This week marked 100 years of the BBC.
And the ‘7:43’ feature on Radio 2, which asked listeners to choose songs themed around “100 years of the BBC”, saw me kick off my drive to the train station accompanied by Queen’s Radio Ga Ga.
The song – an impassioned defence of the radio format at a time when it was being overtaken by television in terms of popularity – and in particular the lyrics “everything I had to know, I heard it on my radio”, got me thinking about our enduring relationship with radio. At a time when we have so many ways to watch, read and hear everything we have to know, why does radio continue to hold such a special place in our hearts?
100 years since the BBC started its first daily radio service in London, and 27 years after Roger Taylor wrote that radio was “yet to have [its] finest hour”, listeners are still tuning in in their millions every week to enjoy live radio broadcasts – albeit, from a technology perspective, that’s via DAB in my car, rather than via 2LO, the BBC’s original London transmitter.
In this always-on, multi-channel media world, public TV and radio stations consistently hit the top spot when it comes to being the most trusted news source. Chatting to colleagues as we listened to the radio in the office (the BBC’s 6 Music this time – a reflection, perhaps, of the shift in demographic between the office, and the audience of one in my car…), three recurring themes came to light about people’s relationship with the radio, and the trust we put in it as a news source:
- Connection: There’s none of the anonymity of being sat behind a keyboard when it comes to radio. Instead, a real human voice, often from a public figure, delivers the stories and music of the day live, right into the personal space you’re inhabiting at the time. There’s an intimacy and reassurance about listening to the radio, a companionship created by the sense of conversation, especially in these recent years that saw so many feeling isolated during lockdown
- Discovery: while podcasts have seen a huge rise in popularity, radio still plays a significant role in discovering new things. Consider the topical programming of Radio 4 shows such as Woman’s Hour, From Our Own Correspondent, You and Yours, and more. From culture and world affairs to health and education, there are always new stories to absorb
- Local: Nothing exemplifies the power of local quite as well as Liz Truss’ recent tour of local radio stations. I particularly enjoyed Jim Waterson’s analysis at the time, in his article that examined “local accountability journalism” and the continued appetite for news that represents the views of, and realities for, listeners
Despite the ever-increasing volume of ways to consume news and entertainment, listener-focused radio is not destined to “become some background noise” any time soon.