The best to you: a woman inspects old-style Corn Flakes packets in a mock-up retro Tesco, Goodwood 2012. Photo: Getty
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Chasing the sun: the radio station where it’s always breakfast

Global Breakfast Radio follows the sun around the world, streaming any local morning show for ten minutes, then moving on. 

“It’s coming up to 8.30 in the morning,” patters Tarence Ray on WMMT Mountain Community Radio in Kentucky. “This is usually about the time we read off from our community calendar but . . . unfortunately for you, I do not see a community calendar around me.” A few weeks ago, I tuned into a new internet station, Global Breakfast Radio, which follows the sun around the world, streaming any local morning show for ten minutes, then moving on. Radio Chaparristique in El Salvador merged blithely into to La Chimalteca 101.5 FM in Guatemala, which eventually gave way to WMMT – where I have stayed ever since, a cereal-piled spoon poised in mid-air.

It might have an air of slapdash bonhomie but I’m beginning to think that WMMT is the most organised and amusedly sub­versive little operation in American broadcasting history. Heard across the Appalachians, it uses over 50 volunteer local DJs, from high-school kids playing pop-punk to local miners doing a stint at the weekends. This is an area riddled with exploitative industrial practices – coal and gas companies accused of poisoning water wells, the expansion of enormous prison complexes into rural areas – and the station runs everything from features on fracking and call-in shows for miners suffering from work-related pneumoconiosis (“black lung”) to bluegrass marathons; it was once raided by the police when a teenager snuck on and played a particularly vulgar tape by disputatious comedian Andrew Dice Clay.

“Unfortunately for you, I still do not see a community calendar around me,” continues Ray, in his freewheeling way, as though he’s just knocked the cap from a beer bottle and, elbow on the table, is drinking from the jagged neck. “Maybe we can wing it? I could get really personal and just interject my own dates and events . . .” A 26-year-old legal aid worker whose Twitter feed mentions Bolshevism, Ray’s slyly omnivorous good humour is typical of WMMT. Wherever you might be across the world, it’s the one thing no station can fake. “For example, I have an eye doctor appointment,” shrugs Ray.  “If you all want to see me get my eyes dilated and examined, then hit me up! But first, here’s Bettye Swann with ‘Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me’.”

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 04 June 2014 issue of the New Statesman, 100 days to save Great Britain

Davide Restivo at Wikimedia Commons
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Scientists have finally said it: alcohol causes cancer

Enough of "linked" and "attributable": a new paper concludes that alcohol directly causes seven types of cancer.

I don't blame you if you switch off completely at the words "causes cancer". If you pay attention to certain publications, everything from sunbeds, to fish, to not getting enough sun, can all cause cancer. But this time, it's worth listening.

The journal Addiction has published a paper that makes a simple, yet startling, claim: 

"Evidence can support the judgement that alcohol causes cancer of the oropharynx [part of the throat], larynx, oesophagus, liver, colon, rectum and [female] breast"

So what's especially significant about this? 

First, scientists, unlike journalists, are very wary of the word "causes". It's hard to ever prove that one action directly led to another, rather than that both happened to occur within the same scenario. And yet Jennie Connor, author of the paper and professor in the Preventive and Social Medicine department at the University of Otago, New Zealand, has taken the leap.

Second, alcohol not only causes cancer of one kind – the evidence supports the claim that it causes cancer at seven different sites in our bodies. There was weaker evidence that it may also cause skin, prostate and pancreatic cancer, while the link between mouth cancers and alcohol consumption was the strongest. 

What did we know about alcohol and cancer before?

Many, many studies have "linked" cancer to alcohol, or argued that some cases may be "attributable" to alcohol consumption. 

This paper loooks back over a decade's worth of research into alcohol and cancer, and Connor concludes that all this evidence, taken together, proves that alcohol "increases the incidence of [cancer] in the population".

However, as Connor notes in her paper, "alcohol’s causal role is perceived to be more complex than tobacco's", partly because we still don't know exactly how alcohol causes cancer at these sites. Yet she argues that the evidence alone is enough to prove the cause, even if we don't know exactly how the "biologial mechanisms" work. 

Does this mean that drinking = cancer, then?

No. A causal link doesn't mean one thing always leads to the other. Also, cancer in these seven sites was shown to have what's called a "dose-response" relationship, which means the more you drink, the more you increase your chances of cancer.

On the bright side, scientists have also found that if you stop drinking altogether, you can reduce your chances back down again.

Are moderate drinkers off the hook?

Nope. Rather devastatingly, Connor notes that moderate drinkers bear a "considerable" portion of the cancer risk, and that targeting only heavy drinkers with alcohol risk reduction campaigns would have "limited" impact. 

What does this mean for public health? 

This is the tricky bit. In the paper, Connor points out that, given what we know about lung cancer and tobacco, the general advice is simply not to smoke. Now, a strong link proven over years of research may suggest the same about drinking, an activity society views as a bit risky but generally harmless.

Yet in 2012, it's estimated that alcohol-attributable cancers killed half a million people, which made up 5.8 per cent of cancer deaths worldwide. As we better understand the links between the two, it's possible that this proportion may turn out to be a lot higher. 

As she was doing the research, Connor commented:

"We've grown up with thinking cancer is very mysterious, we don't know what causes it and it's frightening, so to think that something as ordinary as drinking is associated with cancer I think is quite difficult."

What do we do now?

Drink less. The one semi-silver lining in the study is that the quantity of alcohol you consume has a real bearing on your risk of developing these cancers. 

On a wider scale, it looks like we need to recalibrate society's perspective on drinking. Drug campaigners have long pointed out that alcohol, while legal, is one of the most toxic and harmful drugs available  an argument that this study will bolster.

In January, England's chief medical officer Sally Davies introduced some of the strictest guidelines on alcohol consumption in the world, and later shocked a parliamentary hearing by saying that drinking could cause breast cancer.

"I would like people to take their choice knowing the issues," she told the hearing, "And do as I do when I reach for my glass of wine and think... do I want to raise my risk of breast cancer?"

Now, it's beginning to look like she was ahead of the curve. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.