I love the radio. So many hidden treasures. At its best, unassuming, but still a thing of beauty when brash. Confident in its use of timing and sound, and the fact that it is usually live, and able to maintain a real-time relationship with its audience. Here are a few ideas of some of the things I love listening to.
Particularly during the recent ‘lockdown’ but even before that, the radio is an important companion to me between 7.00pm and 1.00am – accompanying whatever I am up to during the evening. At that time, there are frequent clashes, so I will often have to navigate clashes between Janice Long, Jo Whiley, Lynn Parsons and Iain Dale in particular depending on my mood, switching to an appointment with Ritula Shah, and then on to BBC Radio 3 for the rest of the night, usually leaving the radio on overnight.
Weekends, I usually start later, with Nick Abbot on Fridays and Saturdays my guaranteed appointments to listen, along with Liza Tarbuck on Saturday evenings, and Phil Taggart, and Carolyn Quinn on Radio 4 on Sundays.
During the day, I tend to yo-yo between BBC 6 Music, LBC and BBC Radio 3 as my staple background listens. BBC 5Live at Breakfast, and a dose of BBC Radio 4 around dawn (and for special shows) had been my other listening ‘destinations’, but they have recently been joined by Times Radio (more later).
The UK radio listening space feels particularly blessed at the moment, especially when you add in the burgeoning number of internet radio streams too, some of my favourites listed below. When we have access to so much of that radio output via ‘listen again’ services like BBC Sounds, it’s no surprise that I find I have little time to little to podcasts, except in rare circumstances. I’m sure that will change, but for now, my love affair with radio continues.
If you didn’t read it, I blogged some time ago about my all-time favourite voices here . Full details on some of those regular appointments to listen below:
Late Junction: BBC Radio 3 (Fridays, 11.00pm-1.00am)
In a world that increasingly leaves me desensitised, Verity Sharp and Jennifer Lucy Allan on Late Junction never fail to surprise, provoke, confuse and delight. I would be lost without Late Junction. A huge outcry when it was cut from three shows a week to one, and we lost regular presenters Max Reinhardt, Nick Luscombe and Fiona Talkington, but I still listen each week, not live, but via BBC Sounds in the bath on a Sunday morning (too much information!).
Janice Long, BBC Radio Wales (Monday-Thursdays, 7.00-10.00pm)
New music, live music – just an over-riding passion for music. I was heartbroken when she lost her late night show on BBC Radio 2, so was made-up when she got an even better vehicle for her talents from BBC Radio Wales in 2017. You can tune in to catch her legendary voice via the BBC Sounds app anytime, anywhere, and thoroughly recommend you do.
One of my favourite voices on the radio. Quietly, but authoritatively crept up on me. 10.00pm is The World Tonight in my house. Nothing else.
Always there for me. Love what Nick does on air on LBC. Wish he had more time on the schedule to show off. Genius use of sound effects. Neither left, nor right – just absurd. “Hello, THERE.” You can hear more of what he does on his show via the podcast based on the show, ‘The Nick Abbot Habit‘ via the Global Player.
Liza Tarbuck: BBC Radio 2 (Saturdays, 6.00-8.00pm)
Liza’s show is a hidden gem on the Radio 2 schedule. She is one of the funniest, most spontaneous presenters on the network, together with a music playlist that is the most diverse and personal. It is a huge surprise to me that Radio 2 do not make more use of Liza as a daytime presenter during the week. Her music reminds me of what Radio 2 used to sound like in the evenings and at weekends with Desmond Carrington and David Jacobs, together with a hint of 6 Music. It has become a ‘must listen’, usually while I am cooking along with thousands of other listeners, sharing the contents of their everyday lives.
After Late Junction was reduced from three nights a week to one, Radio 3’s late night output felt a little more anglicised. The exception was this one hour show with Elizabeth Alker, which makes a refreshing difference, promising “music by an exciting new generation of unclassified composers and performers, breaking free of the constraints of practice rooms and concert halls.” It has not let me down to date.
This is the regular strip of shows across the week which have effectively replaced Late Junction. While they are much less edgy than the show they replaced, the slot has grown on me, and regularly accompanies me into the wee small hours. I like the way Sara and Hannah curate themes, and both have great voices which are a perfect fit for the slot.
Jo’s show – once more flying solo, and restored to the evening time-slot she has made her own – is probably my ideal soundtrack. Perfect signposting of new music, delving into vinyl which matches my life story – and snapshot of life around the UK at a time of the day when people are doing the most interesting things. It tends to be when I’m doing my most flour-laden sourdough work, or winding down making pom poms. I was lucky enough to work with Jo for a short time, and am a huge fan.
