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

Flickr/Alfred Grupstra
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How will future videogame makers design a grand strategy game about the 21st century?

With the diminishing power of nation states, and the lack of conventional warfare, what would a 21st-century grand strategy game look like?

In the world of historical strategy games, it always seems clear how to win. Paint the map your colour. Raise your flag over the capitals of your rivals. Pave the streets of your cities with gold. Games based around statecraft in olden times will tend to have diverse objectives, they usually focus on the greatness of a nation in the traditional senses of the word: military might, technological advancement, religious and cultural hegemony. These same priorities hold up from the times of the Roman Republic to the Cold War.

Yet if games designers in the future were to look at the world of today, how would they interpret the actions of modern governments? Do the same goals as before apply or have we moved on? Are the objectives of contemporary societies different, and if so, just what would a player in a game of 21st-century grand strategy be trying to achieve?

One thing is for sure, the conventional measures of success in historical grand strategy games don’t stack up so easily in a modern setting.

War, for instance, has always been a staple part of historical games and it remains a preoccupation of contemporary society too. In the 15 years of the 21st century, Britain has invaded two countries, conducted armed interventions in three more and is even now lining up the procurement of new fighter jets, new aircraft carriers and new nuclear weapons at incredible expense. So we can safely say we do not live in a peaceful age.

But despite having all this firepower and the political will to bring it to bear at the drop of a dossier, war doesn’t seem to serve Her Majesty’s Government in the way it does in either the history books or the strategy games. There is no territory to be won and no rival great powers being thwarted – only air strikes, occupations and teetering puppet governments.

Indeed the only country whose military adventures bear any resemblance to the old-timey way of doing things is Russia, with Putin perhaps the last of the breed of world leaders who still thinks swapping out the flags on municipal buildings constitutes a legitimate redrawing of national boundaries. Given his famous distrust for technology it seems quite likely he didn’t get the tersely worded Tweet from Obama about how that kind of thing isn’t supposed to work anymore.

On the economic side of things the approaches opted for by governments today don’t fit with the historical mind set either. Nations are no longer trying to get rich for their own sake. Privatisation relinquishes the assets of the state in return for a temporary financial gain and long term loss of revenue. Deregulation and poor tax enforcement bleeds capital overseas. It is here we see perhaps the key difference between games where you play as The State itself and real countries, countries run by people who have bank balances of their own and competing party financiers to appease.

The idea of running a country for the purpose of making that country wealthier and then reinvesting that wealth back into the country by developing assets and infrastructure has gone out of the window. Simultaneously both the leftwing model of a state run for the benefit of its citizens and the rightwing ideal of a country mastering its economy to become a more powerful force on the world stage have been quietly phased out. Outsourcing and tax havens suggest that there is no longer room for patriotism in economic policy – unless you’re China, of course, but it wouldn’t be much of a game with only one nation playing it.

On a technological front there was the space race, and there have even been games built around it. But in the 21st century, the urgency and the sense of competition has been lost. Rovers on Mars, probes on comets and space stations tend to be viewed in a spirit of collective human achievement, partly because of the collaborative nature of modern space exploration, and also, I suspect, because lots of people in those fields are Star Trek fans.

The idea of going to Mars so you can stand on the surface of another planet and tell the Communists to stuff it no longer appeals as much as that whole "pushing back the scientific boundaries for the benefit of all life of Earth" deal. It is laudable, but not ideal for games built around competing with other countries.

In the 21st century grand strategy game, we wouldn’t be looking to conquer the world, we wouldn’t be looking to buy it and we wouldn’t be looking to leave it in our technological wake either. So what does that leave? What would 21st-century grand strategy look like?

It could be argued that we’ve moved beyond the era of nation states as the bodies driving world affairs, and such a game might reflect that. Maybe something more akin to a Crusader Kings game would be the way to go, with the player taking the role of an individual – a connected political blueblood, perhaps, like an oligarch, a CEO, an activist turned politician, a drugs baron or a terrorist leader. Or maybe we would play not as an individual, but as an organisation, for example the CIA, ExxonMobil, Isis, Amnesty International or the Solntsevskaya Bratva.

It may be that we never see the present day immortalised in a strategy game, at least outside of that passing phase in Civilization where everything is either settled down or exploding in nuclear fire. Perhaps we’re destined to nestle into a historically obscure crack between the tumult of the 20th century and something spectacular or horrible yet to come. It is nice to think, however, that the times we live in are at least interesting and that maybe we’ll get to see it all laid out in a game one day, if only to find out what winning the 21st century would look like.

Phil Hartup is a freelance journalist with an interest in video gaming and culture