Monday, April 11, 2016

Radio 4, Where Have You Been All My Life?



Radio 4 is one of the nine radio stations run by the BBC.  There's Radio 1 (pop hits), Radio 2 (adult contemporary), and on like that.  Radio 4 is mostly talking and its where I spend most of my time - at least so far.  There's so much BBC radio that I haven't had time to venture deep into the other stations - yet.

And may I just say, we have crappy talking radio here in the US, if you ask me, which you didn't but it's my blog.

I'm not even talking about the Saharas of sportstalk and  know-it-all political blowhards and the religious folk on our dial.  I have zero interest in that.  I listen to music and occasionally NPR.  NPR is the closest thing we have to BBC-style radio in this country and it is a poor, sad, pushy, begging enterprise. Plus NPR is irritating.  Aside from Cokie Roberts and Ira Glass (once in a while), and Terry Gross (most of the time) it is middle-brow forced-jollity earnest superior blah beige boring.

When I was a kid, WGY in Schenectady played Mystery Theater, hosted by E.G. Marshall each weeknight.  I would "work" cleaning the kitchen for the whole hour of Mystery Theater.  Thinking of that sole survivor of radio drama (in my day) I  am reminded of the remains of those dwarf mammoths they found somewhere - physically shrunken holders-on - last of their species, dying out on some island .  That was what Mystery Theater was back in the 70s.  It wasn't genius but it was fun and it exploited one of the things that radio is good at - telling stories.  When I stumbled into Radio 4 I realized how starved I was for programming that takes full advantage of Radio's (note capital "R") potential to be fun, informative, interesting, creative.

I'm not looking for a radio revival to suit me here in the States anytime soon.  Our airwaves follow the money.  They must.  I understand that. The Beeb is publicly funded and even if Bernie Sanders gets elected no one in the States is going want to throw tax money at radio.  Podcasting has filled the void, largely, that's true. But Radio is still a special thing.  We don't have to hunt it out. It flows. It's a friend.  Thankfully, we now have the internet.  And the British taxpayer.

So here, for your listening pleasure are links to my favorite shows Radio 4 shows, with a nod to Radio 3.  (Actually this is the tip of the iceberg my favorite shows but it's bedtime).

Desert Island Discs
Are you interested in any famous people? They have probably been interviewed on this show.  There is an archive stretching back to 1942.  Famous people, including Bill Gates, the late Princess Margaret and all kinds of movie stars, musicians, writers and other achievers - the kind that would only get radio time in England (e.g., a landscape designer, a nonagenerian allergist, a supermarket magnate) discuss which  eight records they would take if marooned on a desert island.  It turns out that this is a great way to get biography.  I am addicted.  The theme music sounds like a Monty Python joke - at first I thought it must be.  I quickly understood, however, that they were playing it straight. The theme is a holdover from the show's 1940s origins. I love it now: living strings, squawking seagulls. Please Aunt Beeb, never change it.

Desert Island Discs was my entree to Radio 4.  I have since become enamored of Book at Bedtime - so many great adaptations there.  And lately I've been dipping into the venerable Woman's Hour, which is as old or older than DID.  There's comedy. There's all kinds of drama.  On that point, I have to give shout out for dRadio 3, I listened to a brilliant creepy adaptation of the famous play The Skriker there recently. Give that a listen if you can. You will never hear the like on the radio in the US.

Really, there's too much to detail here.  Just go poking around the BBC Radio website.  If you don't find much to love, check you pulse.