I’m not sure exactly what is slow about BBC Radio 3’s “slow radio” series. It began five years ago, as a sibling to BBC Four’s set of “slow TV” programmes, which included a three-hour tour of London’s National Gallery with no voiceover, music or sound effects, and a film of a two-hour narrowboat journey along the Avon. (These, in turn, were inspired by the popularity of slow TV in Norway, where the broadcast of a seven-hour train journey from Bergen to Oslo became an unexpected success in 2009.)
The equivalent radio slot has broadcast a six-hour collage of the voices of people living with dementia and “sound portraits” (atmospheric background noise) from different places around the world. More recent episodes have sped things up: this latest one compresses a day in the life of a dog into a 30-minute programme. Not so “slow” then, but retaining the essential everyday quietness of the real-time programming that preceded it. “Mundane Radio” doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Our guide to the world at dog level is Honey (a 15-year-old fox-red Labrador, but you’d only know that if you had read the programme details). We hear her snoring, padding around the house, chomping down her breakfast, and strolling through the park. Humans occasionally enter the soundscape to offer her treats or praise her for sitting nicely while her hair is brushed. A neighbour explains to a child that Honey is more than 100 years old in dog years.
The result is hardly thought-provoking listening, but it’s not intended to be – it should be the opposite: mindless, head-emptying. There is something vaguely calming about the snuffles of Honey’s breath, the tweeting of birds around her. But even the most immersive soundscape can’t compete with the sensory pleasures of real dog ownership: my partner and I respond to every unexpected noise from our dog – the strangled one he makes barking in his sleep, his strangely exasperated sighs, the high-pitched whisper emitted mid-yawn – as if it were a priceless gift. And where is the fun in a pet you can’t pet?
Slow Radio: A Day in the Life of Honey the Dog
BBC Radio 3, 3 July, 11.30pm; now on catch-up
This article appears in the 06 Jul 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The Last Days of Boris Johnson