Thursday, December 21, 2006

Why I Love Radio 4

For those of you not living in the UK, BBC Radio 4 is a fairly unique institution. I’ve heard Americans claim its just like NPR or its only talk radio, but that’s a weak comparison. Radio 4 has a budget most commercial radio stations would be jealous of. It can create audio programming that is a wonder.

Take the morning Today programme. This is a topical news programme that runs Monday to Saturday from 6am to 9am. It has an editorial team of about 50, and can call on the BBC journalist staff across the globe. Over the years I’ve heard interviews with world leaders from Putin, to Condalisa Rice to Mandella. As the BBC pumps the best of its news over shortwave, movers and shakers know that if you get on the BBC you reach an audience of over a billion.

So let me describe a piece this morning that I listen to as I was waking up. Its what made me realise how much I love this station. It was a piece on advertising junk food to children. There is a current piece of legislation going through the works to ban such ads during programmes aimed at children (cartoons and the like). A UK advisory body was making a fuss that most children actually watched adult programming more than cartoons (true), and that the ban needed widening.

They had one voice from the advisory group, one voice from an advertising body and the interviewer. All three were highly articulate and it was a concise intelligent debate. After five minutes I felt I’d heard both sides of the argument, and believe me, no punches were held back, understood the current status, and knew I’d go and read more background. The interviewer was talented and would turn a point one voice made into a barbed question for the other. It was great.

There was then a piece on buying peerages, one on environmental policy and this quirky bit on the recording of fish singing (who knew fish sang?). The today programme wakes me up, challenges my mind and gets me ready for the morning. If I get a chance to listen in the day I’ve heard superb drama, documentaries on everything from travelogues to remote locations to in-depth cultural studies in the Middle East. Radio 4 comedy make me laugh and relax on the way home, and in general fills in gaps in my day. I wouldn’t be without it.

For those of you poor souls who don’t live in the UK and can’t access the BBC easily, you have my sympathy. You can pick it up on the web though (


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