Radio Highlights: Saturday 7 – Friday 13 March 2009

Baseball and Me   Saturday 7 March 2009 Radio 4 10.30am

I have it on good authority from head-honcho, blogging-overlord-of-Radio 4 Mark Damazer’s blog that he’s a fan of the Boston Redsocks. No surprises then that this little half-hour on Simon Schama’s love of baseball has crept into the schedules.

Personally, if I was controller of Radio 4 one of the rules introduced would be a swift trip to the gallows for anyone who pitched the idea of anything sport-related to me. My second rule would be that a half hour of the schedules would be given over to my love of Eurovision every week and that I’d be able to produce the output.

(In proposing this I am at pains to point out that I am in no way bitter about the fact that Ming the Merciless Mark Damazer turned down my marvellous pitch for a radio documentary about the Eurovision a few years back. I dealt with this in an adult fashion not only snubbing Saturday Live with Fi Glover, but also encouraging as many people as I knew to do the same. I note with interest this plan failed and the programme is still in the schedules.) 


Desert Island Discs  Sunday 8 March 2009 Radio 4 11.15am
I’m not sure what to make of this week’s guest Richard Madeley. Unfortunate buffoon or all-round fundamentally misunderstanding husband of mother hen Judy Finnigan. I will listen to find out and report back.

REVIEW: Unfortunate buffoon Madeley is not. His anecdotes on Desert Island Discs were interesting and enlightening even if his musical choices remained safe. Madeley is the only person I know who can describe the music of The Eagles as “sexy”. It a[ppears he also used the opportunity to announce some professional intentions for the future ..


Bring me the Head of Philip K Dick  Sunday 8 March 2009 Radio 3 8pm

Jacks of all trade are generally looked down on at the BBC – certainly in my experience – so when someone has written, produced and directed a play, you can’t help wondering whether he or she is a controlling so and so. So it is with Radio 3’s Sunday night drama about a deadly futuristic weapon with the look of science of fiction writer Philip K Dick’s head which actually thinks its Philip K Dick’s head. Weird, wonderful and ultimately challenging. Who could ask for more?

We also have Sound Houses   Sunday 8 March 2009 Radio 3 9.30pm

Opportunity to hear Radio 3’s Sunday Feature (originally broadcast during the Proms season last year in the run up to the Stockhausen Day) about the BBC Radiophonic Workshop producer Daphne Oram.


Afternoon on 3  Tuesday 10 March 2009 Radio 3 3pm

Don’t bother with the rest of this programme, only the appearance of Benjamin Britten’s brilliant Piano Concerto performed by Steven Osborne. Forgive the crappy rendering of this video, but be sure to take a listen. The last movement is ridiculously silly and overblown but Osborne’s performance (this from the Proms in 2007) was a pyrotechnical hoot in what amounts to a foray into piano concerto writing that Britten really should have continued with. If we’re really lucky it’ll be 2007 gig we hear on Tuesday night. If it’s not I’ll be ringing Radio 3 Controller myself to complain.

You and Yours Monday 9 March Radio 4 12pm

The only reason I’m listening to this is because I understand there’ll be a piece on the collapse of the 4×4 gaz-guzzler market. The opportunity to sneer at all those idiots who are pumping loads of unnecessary gases into the atmosphere merely because they have the means to do so is an opportunity too good to miss.


Click On Monday 9 March Radio 4 4.30pm

It’s like Rory Cellan-Jones’ blog on the radio without Rory Cellan-Jones. Click On returns for a new series and kicks off with a piece about You Tube and how it costs more money than it makes. Interesting.


Front Row Monday 9 March Radio 4 7.15pm

Piece about the state of undercover tv reporting on Front Row this evening. Will listen to impress my colleagues at work at the editorial meeting the following morning.


Adventures in Junk Tuesday 10 March Radio 4 11.00-11.30am

Sometimes the radio listings will yield something begging to be listened to without so much as an on-air trail. So it is here. The first adventure playground opened in Denmark in 1943 as resistance to the Nazi occupation grew. This programme will provide you with interesting facts to impress dinner guests with, although the Nazi angle may limit the social situations in which you attempt to impress people, admittedly.

Chi Chi – Panda Ambassador Wednesday 11 March Radio 4 9pm

A chance conversation overheard by yours truly drew my attention to this very programme. During the conversation one member of BBC staff said to another “Yes, Chi Chi the panda is on-air next week?” Quite apart from the fact that the person was actually revealing something in next week’s schedule before they should have done, it did raise the inevitable question, “can Chi Chi actually speak ?” The fact that Chi Chi has actually died didn’t get uttered at any point during the earwigged conversation.


