Another Radio Era Ends

Perhaps it was something about Radio 2 in the 1970s that remains underappreciated because the flares distracted us. A generation of broadcasters deeply integrated audience participation into their shows long before anybody knew what they were doing.

I haven’t written about radio for quite a while, unless you count my comments – on Matt Degan’s excellent site – about Commercial Radio blaming its woes on the BBC, and I don’t think that counts.

As I look back I see I wrote about The End of A Radio Era in December 2002 when Jimmy Young left Radio 2. And I find myself wanting to use that self same title today as Sir Terry Wogan leaves his top-rated breakfast show. Throughout my childhood I was aware of Jimmy Young but, as a family, we actually listened to Terry Wogan.

The news people say it’s 27 years, of course, we know that the number represents years actually talking on the breakfast show. There were years off for good behaviour (when he did that television thing) meaning that it’s really four decades that Terry’s been an intricate part of our lives.

Many people have written elsewhere about what a remarkable broadcaster Terry Wogan is and I wouldn’t say anything different. It’s a special talent to be able to talk, cross-generational, to such a large audience and yet make it seem like you’re sharing in a small, intimate – and thoroughly entertaining – dinner (breakfast) party. And that, to me, is what marks out great radio broadcasters from average and poor ones: people who can really ‘do’ radio make it seem like your part of the conversation. The rest shout at you.

I do believe today marks a bigger transition than the end of a much loved breakfast show. Radio 2 has been able to call out Wake Up To Wogan as a shining example of its difference: there’s isn’t a commercial broadcaster in the land who would have done that show and I find it unlikely would any would have let it go on so long (although for that audience?). But from today Radio 2 can not point to Sir Terry as a difference that helps validate its existence.

I hope Chris Evans is given a chance (the BBC will but I wonder about the rest of the media). He too is different and I find it frustrating to read the many views that assume he is still a 30-year old Radio 1 breakfast host and not the consummate, radio-loving, professional broadcaster that he clearly is. But Wogan came from a different era. It wasn’t his physical age that helped secure Radio 2’s difference, it was the fact he started a career different broadcasting era, an era when broadcasters felt like your friends. And he was able to become part of our breakfast routine before we, as a nation, took to the sport of shooting down our celebrities quite as quickly as we do today and before the radio industry replaced presenters after a bad ratings quarter or two. I hope the new host will be different enough allow the BBC to continue to point to Radio 2 as something that can’t be heard elsewhere. I think it’s going to be a challenge: not because Chris is not unique but because the broadcasting landscape has changed and Chris has played his part in today’s tabloid celebrity fascination. Will we be able separate his history from his present?

But I don’t want to end pondering about Radio 2’s future. I find myself looking back on the words I wrote about Jimmy Young and realise that many of them can be applied to Terry Wogan. It was an interactive show from early on. Letters about the Poison Dwarf and the M1 cones may have been replaced by emails but the audience has always been integral to a large amount of the content. As a style it is decades old but it still appears to work. Making you feel part of show is important. Making you feel like a friend is, surely, a gift.

Perhaps it was something about Radio 2 in the 1970s that remains underappreciated because the flares distracted us. A generation of broadcasters deeply integrated audience participation into their shows long before anybody knew what they were doing. While all radio uses input from listeners very few shows are actually built around that input. I wonder if radio should look backwards to understand its value because, in the rush to work out what a digital future means for it, I sometimes think it’s losing sight of how powerful a medium it really is. Surely, if Sir Terry and his 8 millions TOGs are to leave a legacy it should be to remind us of the power of the audience contribution when making unmissable radio.

Thank you for being a friend. Indeed.

Update: 22 December
Celebrity broadcasters pay tribute to Sir Terry Wogan | Terry Wogan signs off from Radio 2 breakfast with a crack in the voice

Author: jon

Jon Curnow writes on curnow.org about things that interest him. The site has been around for many years in various forms and he always wants to write much more here than he does.

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