There is too much to single out on the station, but particularly during ‘lockdown’, I have found it becoming a permanent friend during the day, as well as Don Letts (pictured, Sundays, 10.00pm-12.00midnight) with his Culture Clash Radio show, and Stuart Maconie. The particular flavour of music thirst of the likes of Lauren Laverne, Mary Anne Hobbs, Craig Charles and Steve Lamacq is on during the day exactly where it works best. Hearing Mary Anne ‘dep’ for Jackie Brambles in the lunchtime slot on Radio 1 in the mid 1990s (as john Peel similarly did, completely ripping out the foundations in the process) was one of the things which made me think I might want to work at the station. And I did. Good to hear her back on in a similar slot again, although making it her own this time.
The journey of BBC Radio 6 Music has been a considerable success, as exemplified by recent ‘RAJAR’ audience figures (May 2020) – analysis by both Matt Deegan and Adam Bowie, for example on their excellent blogs.
In London, for example, on share of listening BBC 6Music now has a 2.7% share. In a crowded marketplace such as this, it put’s it not far behind some long established players like BBC Radio 1 (3.3%) and Capital, London (3.5); level with Kiss (London), and ahead of others like Radio 3 (2.6); Radio X London (1.5); BBC Radio London (1.1) and Virgin Radio (0.8). It’s worth reading Matt’s post to checkout which stations lead on market share, and how the positions compare with 10 years ago. BBC 6Music’s story is a considerable achievement, and give pause for thought with regard to what makes for a successful radio station – and that it doesn’t necessarily have to rely on the lowest common denominator..
One voice I’ve loved hearing in particular during the ‘lockdown’ is Nemone doing some stuff during daytime on mental health, and hadn’t realised she is an integrative psychotherapist outside of her radio work on 6 Music, like Electric Ladyland. I’ve always loved her voice, and you can catch some of her Meditations via this link. And breathe….
Josie Long: Short Cuts, BBC Radio 4 (Various times)
Big, big fan over everything Josie does. Her work is inventive in sound terms, and extremely human. Storytelling to another dimension – and a great voice. Short Cuts is everything I think a perfect radio show should be. “Short documentaries and adventures in sound.”
Phil Taggart is on BBC Radio 1 (Sunday 7.00-9.00pm)
With a focus on new, and decidedly chilled out sounds from a wide range of genres, all delivered not only with a hunger for the new, but also a beautiful Norther Irish lilt. A real appointment to listen on Sunday evenings, and a fantastic signpost for new music with a decidedly chilled and ambient edge.
I usually seem to ‘end’ the week on a Sunday night in the safe hands of Carolyn Quinn, previewing the week ahead in the political world. Try as I might, I can’t shake off a political ‘fix’. I’ve tried to ‘wean’ myself off as much as I can the daily agenda-setting shows, but this one gives me just the right amount to prepare for what the week has in store. It all stems from when I had the ‘misfortune’ of working as a researcher and then a press officer in the Palace of Westminster in the early and mid 1990s, and when the whiff of walking the corridors of the Press Gallery has entered your nostrils, it never leaves you.
Lynn Parsons, Magic Radio, 8.00pm-12.00midnight
Lynn is the nicest person I have ever had the pleasure of working with – full stop. It also remains a pleasure listening to her. Such a rich, relaxing voice. Weekday evenings have a lot going on in them for me (Janice Long, World Tonight, Late Junction), but when ever I can fit her in (or whenever I particularly need to, I know Lynn is there, working her mellow magic! I get a particular thrill when she reads out a text from me, sharing my ‘window on the world’.
LBC is in fine shape. It has become my default talk station, not just for Nick Abbot. I have grown to increasingly love how James O’Brien has used the medium to strike a different furrow from most other daytime presenters. I’ve long been a fan of Shelagh Fogarty and Eddie Mair, but also Iain Dale, and Maajid Nawaz, to provoke me from alternative positions. LBC has a fine sense of its own identity, and is in as good a shape as it was in its heyday, although it could do with embracing a more diverse range of voices on its schedule – just too white, too male, and too middle aged. Guest presenters are not enough to rectify this!
Rachel Burden and Nicky Campbell, BBC 5Live Breakfast (Monday-Friday, 6.00-10.00am)
Great chemistry. Great rapport with their audience. Great voices too. I was lucky enough to have worked with Nicky for many years, and strangely feel like I have known Rachel for many years too, even though we have never met. Great on-air partnership.
Sara Cox, BBC Radio 2 (Monday-Fridays, Drivetime)
I have to give a special plug for Sara Cox. I had the honour of working with Sara in a very small way, doing the PR on her show when she took over the helm of the BBC Radio 1 Breakfast Show. I think she has amazing wit, and real warmth in the rapport she builds up with her audiences. If she had secured the breakfast show gig, she might have won me over from the political and current affairs output I’m addicted to at that time, but at drivetime I certainly tune in when I can, and for relief from the rubbish that has been going on during the rest of the day.