Front Row Friday 13 March Radio 4 7.15pm

Contrary to what the listings tells you on /programmes I have it on good authority that writing God David Hare’s latest creation – a monologue about political divisions in the Middle East – will be reported on in today’s show.

First night in Plymouth

My two day work trip to Plymouth has kicked off on the wrong foot. The night before a two day conference on all things multimedia and I can think of nothing else to write other than how desperately blue I’m feeling.

“Have you visited us before?” said the perky receptionist as I stood dazed at the check-in desk.

I recounted my previous trip to Plymouth and how, when the sun rose, a park attendant had poked his head inside my tent, pointing out in an undeniably assertive tone to both me and my three other university friends that camping was not permitted on Plymouth Hoe.

“I meant the hotel, sir.”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Well,” she continued, “you’ll find the gym down that corridor there and the bar and restaurant on the ground floor. Breakfast starts at 6.45 in the morning.”

I grabbed my many bags and made off for the third floor.

Half an hour later, having complained about the stench of stale tobacco smoke in the room the receptionist had allocated me, I found myself in an almost identical alternative room with a slightly fresher smell. I called my colleague, also in town for the same conference and staying in a room on the floor below me.

“What’s your room like?” I asked, staring up at the ceiling fan above me.

“It’s not great,” she replied nervously, “I’m looking at the ceiling fan and ..”

I found it difficult not to finish off her sentence. “.. wondering whether it will fall off the ceiling?”

I privately dismissed my fussiness over the room. I was tired. The three and a half hour train journey must have been tiring even if I hadn’t actually been doing very much. I must eat, I told myself. Take yourself off to the restaurant.

It closed at 9.45pm. I signed in at 9.10pm and settled myself down with my newspaper a minute after. Two minutes after that I’d decided on both a pint of Kronenberg and the roasted wrapped chicken with fondant of potato and wild mushroom jus.

I casually flicked through my copy of G2, marvelling once again at the Guardian’s ongoing success at creating daily content which not only engaged me but reassured me all at the same time. How was it they got it so right so often? Whose was the brain behind this particular machine, I wondered as I skimmed over the article on anger management.

Twenty-five minutes later and I noted that unlike the other two people in the restaurant, I still hadn’t received my food. Was I being impatient ? Did twenty-five minutes justify me complaining? Or, if absolutely necessary, was it OK for me to start foaming at the mouth? I texted my husband back in South East London for advice.

Predictably, he suggested I check-in with the waitress, advice I followed with almost immediate effect.

“Well, it does take 20 minutes to cook the chicken, sir.”

“But surely if you’re cooking the chicken for 20 minutes, the chicken will be dry, won’t it?” I said as I glanced over towards the other people making use of the restaurant.

“We do advise customers to have a starter so they’re not kept waiting for the main course. You didn’t order a starter, sir. But it won’t be dry sir, I can assure you of that. He knows what he’s doing. I don’t argue with the chef. ”

“That’s fine, I will.”

I was an idiot to complain. As soon as I’d dealt what I thought was my death blow, out came the chicken on a plate, with its potato and its wild mushrooms and its jus.

“There we go sir,” said the waitress. “Enjoy your meal.”

I stared down at the plate. An ample breast, a roasted potato, a splattering of stock and a handful of mushrooms. The only thing wild about the whole thing was me. I guzzled the meal and made for a swift exit.

“Did you enjoy your meal sir?” asked the waitress handing me the receipt to sign.

I looked at her and paused.

“Not especially no,” I frowned. “I ordered it at 9.15pm and it arrived at 9.40pm. That seems quite a long time. The other thing is, it said on the menu it comes with fondant potato. It’s not like I’m a big fan of fondant potato especially, but when the meal arrived it had a roast potato clearly not cooked between 9.15 and 9.45.”

“I am sorry sir,” squeaked the waitress, “Would you like me to get the chef so that you can talk to him?”

“Not really, no.” I replied. “I’m a coward really.”

Maybe I should have hesitated before complaining. Maybe my complaint wasn’t water-tight. Maybe, in fact, if I was so bold to say that I would argue with the chef before the food arrived, that I should have been equally as bold to face up to after I’d eaten the food. After all, I do have to eat breakfast in the morning.

That aside, I’m reminded how the seemingly insignificant things can have the biggest impact when I’m staying outside of my comfort zone. Sure, I may not be picking up the reduced-rate accommodation bill, but still I can’t help getting over the simple emotional response that a slightly unfortunate experience in an hotel on the south coast has left me feeling that maybe Plymouth isn’t my kind of place.

Let’s hope it looks better in the morning.

U2’s considerable triumph

Tube advertisingI hate U2 and I like Bono even less.

