Photo: akasped on flickr.
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It’s Valentine’s Day phone-in time, or rather, text-in

Increasingly, listeners tend to text instead, something that has changed the dynamic of the phone-in to no end.

As Valentine’s Day approached, Aled and Dr Radha of BBC Radio 1’s Sunday-evening call-in show The Surgery (9pm) were asking if “single” is a dirty word. “I’m feeling excited,” claimed the 37-year-old Aled. “I don’t actually feel like we’re on the radio. I just feel like we’ve got a few hundred people who are coming round for a big chat.” The GP Radha Modgil agreed. “That’s good,” she said. “That means that we’re just on air and we’re being sincere and can just chat …”

Over to the phones. Increasingly, listeners tend to text instead, something that has changed the dynamic of the phone-in to no end. A few weeks ago, during an hour-long “relationships” special, nobody called at all but the texts kept coming – tortured post-break-up texts surely sent from a roadside café while a chip was being dunked into a sad puddle of mayonnaise and one lone, bitchy tweet directed at the hosts: “You’ve just topped all of Radio 1 in the passive- aggressive department.”

“I’m thinking – what does that even mean?” said Aled, hurt. “What have I done? I was just saying that relationships are tricky. Dynamics and different times and that kind of …” He can be a little thin-skinned sometimes but at least he and Dr Radha are the only people on the station who fully comprehend that they are not broadcasting to any “massive” or “crew” but to the third year of Camden School for Girls and their cousin Josh. For a few minutes, the presenters talked among themselves. Valentine’s Day. Huge expectations, lots of pressure. Aled had a nice time once, a few months into his relationship with Emile, who presented him with a three-metre-long tube of Jaffa Cakes.

These sorts of confession from Aled are usually followed by a qualifier, something pivotal that suggests a hinterland of tough experience combined with lines and scenes gleaned directly from daytime drama (“That was then, Emile!”). Even the name Emile suggests a subject whose impact, trajectory and wind velocity might take up the whole show. Dr Radha stepped in and gently moved things along, admitting she was single once and saying it’s absolutely nothing to get in a pickle about now, is it? At which point, as though in direct contravention, the phones started ringing.
 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 13 February 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Can we talk about climate change now?

Harry Styles. Photo: Getty
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How podcasts are reviving the excitement of listening to the pop charts

Unbreak My Chart and Song Exploder are two music programmes that provide nostalgia and innovation in equal measure.

“The world as we know it is over. The apo­calypse is nigh, and he is risen.” Although these words came through my headphones over the Easter weekend, they had very little to do with Jesus Christ. Fraser McAlpine, who with Laura Snapes hosts the new pop music podcast Unbreak My Chart, was talking about a very different kind of messiah: Harry Styles, formerly of the boy band One Direction, who has arrived with his debut solo single just in time to save the British charts from becoming an eternal playlist of Ed Sheeran’s back-catalogue.

Unbreak My Chart is based on a somewhat nostalgic premise. It claims to be “the podcast that tapes the Top Ten and then talks about it at school the next day”. For those of us who used to do just that, this show takes us straight back to Sunday afternoons, squatting on the floor with a cassette player, finger hovering over the Record button as that tell-tale jingle teased the announcement of a new number one.

As pop critics, Snapes and McAlpine have plenty of background information and anecdotes to augment their rundown of the week’s chart. If only all playground debates about music had been so well informed. They also move the show beyond a mere list, debating the merits of including figures for music streamed online as well as physical and digital sales in the chart (this innovation is partly responsible for what they call “the Sheeran singularity” of recent weeks). The hosts also discuss charts from other countries such as Australia and Brazil.

Podcasts are injecting much-needed innovation into music broadcasting. Away from the scheduled airwaves of old-style radio, new formats are emerging. In the US, for instance, Song Exploder, which has just passed its hundredth episode, invites artists to “explode” a single piece of their own music, taking apart the layers of vocal soundtrack, instrumentation and beats to show the creative process behind it all. The calm tones of the show’s host, Hrishikesh Hirway, and its high production values help to make it a very intimate listening experience. For a few minutes, it is possible to believe that the guests – Solange, Norah Jones, U2, Iggy Pop, Carly Rae Jepsen et al – are talking and singing only for you. 

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

This article first appeared in the 20 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, May's gamble

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