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

Eurovision Is Not A Serious Song Contest

So, what happened this year? Why are you so frustrated? Why are we suddenly upset about the bias? Simply because we did not do well? That’s a little childish, isn’t it?

Semifinal 1 EUROVISION 2008
Originally uploaded by proteusbcn

Dear Sir Terry

This weekend was the Eurovision Song Contest; the annual spectacle of music, strange traditional consumes & dubious musical interpretation of songs (and, as you might say, that’s just the interval acts). It was as it has ever been: a pile of unconnected international pop pap presented as a serious content. The most important thing, you must agree, is to remember your sense of humour. Over the years, you have urged us not to take it too seriously.

I wasn’t around for the 60s Brit-winners such as Sandy Shaw or Lulu. I don’t really remember the song contests of the mid-70s when classics from Abba and the Brotherhood of Man were born. I do remember Johnny Logan, Bucks Fizz and Bobbysocks in all their 1980s glory. When Ireland went on a winning streak in the mid-90s we were holding Eurovision parties in our University flats. It was fun and an excuse – if one was really needed – to get very drunk and laugh at rubbish songs. Which we did with an international feel.

So, what happened this year? Why are you so frustrated? Why are we suddenly upset about the bias? Simply because we did not do well? That’s a little childish, isn’t it?

The Scandinavians always voted for each other (as they did this year). For goodness sake, we always expect Ireland to vote for the UK and vice versa (and we hope Malta does too) while we know the French won’t. Call it political, call it similar musical tastes but that’s how it’s always been. It’s not going to change. But that doesn’t stop it being wonderfully silly entertainment in the best sense.

The last 10 contests have been won by Sweden, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Turkey, Ukraine, Greece, Finland, Serbia and Russia. If we take the 90s as the point when Eastern Europe started to enter the content then that makes it five wins to the new countries (Estonia, Latvia, Ukraine, Serbia & Russia) and 5 wins to the older entrants (Sweden, Denmark, Turkey, Greece & Finland).

Seems pretty fair to me. So, why have you started to loose your sense of humour?


Update on the voting from popbitch: “If only traditional Western European countries had voted this year the UK would have been third from bottom, rather than one of three with the lowest points”.

Children In Need Is Britain’s Version of Thanksgiving

Children In Need is Britain’s version of Thanksgiving. It comes around every November and it changes the television schedules (not always for the better). And that’s about where the similarities end but they say you start a piece of writing with a punchy statement to hook your audience. So, there you go. Thank me later.

I am fairly sure that the good folks in America have their very own Terry Wogan (the American version may also be a genial Irishman given the number of people from the Emerald Isle who shipped across the water) but I have no idea, and can’t pretend I care, for there really is nobody to rival Sir Terry (he is a Sir, Wikipedia told me so and – therefore – must be true).

Children In Need, of course, was last Friday night. You might have tuned in for Jonathan Ross but you got Kim and Aggie trying to clean a Status Quo dressing room. I imagine you’re over the trauma now. It’s Monday and I am whittering on about it purely because The Guardian – free on Finair flights from London Heathrow – has an item on a week in the life of a Pudsey (well, the bloke in the costume, Leeds version). As one of Wogan’s listeners would no doubt email his show, ‘what is the world coming to when Pudsey is attacked by scallies in Bradford’? Seriously, I’m turning all Daily Mail indignant about it.

It’s this sudden surge of middle-Englandness that has prompted me to pick up the quill once more. For it’s not only hoodies attacking Pudsey that got me all stirred up while reading the paper but the very notion that Dame Shirley Bassey is singing about an night on ecstasy in the current Christmas Marks and Spencer television commercial. I imagine, if I wear a legal type, I should add that Dame Shirls probably didn’t know what Pink’s ‘Get The Party Started’ was all about. And why should she? If truth be known, nor did I until I read it in, guess, today’s Guardian (really, there was nothing else to do on the plane).

Should you ever admit to liking a television commercial? I am not sure that you should but I do like the M&S ad. If you don’t know Marks and Spencer – and their place in British life – then you probably won’t get it and you could skip to the last paragraph. But it’s smart, plays nicely on the current James Bond mania and, let’s face it, must have cost a fortune (which I think is a good thing in tv advertising).

In fact, I love it so much I YouTube’d it (isn’t that what all the kids are doing these days?) Go view it. But then I found a rendition of Goldfinger by the very same Dame Shirley Bassey which is also fantastic (and is, if you believe Saturday night’s Channel Four countdown show, the most popular Bond theme of all time). Then I found Sheena Easton’s For Your Eyes Only. You know that one. Sheena was a nice girl-next-door type who sang about being a Modern Girl but then went glam singing the Bond title sequence and gazing into your eyes as you gazed at her in the cinemas of 1981. Oh, You Tube has Modern Girl too.

So, before I get hooked, I better go.