I’m one of those sorts of people who will start foaming at the mouth when I see the man in a picture. You may also like to know that I also run a very high risk of bursting a handful of blood vessels if I see him open his mouth and hear him talk. I didn’t get (and still don’t) understand anyone who get’s excited by their music. Even a casual listen to their music leaves me wondering what the fuss is about. But more tiresome than any of that : One of the band members is called “The Edge”, for God’s sake. The words ‘pretentious’ and ‘idiots’ spring to mind?

And yet, something weird has happened this weekend. Given my limited knowledge and even less desire to research the topic fully for something approximating a reasonably interesting blog post, I appear to have made a discovery. 

U2 are everywhere with their new album New Line On The Horizon. That might be one of the reasons I responded to a Radio 2 web producer on Facebook when I read his status message noting Adam and Joe’s mild slagging-off of U2 in their 6 Music show with the very real feeling : “Jon wonders whether U2 stayed on the roof of Broadcasting House last night and, if they didn’t, perhaps they ought to have done.”

Of course, if you’ve been on some kind of alcohol-fuelled bender for all of Friday you will be blissfully unaware that U2 descended on the BBC’s Broadcasting House yesterday, playing in the Radio Theatre at around lunchtime, doing an interview with Chris Evans later in the day before hopping around like the middle-aged rockers they really are (I’ve not watched the resulting video but I bet Bono’s wearing those damn sunglasses despite it being dark) on the roof overlooking 750 fans cramming Regent Street below. (I bet their view was a little restricted. Shame. My heart bleeds.)

Pictures abound of the event and a spot of mobile video from Flickr user and BBC-Audio-and-Music-technology-blokey-who-I-need-pay- back-for-a-coffee-he-bought me FatController.

Not only that, U2 have been on most music related outlets I know of (predictably most of these are BBC things) including The Culture Show (there were moments when I found Bono to be at his most irritating) and Radio 4’s Front Row – don’t be surprised like I was to discover that the interviews contain pretty much the same responses in both programmes.

U2 on the BBC websiteU2 even have their own BBC website featuring all the exclusive content the Corporation’s Audio and Music department has produced. With my pseudo-geek multiplatform webbie type hat on, I can confirm it’s a tasty design and a well executed web offering. It feels right for the event. It ticks all the right boxes any web producer has to face on a daily basis at the BBC. It is, in short, the kind of project I wished I’d worked on despite the fact that I loathe U2. Most pertinent of all is that the website shows the way in which BBC websites should (and I think I’m right in saying will go) in pulling together relevant content from right across different networks into one easy to absorb “topic” based site. You might want to speak to someone more senior for a more official statement on this. 

With all that in mind, I have to report that my initial feelings about U2 may well be changing given the band’s now obvious masterstroke.

I first saw their new album advertised on the Tube journey to work. I found it difficult to resist taking a picture. “Oh, it’s them” I thought. “Marvellous. I bet we’ll be hearing a lot of them in the next few weeks. Might be interesting to follow that little process.” Even if you’re reading that cold it might be worth me stressing I was rolling my eyes and generally sneering about the whole thing. (For further evidence please see the opening gambit of this post .. many thanks.)

Now I’ve finished what amounts to my usual regular Saturday afternoon doze and log on to Spotify (for the first time since I got my login set up) I discover the entire album is being promoted on the new music service. Seeing as everyone else is talking about them (at least it seems that way), I’d better listen to the album. In the interests of research, lets see if I hate the music on the new album as much as my gut reaction to Bono and his stupid glasses and even more irritating viewpoints on various global issues (with particular emphasis on climate change).

The answer is .. I quite like the album. In fact, I really like the album. If this is U2 (and really – I know it’s a sad thing to confess – but really, I’ve never made a point of listening to their stuff before – it’s always been white noise) then maybe they’re not quite so bad after all. I might even download the album or .. who knows .. buy it on CD. Actually, I might go as far as to say .. well done them. 

And what did it take? A massive PR effort involving a global broadcaster, various print media outlets, advertising sold all over the internet and a deal with new belle-of-the-internet-ball Spotify. It must have cost them a fortune.  Still, at least they can count me as a new convert. I bet they’ll be delighted with that.

Radio Highlights: Sat 28 Feb – Friday 6 March 2009

Away from home and working late this week, I need to plan my listening to provide some welcome relief and take my mind off any bouts of homesickness I might suffer from. Thus I commit to the following perceived radio gems in the coming week.

The Talented Mr Ripley / Saturday 28 February 2009, Radio 4, 2.30-3.30pm
Happy to confess that I haven’t actually seen the film or read the book. But going on the way I totally got into listening to hour long segments of the radio dramatisation of To Serve Them All My Days this time last year, I’m relishing the opportunity to listen to Patricia Highsmith’s novels over 5 weeks.

