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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Come on, girls!

Maggie Philbin, Andrew Caspari, Belinda Parmar and Claire Sutcliffe

Last week I found myself in attendance at a panel discussion, organised by the excellent Sound Women, on “women in digital, interactive, media and developer roles”. (When I say “I found myself” I am using rhetorical flourish, you understand – I didn’t end up there by accident; I bought a ticket and went along.) The evening took place at Absolute Radio’s Golden Square HQ and was introduced by their COO, Clive Dickens, and chaired by Maggie Philbin of Tomorrow’s World fame. The panellists were Claire Sutcliffe, who founded Code Club which does exactly what I was recently complaining we needed someone to do; Belinda Parmar, founder of Lady Geek; and Andrew Caspari, head of a lot of music- and radio-related things at the BBC.

There was a lot of debate over why there aren’t more women in tech, and what might be done about it, and there were some interesting stories from audience members. The one which really made me stop and think was from a woman who grew up in Malaysia where, she said, IT was “the thing to get into” in the eighties, and as many girls studied it as boys because it was covered in the school curriculum at a time where in the UK, the only children getting into programming were the ones who did it at home as a solitary hobby (who were almost all boys, because, and I apologise for the sweeping generalisation, boys are more likely than girls to engage in solitary hobbies. Quiet at the back).

So we have a problem that is at least in part specific to the UK, and specific to the way that technology is perceived here. We don’t think of technology as a creative discipline. Claire said that if you show a kid an iPhone and explain that they can sit down and make a new iPhone app then and there, they are thrilled. Nobody had told them it was possible. All kids like technology, but nobody is helping them to make the link between writing code and making cool new things.

College brochures don’t show the potential outputs of a career in engineering, but a picture of someone sitting in front of a screen showing a load of unfamiliar gobbledegook. No wonder girls don’t want to do it – it’s as if you advertised a theatre studies course by showing someone sitting in their bedroom learning their lines, rather than up on a stage, dazzled by spotlights. We need to make technology aspirational in a way that appeals to to young women, and right now we’re really bad at it.

We also need more woman role models in technology. Women – watch out, here comes another sweeping generalisation – can be a bit crap at blowing their own trumpets, and it is easy to hide your light under a bushel and be satisfied in quietly doing your job well. But we owe it – not just to ourselves, not even just to the girls who we might inspire by showing them that careers they never even thought of can be creative and satisfying, but actually to all the potential consumers of all the cool things that girls might build if they are encouraged to work in technology – to stick our heads up above the parapet and say “yes, there aren’t many women doing this job yet, but I love it and here’s why I think you should give it a go.”

But individuals can only do so much, of course, and young woman may have already had their prejudices about technology ingrained before we persuade them otherwise (though it’s never too late! My degree is in art history). Where it really has to change, though, is in schools. In the long run, only government has the wherewithal to make changes at the level needed to support a thriving digital industry in the UK that will appeal to bright, curious, creative children of both sexes. But right now, there’s no reason for them to do it. Industry created the problem, industry will reap the biggest benefits from solving it, and industry has the means here and now to start making a difference – to go into schools, to talk to children, to bridge that gap between what they know they can do and what they can really do, and encourage them down the path we so urgently need them to take.