Late Radio 4 Rant

Has anyone listened to Radio 4 of late? Well, over the last weekend – during the aforementioned DIY marathon – I pretty much listened to it for 15 hours a day straight.

I caught up on all the Archers shennanigans (poor old Kathy) and listened to the same edition of Moneybox twice (I thought Roger Bootle was very engaging, although I am concerned about his theory that Mervyn King knows a terrible secret about the economy that is yet to be revealed).

Anyway, I digress. The point of this post was that, on the whole, I quite enjoyed the experience. It felt quite 20th century to be presented with a banquet of diverse and sometimes baffling programmes on which to feast. None of which, if I had been on the Internet, I would have chosen to indulge in by myself. Force feeding, in this sense, appears to have its place.

However, the one time that I did consider turning the radio off (and frankly throwing the thing out of the window) was during Saturday’s Any Answers. Here I came face-to-face (or ear-to-voice?) with what I supposed was a representive slice of Radio 4’s audience.

I’m afraid the only way to describe it was cringeworthy. In my mind I had imagined the programme would attract hoardes of erudite intellectuals with concise views, willing to challenge the arguments of the Any Questions panel.

Instead it was a horrifying mix of parochial middle England attitudes and blundering baffoonery. I think, at one point, one old chap was arguing (via a debate about Blue Peter‘s cat) that Radio 4 must use canned laughter because anything other than Humphrey Lyttelton simply wasn’t funny!

Of course, as it was pointed out to me later, Any Answers doesn’t represent Radio 4 listeners, it represents those listeners willing to interact with the programme.

Which leads me to the question, why? Why doesn’t the show encourage a wider demographic to respond? What is it not doing? I think this is a fundamentally important question, not just for Radio 4 but for anyone in the media that wants to interact with their full range of audience.

I’m not sure what the answer is, but perhaps it’s something to do with the medium of communication. Perhaps you have to be parochial in your views or, indeed, a bit batty to air them live on radio…

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6 Responses to “Late Radio 4 Rant”


  1. 1 Stef Lewandowski September 25, 2007 at 8:09 pm

    Radio 4 is a funny one.

    I’ve ranted before about the fact that they won’t let atheists get a word in on their ‘nought for the day’ show – http://www.steflewandowski.com/?p=154

    It seems that their audience is split down the middle – right wing middle england oldies and left wing under 35 intlectules. The chances of getting them in the same room at the same time is pretty slim, especially for certain shows… one day I’ll fathom it. At the moment I seem to oscillate between radio 4 and (when 4 gets unbearable) listening to bad electro-house on radio 1 until the Archers finishes and I can turn back over :-)

  2. 2 joannageary September 29, 2007 at 12:46 am

    You leave for the Archers?! But don’t you want to know how David and Ruth are going to cope with Bluetongue? :)

    Don’t you think it’s interesting that, whilst not being able to get them in the same room, the station should encourage an audience of such diametrically opposed groups of people? It would suggest there may be some common ground on which they could work. Or, perhaps, that there’s a market for a speech-based station that caters for a younger audience. (I hate the words “younger audience” makes me think of middle-aged executives debating what would be “cool for the kids”.)

    But bringing them both together is something I’d love to crack with the work I do. I get the feeling that there’s a lot of right-wing middle England oldies in Birmingham that could do with getting together with the city’s under-35, left-wing intellectuals (and vice versa)!

  3. 3 Pete Ashton October 2, 2007 at 1:34 am

    I wonder… Is it natural for people with opposing views to come together? This is how you’d define community, surely? One of the problems with modern media is how niches are exploited on quite narrow grounds, but the beauty of something like Radio 4 is that people who strongly disagree with each other on some quite fundamental issues can come together.

    I think this might be because R4 has a manageable audience size and doesn’t need to be populist so it can be broader within that. Since the only two newspapers I think worth reading are the Guardian and the Telegraph I like that R4 manages to appeal to both, most of the time.

    I need to do more thinking on this – there’s a nugget of wisdom in there trying to get out.

    You and Yours, however, is a fucking atrocity and will remain ever thus.

  4. 4 jezhiggins October 2, 2007 at 9:55 am

    All radio phone-ins are a disaster. As are all television phone-ins. As, for the most part, are newspaper letters pages. As are many public meetings. On top of that, there seems to be an inverse relationship between the size of the audience and the awfulness of the calls or letters.

    Public consultations on any kind of planning matters are, for example, invariably dominated by some loud mouthed twit demanding to know why he can’t build his garage whereever he damn well pleases. An Englishman’s home is his castle, didn’t you know. It’s all very well for “them”, but the sap from the trees is dripping on his car. Why can’t “they” cut the tree down. And so on. When reminded that the meeting is actually about supplementary planning guidance on the high street, they blink and then start over again. That’s the real issue, you see.

    The chance to chip your twopennorth into a public forum seems, unfortunately, to be more attractive to reactionary twits than the rest of the population. Either that or everyone in the country apart from me and my friends is a reactionary twit.

    (As a data point to Stef, btw, I am over 35 but not yet an oldie, nor am I right-wing. The one thing I’d really like to change about Radio 4 is the piss-poor state of its science reporting.)

  5. 5 Charlotte Carey October 2, 2007 at 4:07 pm

    You people wait till you get beyonf 35 and still listen to Radio 4 you’ll see it doesn’t feel so old!:-)

    Anyway aren’t radio 4’s audience just ‘Guardian readers’? My folks, incidentaly now of middle England, oldies (sorry ma and Pa) and only Guardian readers in their village! Have been listening to Radio 4 at least all of my life (approx 36 yrs). They manage to rub along nicely with all the Telegraphs readers (mind you I guess they all must listen to Radio 4 too!!!- hadn’t thought of that). You’re so right.

    ButI suggest that in order to avoid insulting a whole bunch of full on left wing, dynamic, noisey etc people you might want to make old start a bit later in life (or am I just deluding myself?)

  6. 6 joannageary October 2, 2007 at 8:38 pm

    Anyone going to be in London on the 29th? If not, I might try and find out if there’s going to be a transcript of this: http://www.ica.org.uk/Is%20Radio%204%20too%20Middle%20England+15058.twl


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