Ricky Ross’s New Tradition, BBC Radio 2
This is only an occasional short series, but is actually one of the best things on BBC Radio 2. The Deacon Blue frontman plays new songs, and traces the common themes which have influenced song- and music-making over the decades. I learn so much, add so many tracks to my playlists, and get to feel part of a live, warm audience community who contribute via Twitter. I’ve always been a fan of Deacon Blue, and this show cements my affection for the man. Through this show, I’ve discovered some of Ricky’s shows on BBC Radio Scotland too. Great to have him on the radio, as well as on stage and in the studio.
I was hugely despondent when Nick Luscombe left Late Junction, but it was not long before he launched his own online radio show for the ‘musically curious’ featuring a mix of ‘alternative and experimental music, sound art and rarely heard recordings.’
Max was another loss to Late Junction who has surfaced in a number of settings, including this one on Soho Radio. I have Max and Nick to thank for many of my music discoveries in recent years, and I am glad I can still listen to regular radio shows.
Sarah plays a mix of deep house, rare groove and hip-hop. DJ and club-head, with a radio track-record taking in pirate radio, Kiss FM and BBC Radio 1. I love her style, and had the pleasure of working with her at the BBC. She now has a regular gig at Totally Wired Radio – a station from Acid Jazz, the seminal East London record company. It takes its name from a ground breaking series of albums launched by Eddie Piller and his original partner in the label which became a byword for creative eclecticism. “TWR is the audio companion to Fred Perry Subculture – promoting independence, individuality and identity. From Punk to Funk, Jazz to Reggae, Hip Hop to Gospel and a whole lot more in-between.”
Radio continues to surprise and delight, and as podcasting (and internet stations) have demonstrated, the potential for serving narrow audiences with with bespoke content has proved a success. In the last couple of decades, commercial radio has been able to turn the tables on the BBC, providing budgets to lure talent, in a bid to drive audiences.
I’m hoping this will relax the BBC to feel it doesn’t haven’t have to follow the same strategies as commercial radio, and can commission programming that the market wouldn’t/couldn’t otherwise provide, which provokes, and inspires. I’m not so sure they will on initial evidence.
The most recent launch to capture my attention, during the Summer of 2020 was Times Radio, which time will tell whether it will widen audiences for talk radio, or snatch enough from existing outlets, such as LBC, Radio 4 and 5Live.
I have been pleasantly surprised – indeed, in old radio parlance, “I’ve made the switch“. I like the balance of content between hard news and features, and I particularly like the way they let interviews take their course – there is no aggressive cutting off interviewees with an “I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got time for” after just a few minutes.
I’ve always been a fan of Jenny Kleeman when she’s appeared on TV and radio, and her pairing with former BBC journalist Luke Jones to present the Weekend Breakfast Show (Fri-Sun) has perfect chemistry.
Despite not needing to get up at 5.00am, I have found myself making an appointment to listen to the Early Breakfast Club (Mon-Thu) with former BBC presenter, Calum Macdonald. He has a welcoming voice, and an unusually polite, nay, well-mannered style of presenting which is refreshing amongst his peers. The handovers with the Breakfast Show which follow at 6.00am underline the informal, and ‘good ship’ feel which Times Radio has already managed to establish. I have long been a fan of Aasmah Mir – less so her co-host, Stig Abell – although I do feel they too have developed a good chemistry nonetheless.
Obviously it’s early days – but with other strong names amongst the presenting line-up, like John Pienaar and Cathy Newman, the signs are good that it has managed to develop something which adds up to more than just an audio ‘loss leader’ for encouraging subscription sign-ups to The Times newspaper. And personally, it has broken a stranglehold that BBC Radio 4 has hold over much of my listening time since it was drilled into me in my early 20s by bosses I had when I worked around Westminster, that I almost had to have the station attached to me like a drip in order to have a functioning professional, or adult life. While I still find many treasures on BBC Radio 4, turning to it as the station of first recourse is over after thirty years or so.
There is also the whole question of what is ‘local radio‘ for, and how we can guarantee its success – and similar challenges for community radio. The beginning of September sees the death of a long roll of local station around the country, including Eagle Radio in my own backyard in Surrey and Hampshire. It was the successor to County Sound, which I grew up listening to, and was one of the inspirations for me eventually ending up working in radio. The loss of such stations is a complete failure of regulation in my opinion. For a community to lose what are successful stations, contributes to the decline of ‘place’ – and it needn’t have been this way. There needs to be some imaginative thinking in the space between BBC local radio, small scale commercial radio, community radio, internet radio – and podcasting as to how they can best contribute to the development of thriving communities, both in terms of culture, and healthy civic society, such as holding power to account.
I’m also particularly looking forward to the wider roll-out of a BBC Sounds app on smart TVs, so it is finally possibly to ‘listen again’ via a catch up device integrated into their smart TV. As the BBC i-Player, ITV Hub, Netflix – even BritBox – become a routine part of most people’s lives with regards to TV consumption, it just seems absurd that there is not a similar app for radio integrated within the main entertainment device in most people’s homes. I’m interested to see what impact it could have on radio listening above and beyond the existing rather restricted listening to radio via TV sets.
That’s probably enough from me – back to the radio listening!