The Bottom Line / Saturday 28 February 2009, Radio 4, 5.30pm
Evan Davies hosts a discussion about the future of computing and Microsoft vs. Google amongst other things. I’m looking forward to hearing about the thorny issue of cloud computing in the hope I might hit upon some rouse to sabotage the growing popularity for cloud computing.

Stand-Up With the Stars / Sunday 1 March 2009, Radio 4, 1.30pm
Comic Relief has landed on Radio 4. It was inevitable. In this little number, Evan Davis, Libby Purves, Peter White and Laurie Taylor try a spot of stand-up for the charity. I will be listening for all the wrong reasons.

Woman’s Hour / Monday 2 March 2009, Radio 4, 10.00am
I’ve recently basked on a Twitter and Facebook holiday. It’s been bliss. Life has returned to normal. So in a bid to see whether I’m missing anything (it certainly doesn’t feel that way) I’ll be listening to Woman’s Hour doing social networking in Monday’s programme.

Front Row / Monday 2 March 2009, Radio 4, 7.15pm
Leslie Garrett joins Katherine Jenkins and James Taylor to talk about singing live in large arenas. I’ll listen and pass on any tips I think UK Eurovision representative Jade Ewen might need.

Performance on 3 / Monday 2 March 2009, Radio 3, 7.00pm
Clearly there’s going to be a bit of a scheduling clash with Front Row (above) but it’s ages since I’ve heard a regional orchestra that isn’t either a BBC or part-funded BBC band. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra always seemed rather good in the past. Are they now? A fairly safe programme of accessible repertoire from the Lighthouse in Poole, Dorset.

Night Waves / Monday 2 March 2009, Radio 3, 9.15pm
Everyone’s favourite irritatingly intelligent, well-informed and unsmug radio presenter Matthew Sweet isn’t presenting this edition of Night Waves. Instead it’s Bidisha talking dance with studio guests Sylvie Guillern, Robert Lepage, Russell Malipant and Alexander McQueen about a new Sadler’s Wells collaboration called Eonnagata. I’m sharpening my pencil and retrieving my notebook in preparation …

Readings from Bath / Tuesday 3 March 2009, Radio 3, 3.30pm
Series of three short stories from the Bath Literature Festival kicking off with a short from Pippa Haywood. There aren’t enough short stories around it seems to me, at least not on radio.

Schoenberg’s Gurreleider / Tuesday 3 March 2009, Radio 3, 7.00pm
As challenges go this is one of the more demanding ones as far as I’m concerned. The Philharmonia Orchestra play Schoenberg’s seminal work. It’s a tough one. But I’m ready for something tough and challenging to listen to.

Performance on 3 / Wednesday 4 March 2009, Radio 3, 7.00pm
The BBC Symphony Orchestra runs over some Strauss, the Chopin Piano Concerto (a personal favourite of mine) and Ravel’s La Valse in a concert recorded at the Barbican last week. Nice.

I will also be watching Newsnight Review to see what the panellists thought about Doctor Atomic opening night .

Wendy Richard’s newspaper memorial

Richard in The SunCommuters are the newspaper editors’ captive audience. Trapped in a train carriage or a tube train, an editor must surely know that their target audience isn’t just those who purchase their publication but also those travelling to work who clock the front cover of other publications in the hands of other commuters, or read a story over someone else’s shoulder.

There’s no more potent a reminder of this than this morning.

News of Wendy Richard’s death has provided tabloid newspaper editors with useful material. Gory details aren’t necessary here, instead an opportunity to juxtapose the word “institution” with full page images of the recently deceased in his or her heyday.

All the elements are there. A person instantly recognisable to a mainstream audience has died from an incurable disease. Richard is pictured a shadow of her former self. The implicit editorial guaranteed to tug at the heart strings.

The Mirror's angleIt’s not just that it will sell papers. Stories like present a different angle on a disease which everyone hears about all the time but no-one thinks they will suffer from. More cynical observers might also suggest that such stories reinforce newspaper brands with its existing audience whilst striking a chord with a new one.

Such a deeply cynical view may initially appear as deeply insensitive. That’s not the intention, however.

Instead, the Richard story is a perfect example of how the tangible effect of newspapers steals a march over TV and radio. If reading news online provides a chunk of almost immediately disposable content, then newspapers have the power in some instances of offering something more lasting by judicious use of full-page images and highly-crafted copy.

Perhaps it goes some way to quieten the voices who pronounce the newspaper’s life is at an end.