
There is a danger of too much diversification and catering for narrow interest groups assisting the fragmentation of society and the loss of a coherent community. Gone are the days when the times of Church Services were amended because everyone was at home listening to Bandwagon or Paul Temple (or whichever radio show claims this story as their own) and it is a waste of time to wish for those days to return. We are living in a world of niche viewing and personalised playlist, and oh, the pity of it all.
A wise person* once said that no-one should go through life without hearing Spike Jones version of “Cocktails for Two” at least once.
*probably Denis Norden