Eastenders or the Archers, Woman’s Hour or Loose Women, which medium do you prefer?


Over coffee this morning I discovered that a new colleague is, like me, a huge fan of radio. We fell into passionately comparing likes, dislikes and must-listen shows and, at the end of a mammoth discussion about the virtues of Radio 4 (even if that Sunday night 40th birthday programme, 4 at 40, did go on far, far too long and boringly), my companion muttered something about telly and then looked a bit abashed. “I don’t suppose you watch much,” he said. It was clearly meant to be a compliment, and testimony to my long-standing, ultra-purist radio allegiance. Given that I had spent last night glued to The Restaurant on BBC2, and will do the same tonight for the “challenge” show, I rather choked on the flattery.

It set me thinking, though, about what each medium does best – what I rely upon each one for, and what it each one abjectly, hilariously, endlessly fails at. Here’s what I came up with for starters:

Where Radio Triumphs

Breakfast shows: An array of goodies are available, with radio stations showcasing their finest (except Radio 1, which features Chris Moyles). TV breakfast shows are full of fake, harshly-lit informality and joviality, plus scripts that dumb news down for an audience seemingly assumed to be eejits just on the point of waking.

Daytime schedules: Quite simply, there are no property selling shows; no auction/car boot sale shows; no bear-baiting type true life stuff; and no Noel Edmonds (any more). There’s Woman’s Hour instead of Loose Women; Eddie Mair instead of Paul O’Grady; Jeremy Vine instead of David Dickinson. Radios 1 to Five Live currently feature some of the strongest daytime line-ups for years, with the obvious exceptions (You & Yours, Steve Wright).

Conservative Party Conference Closing Speeches by David Cameron: I tuned in to hear this on Five Live rather than watch it, largely because I am allergic to Cameron’s big, posh face. What an improvement! True, I did nearly nod off a few times in the 68 minutes, but without having to deal with the sight of him, I actually listened instead of growling, cursing and throwing things. Still won’t vote for him, mind.

Arts programmes: There’s something for everyone on the BBC stations. Radio 3 has Night Waves for people with more than two PhDs; Radio 4 has Front Row for listeners who want brisk snippets of slickly packaged arts discussion that last no longer than cooking dinner with a glass of wine. There are lots of lovely books programmes, too, including World Book Club on the World Service in which people from global nooks and crannies pose endearingly peculiar questions directly to authors.

Where Telly Has The Upper Hand

Religion: For the agnostic or atheistically-minded, telly helps by squashing religious output into clearly demarcated slots (ie Sunday) which you can then avoid. On radio, it pops up, horribly, anywhere and everywhere – each morning on Radio 4 at 7.50am, for example, right in the middle of breakfast, and also on Terry Wogan’s show, in the repellent “Pause for Thought” spot.

Tennis: I try every year to love Wimbledon on the radio, but the truth is that tennis is simply too fast. Radio is fine for sports in which a ball is kicked/batted/carried about at length, but ridiculous when the commentators simply can’t keep up with play. Also, I miss looking at the outfits.

Soaps: Telly has Coronation Street, radio has The Archers (which won’t even call itself a soap, but a “drama serial”). Enough said.

Sex: The visual-free intimacy of radio, so gorgeous a thing at most times, is its downfall when people start to get intimate. It’s almost impossible, even years later, to dislodge supposedly sexy moments on radio from your mind, especially when they are on The Archers. I’m still recovering from Sid and Jolene in the shower together, let alone Ruth and Sam in the cowshed.

Food and wine programmes: Much as I treasure the austere, slightly sniffy pleasure that is Radio 4’s Food Programme, I have had to concede over the years that a large part of the pleasure of eating and drinking is visual. Those radio features in which someone cooks something noisily in the studio and everyone swoons over it with their mouths full simply don’t work. And Radio 4’s Wine Programme, which encouraged us all to swig along as we listened, was just plain silly. It was like watching snooker in black and white.

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