24 hours in radio

A radio

A radio

Radio is just about the best thing in the world. It’s free, it’s made brilliantly well on the cheap by people who love it, it’s the original social medium (we were doing phone-ins, requests and community events before the web existed), you can do it while cooking or running or commuting, and – even though some stations and presenters boast listeners in their millions – it’s still the most intimate and immediate medium of all.

With the advent of on-demand listening and the explosion in ways to get hold of audio content radio has more competition than ever, but it’s still doing what it does better than anyone else does it, and it is still uniquely placed to deliver an experience that your Spotifys and Last.fms can’t get anywhere near – a personally-curated listening experience hosted by a trusted, human, person; the opportunity to be introduced to music you might never have heard about otherwise, to become an active part of a community both virtual and real, to have a friendly voice accompanying you as you drive through the night or fight insomnia. Radio is just about the best thing in the world.

So in case you are not a radio listener, or in case you are one of those radio listeners who sticks devotedly to the same station at all times, I have put together a listening guide for a day’s worth of radio featuring some of my favourite programmes, as well as some ways to get more from radio than you do today. Even if you just try one of these shows, I think you’ll be glad you did.

Breakfast

I have listened to just about every London-based FM station first thing in the morning over the years; starting in the eighties with Capital, then moving on to KISS, XFM, Magic and Virgin Radio (now Absolute) before eventually settling down to Radio 4’s Today programme, which I endured for several years before deciding I didn’t need to be made that angry that early in the day. So these days, to keep my blood pressure down, I start the day with Chris Evans’ Radio 2 breakfast show (6.30-9.30am), which has enough news and sport to keep me interested, but is also funny and chatty and has songs. It’s the biggest breakfast show in the country, and in this case nine million people aren’t wrong.

Late morning

This is the one I’m most excited about sharing with you, because unless you are a cab driver you may never have spent much time listening to LBC, but James O’Brien (10am-1pm) is just simply the best broadcaster I have ever heard – thoughtful, interested, not afraid of silence or of awkward moments. He starts each show with a fifteen-minute monologue on the subject of the day, and listening to him talk on, seemingly unscripted, never gets old (he would, I am sure, do very well on Just A Minute). Then he goes on to host the only phone-in show I know in which people’s opinions are genuinely changed as the conversation develops. He is the very opposite of a shock jock, and he should be on twenty-four hours a day.

Lunchtime

I know we haven’t had much music yet but bear with me, because for your grown-up Radio 4 shot of news World At One (1-1.45pm) is a far better and less hysterical bet than the Today programme.

Afternoons

Absolute, Virgin as was, competes with Magic as the station whose musical tastes most closely match my own, but Absolute is (it pains me to say) a little bit cooler, and Andy Bush (1pm-5pm) is a good and funny presenter. They promise no song repeats between 10am and 5pm, so you can while away the afternoon knowing you won’t be subjected to the same Taylor Swift song once an hour.

Drivetime

…but if Magic is more your bag, then the time to listen is 5pm to 8pm when Angie Greaves, one of the UKs only standalone woman presenters (we are mostly on the radio as sidekicks, sadly), presents a mixture of music and features through which her warm personality shimmers at all times.

Evenings

We haven’t had any classical music yet, and if you’d like to add some to the mix then switch over to Radio 3 in the evenings for Live In Concert (times vary), which this week features live performances of works by Shostakovitch, Stravinsky, Britten, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Dvorak, among others.

Late nights

I’m going to offer you a choice here, depending on your mood. On XFM John Kennedy’s Exposure (10am-1pm) is the station’s showcase for new music and the closest it gets to the XFM of old. Over on Planet Rock, though, the mighty Alice Cooper hosts three hours of rock classics interspersed with interviews and anecdotes. I’m not always a fan of celebrity radio presenters, but Alice is an inspired choice.

Overnight

Should you be awake between 1am and breakfast time, the World Service is the place to be. The calm, unfrantic style of presentation – which I assume arises from the fact that many listeners don’t have English as a first language – is very soothing, and the station’s remit allows it to cover stories which you simply wouldn’t get anywhere else.

Honourable mentions

These are the shows which don’t fit into my prescribed day of radio listening, but which you should listen to anyway.

KISSTORY (11am-12pm) is KISS’s old-school hour. There’s nothing like hearing the dancefloor classics of your youth to liven up a dull morning.

The Archers (R4, 1pm and 7pm). You may be able to get into it: I still haven’t managed it, but I continue to try, because the people I know who love it love it SO MUCH. I have learned the names of at least four characters, so perhaps I’m getting there.

Radio 4’s comedy slot at 6.30pm is very much a mixed bag, but if you haven’t ever listened to Just A Minute or I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue then you must certainly remedy that very quickly.

Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review on 5Live (times vary) is a once-a week affair, and I’m never sure when it’s on, but that’s OK because instead of listening live I download the podcast, which has extra bits, and listen to it later in the week.

And, brilliantly, now more than ever you can listen at a different time from when something is broadcast, so you never need miss anything, and you can download podcasts and listen to them offline, and you can listen online or via mobile apps so that you no longer need to be in Glasgow to listen to Clyde 1 or in Manchester to listen to Key 103, or even in the US to listen to NPR: my favourite podcast, other than Kermode and Mayo, is Click and Clack’s Car Talk, which – being a US phone-in show about cars – doesn’t on paper sound like something I should enjoy, but actually I really, really do.

You can also listen online via aggregator services like TuneIn – which is a bit of a confusing mess, but gives you access to thousands of radio stations from all over the world – and UK Radioplayer – which works beautifully and gives you access to all UK radio stations from one place, so it’s the perfect starting point for your day of radio discovery. Now, get listening.

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4 thoughts on “24 hours in radio

  1. Sarah Fisher says:

    I think Annabel from Geoff Lloyd’s Hometime Show on Absolute deserves a mention for making me laugh more than most people I actually know.

  2. Mike A. says:

    I had a listen to some of the programs you listed – thanks for the suggestions. I agree that the immediacy can’t be beat. I’ve now been conditioned and have a hard time listening to commercials, however, and I have a reflex that frantically looks for the “fast-forward” function. I’m glad you mention podcasts. This is the way I’ve found around the dreaded commercials, and I’ve built up quite a list of podcasts that I download and listen to continuously, covering many different subjects. But they can’t compete with the radio as far as the “right now” element. I’m going to make an effort to keep listening to live radio more often. As for TuneIn, I agree it’s a UI mess, but one thing I’ve found is that it’s fun to track down a station that I’ve heard while traveling, and listen to it from London. Nothing beats it for taking you to a faraway place, and you get their “immediacy” and local flavour. Just last weekend I transported myself to the Greek island of Sifnos for an hour or so by listening to “Radioactive 91.3” – some nights I plug right into the local New Orleans jazz station, WWOZ.

  3. Katherine Conlon says:

    Like Sarah, I had to log in to sing the praises of Annabel Port. She and Geoff Lloyd (on Absolute’s Hometime show) are consistently funny and astute and they make the world a better place.

    I will look up your recommendations – I particularly like the sound of James O’Brien.

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