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A lunchtime in the life of Radio Norfolk

Antonia Quirke tunes into Treasure Quest Extra Time on the local radio station.

Treasure Quest Extra Time

BBC Radio Norfolk

Lunchtime on Radio Norfolk (20 November, 12 noon), and the presenter Paul Hayes has been asking: “Have you ever had anything named after you, or have you named anything else?” The usually equable Hayes seems a tad hard to please today, picking holes in any messages coming in. Cheryl mails to say that when her tortoise had offspring, she called the sixth one Huckerby (after Darren Huckerby), but Hayes only wants to know if she named the rest after ex-Norwich City players, too.

Someone else says they called a cactus ­after their mother, but doesn’t say what. And Millie emails to say that she gave her very first car, a B-reg Ford Escort, the name Boris, “after Boris Yeltsin”, but has “no idea why”. Hayes gives up and plays “Summer Sunshine” by the Corrs.

And yet the needling air is catching. Immediately, someone mails in to say that it’s November, and clearly not summer, or sunny, and can we please have music more appropriate to the time of year? But at a reasonable request for Simon and Garfunkel’s “Hazy Shade of Winter”, Hayes narrows his eyes. “Is November winter? Or still autumn?” Rejected! Even when Mark suggests “Forever Autumn” from the War of the Worlds soundtrack, he grimaces: “It just wouldn’t be the same without Richard Burton’s smooth narration coming in over it.”

(On this point at least, I’m with Hayes. By the time Burton made that world-historical recording, released in 1978, he was over 50, and his had long been the superannuated, super-individual voice – bigger than him, almost separate from him. This was a voice very deliberately shaped with his drama teacher in Port Talbot, when he was a teenager, to sound a touch Welsh here, a touch transatlantic there, with little hints of BBC RP. Nobody would think to construct a voice as idiosyncratic (or nuts) as Burton’s today. Those sorts of voices in cinema are like dodos: gone for ever.)

A regretful Hayes continues to turn down requests, including Guns and Roses’ “November Rain” – “about 13 years too long” – as the show unfurls hypnotically, part-smiling, part-peevish, towards the one o’clock news. The cactus, by the way, turned out to be called Sonia. 

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 24 November 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Blair: out of exile

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Radio as shelter: Grenfell Tower was too frightening to look at

No song seemed to fit the mood on Hayes FM.

“Amidst all this horror, I hope to bring you some light relief. Here’s James Taylor.” Two days after the Grenfell Tower fire, a popular community station a little west of the incident was uncertain what note to strike.

The repeated ads for alarms detecting carbon-monoxide leaks (“this silent killer”) and tips on how to prevent house fires (“Don’t overwhelm your sockets and cause a spark”) sounded perhaps a little overassertive, but then the one for a day-long course focusing on resisting gender stereotyping (“Change the narrative”) felt somewhat out of place. And no song seemed to fit. James Taylor’s “Shower the People” turned out OK, but the Cranberries’ “The Icicle Melts” was unceremoniously faded out mid-flow.

This does often happen on Hayes FM, though. There are times when the playlist is patently restless, embodying that hopeless sensation when you can’t settle and are going through tracks like an unplugged bath – Kate Bush too cringey, T-Rex too camp – everything reminding you of some terrible holiday a couple of years ago. Instead, more ads. Watch your salt intake. Giving up smoking might be a good idea. Further fire safety. (“Attach too many appliances and it could cause an overload and that could cause a fire. Fire kills.”)

Then a weather report during which nobody could quite bring themselves to state the obvious: that the sky was glorious. A bell of blue glass. The morning of the fire – the building still ablaze – I had found three 15-year-old boys, pupils at a Latimer Road school that stayed closed that day because of the chaos, sitting in their uniforms on a bench on the mooring where I live, along the towpath from the tower.

They were listening to the perpetual soft jangle of talk radio as it reported on the situation. “Why the radio?” I asked them, the sight of young people not focused on visuals clearly unusual. “It’s too frightening to look at!” they reasoned.

Radio as shelter. As they listened, one of them turned over in his hand a fragment of the tower’s cladding that he must have picked up in the street on the way over – a sticky-charcoaled hack of sponge, which clung like an insect to his fingers whenever he tried to drop it. 

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 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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