Second-rate ranting

Is it just me, or have phone-in shows become a lot duller in the internet age?

On Manchester's Key 103, Total Football (Sundays, 4pm-7pm) passed an entertaining afternoon praising Ryan Giggs, the man who once inspired the stupidest insult of all time, from that well-known boulevardier Liam Gallagher - "All he can do is fucking run." (And that's a bad thing in a winger, Liam? You genius.)

Giggs had just found the strength in his geriatric hands to sign a one-year extension to his contract at Manchester United, and the comments from pundits ranged from the dead straight ("He obviously enjoys football, and that's great") to the crushy rant ("He's done it, he's continued to do it, he's played, he's trained, he's produced, he's an absolute credit to his profession") to the sizing-up of the man as though he footballing equivalent of the racehorse Seabiscuit, primed to lift a nation from its very Depression ("Look at his condition. It's just fantastic. Doesn't carry any weight, even though he's been right around the block").

Fielding all this was the show's presenter, Hugh Ferris, a radio talent of the first order, who simultaneously managed to preview the forthcoming match between United and Derby County in perfectly syncopated time to MGMT's anthem "Time to Pretend" and also segue in and out of a slyly comic interview with Robbie Savage. ("I need to smash someone in the first minute, you know? I need to line them up and feel that buzz smashing them. My girl's out there watching and I love it.")

Ferris has real goodness in his young voice, a voice that swoops elastically about, but in a way that never comes over as a pose of delirium like the commentators who go all out pretending they're hiding a hard-on beneath their notebooks. Altogether his programme is without rival, and the very antithesis of Match of the Day's sour rap (that show's grim rolling of eyes!), but neither does it have the deep, deep anxiety of 5 Live's regular football phone-in, 606, which was this past week completely preoccupied with confirming that yes, the programme now twitters. ("Send your tweets in now!")

Was there ever a more tragic concept? Like someone knocking on the window of your car and offering themselves for loose change. It's also a patently useless initiative, as people will always require more than 140 characters (the maximum tweet) when they're violently slagging something off. But is it just me, or ever since the invention of the "post your comment" box underneath newspaper articles on the web - now the locus for so much rage, that editors have to employ intermediaries to act as class monitor - have phone-ins lost their lunatic edge? They are now just incredibly boring, attracting exclusively the kind of person who leans up against kitchen units making a lengthy to-do of things.

Still, the sheer need of the callers, the patent want! Didn't Freud tell us that all the unconscious can do is want? ("I'm going to stop sticking up for JT because actually I'll just expand on that point further because recently his demeanour on the pitch has changed and this actually ties in to my other point previously that Frank Lampard is exactly the same I mean he looked gobsmacked and even the referee was like why why why . . .")

Pick of the week

The Lady in the Van
21 February, 2.30pm, Radio 4
Alan Bennett and Maggie Smith reprise their award-winning performances.

Archive Hour21 February, 8pm, Radio 4
Presented by Jenni Murray, this tackles the subject of agony aunts.