The joy of six

An often brilliant station could soon fall silent.

So, it looks like 6 Music is kaput. At a meeting in early February, the channel's controller, Bob Shennan, told the gathered staff that they had three weeks to wait before the wet towel was officially removed from its bucket to be wrung. (One imagines his gestures while speaking - fingers unusually honed from writing redundancy cheques.) Bad news for its 600,000 listeners, but it's no surprise: 6 Music is too hog-tied to that clapped-out DJ format - three hours with Nemone, followed by three with Steve Lamacq, and so on, doggedly fusing the day together like strips of bacon at the back of the fridge. Only late in the evenings does the station wipe its nose on its coat sleeve and do something interesting - running (occasionally brilliant) documentaries and features.

I'm assuming that if 6 goes, then 7 has to follow. Impossible to imagine it sticking around, with its uniquely depressing atmosphere of a station broadcasting to nobody. The other day, I found myself listening to its reading of A Passage to India (weekdays, 2.30pm) and suddenly felt quite spooked, as though if I opened my front door, there would be mist as far as the eye could see, and one child, its lips blue with shock - ie, something had Gone Wrong on a national scale, and I'd somehow missed the sirens. "The perfect organism would be silent," advised Professor Godbole in one episode. So I switched it off.

The best programme of the week was Radio 2's Ocean (8 February, 11.30pm), in which some folk singer travelled along the coast "in seven fairly mad days, from Cornwall to Aberdeen, stopping off in Glasgow", talking to people about why they liked the sea. A lot of stating the obvious went on ("The sea is an exciting place . . . For centuries our coastline has been a gateway for people leaving and visiting Britain . . . You're either a sea person or a mountain person. Or you could be both, of course"). And it wasn't exactly exciting ("We were going out on a boat trip, but the weather was bad, so we're going out in the car instead"). Or brilliantly descriptive ("The Bay of Biscay is a pretty scary place." "Yeah, it is. I've sailed across. Well, on a ferry"). And there was a good deal of filling ("You can hear seagulls . . . It seems there are recurring themes to do with the sea, like mysticism and pirates"). But it was incredibly casual and good-natured, and chock-full of Victoria Wood-isms ("I heard about a local shanty singer at the King's Arms in South Zeal in Devon. It's not far from Bodmin Moor, but I must admit it was an absolute nightmare to find").

The only show to rival its sweetness was Radio 4's Ramblings (Saturdays, 6.07am), for which Clare Balding sticks a microphone on her lapel and takes a country walk with people familiar with a locale, chatting to them. The easy, competent simplicity of the format - so relaxed, so unshowy - meant Balding didn't sound like a presenter (which is the holy grail of presenting). On TV, Balding is rather too pally, always expected - as all TV presenters are - to be "handing over" or to be "handed over" to at events where everyone is tensely trying to nail that naturalness and never getting remotely near it. On the radio, Balding does.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She presents The Film Programme on BBC Radio 4. She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 22 February 2010 issue of the New Statesman, IRAN