Last weekend I was having a discussion with some friends about the quality of British television. Our main conclusion was that most of the programmes broadcast in this country seem to be reality TV shows, game/quiz shows, adaptations of classic novels and documentaries. Whilst there is nothing wrong with such programmes in and of themselves, there seems to be less and less original drama on television and a greater reliance on long-running programmes with a guaranteed audience that seem to have been going since the beginning of time and will probably keep going for a similar period. New drama series such as Broadchurch seem to be the exception rather than the rule – whereas in America, they are apparently popping out hit shows faster than you can say “boxset”. Obviously America has more money to throw at new TV series – the production costs of shows like Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad must run into hundreds of thousands of dollars per episode. But the success of series such as Broadchurch – and the popularity of US TV series in this country – shows there is a hunger for exciting and innovative new drama – and it can be done on a slightly more modest budget. Perhaps one factor is the risk involved in commissioning a new drama series – if it doesn’t go down well with Joe Public, an awful lot of time and money has just been wasted. Of course there is a risk with any new programme, but reality TV and gameshows cost much less to make – you don’t have to employ as many actors and writers, for a start – so if you fail to produce a hit, at least you won’t have lost as much money.
But if British television is currently going through a dry spell in terms of creativity and innovation, the same cannot be said of British radio – and in particular, of the BBC radio stations. If you want to be up-to-date with the latest trends in pop music and culture, Radio 1 is packed to bursting with fresh new tunes and enthusiastic presenters. Radio 2 provides a slightly broader range for those people whose tastes in music go back further than the last ten years. Radio 3 gives you art and culture in profusion – opera, plays and concerts galore, interspersed with documentaries, for those who want to learn a bit more about the art and music they’ve just heard. I must confess, I know very little about Radio 5 or about 6Music, although they’re apparently both great for sport and alternative/fringe music respectively. But Radio 4. Ah, Radio 4 is a different story altogether. It has hours of excellent original comedy and drama (as well as the requisite number of adaptations – there were some complaints recently about a new version of “Pride and Prejudice”, which, to be fair, has already been adapted more times than you’ve had hot dinners), along with fascinating factual shows on a quite mind-boggling range of topics, various quiz shows and unclassifiable oddities such as the Shipping Forecast. It is a veritable cornucopia of audio delights.
For those of you who are not keen on the idea of a non-visual medium, let me now try and persuade you of its merits. Firstly, rather like reading a book, listening to the radio gives your imagination some exercise and allows you to create your own mental picture of the characters and scenery. But, unlike reading a book, you do get given different voices for each character, sound effects and even, in some cases, a soundtrack. To highlight the effectiveness of radio as a broadcasting medium, I will give you a personal example. A year or so ago I listened to several Shakespeare plays broadcast by Radio 3, including Twelfth Night, Romeo & Juliet and The Tempest. The latter, in particular, stood out for me because I had previously seen a live outdoor performance of it and despite these optimal conditions, I hadn’t thought much of it. But the radio version was terrific. The lack of visuals allowed me to concentrate more on the superb imagery conveyed by the words and the sound effects used for Ariel made the spirit seem far more ethereal and other-worldly than watching an actor on a stage wearing a wispy skirt.
Just in case you still needed convincing, here is a short list of some of the other advantages of radio when compared to television.
- No licence fee
- Entire series of several programmes available to download for free on iTunes
- Mobile devices do not require such a strong internet connection to play the programmes
- Even people outside the UK can listen to radio programmes on iplayer
So don’t delay – switch on your radio today! *advert jingle*
And finally, here is another list, this one is includes some of the fabulous radio programmes available to you right now, for free!
In Our Time
Words & Music
Desert Island Discs