Video killed the radio star: maybe - but it certainly didn’t kill radio stations. In fact digital and internet technologies have ensured their multiplication. Mostly they comprise music-based programmes offering soundtracks to our busy lives, but there is at least one station which features not music but old-fashioned story-telling and drama. I like the idea of this but the reality is problematic: stories require some effort, some concentration on the part of the listener; for the thread of a story is easily lost if one is distracted by other activities such as checking e-mail, making tea, reading the papers or popping out for a breath of fresh air. Would-be fans like me face the challenge of fending off such distractions in order to benefit from careful, attentive listening to the story.
Long gone is radio’s 1930’s heyday when manufacturers advertised their appliances with pictures of contented families, gathered around cosy hearths, listening with rapt and undivided attention to loudspeakers in huge wooden boxes. Things have moved on: the contented families still look happy and the hearths cosy but the boxes are nowadays supplanted by big, shiny flat-screens - which have the advantage of being able to command not just one but two of our five senses, thereby pinning us to our seats for hours on end. This is serious competition for radio drama’s one-dimensional appeal – and it may be the reason why there are not too many stations offering such fare.
Acting on the use-it-or-lose-it principle, I decided to boost audience ratings while testing my own resolve. I scanned the schedules, found a radio play I would like to hear and made my preparations: I ticked the outstanding items on my to-do list, fixed an imaginary 1930’s wireless set in my mind, chose a comfortable chair and settled down to some dedicated listening. I was soon rewarded by a plot that was engaging, acting that was convincing and sound-quality that was excellent. So far so good: there was indeed satisfaction and pleasure to be had from broadcast story-telling. Yet it proved not quite enough to keep my attention from wandering and before long my eyes began to cast around the room, falling on things that were in need of fixing or cleaning (and, in one case, throwing out). Then my thoughts began to stray into speculation about future events, such as my next meal, and I was finding it difficult to overcome the urge to fidget, write lists of things to do, reach for a book or magazine, get up to make a pot of tea or otherwise satisfy the cravings of the redundant senses. Resisting these temptations was difficult but I held my position, determined to persist with my experiment. Perhaps, I thought, I should close my eyes and concentrate hard.
When I woke up it was to the sound of an unfamiliar voice: “That’s Cross Incontinence, tonight at 8.30”. What was this - a programme about Irritable Bowel Syndrome? What happened to the play? It eventually dawned on me that I had missed most of the play and had woken, a little confused, to a trailer for a programme called Crossing Continents.
Later that day I opened an email from the City Library reminding me that they offer audio books which can be downloaded. I’m not falling for that again! I tried it once but was fast asleep before the end of the first chapter and could never work out how to find my place. At least with a printed book you can pick up where you left off when you dropped off. As for radio plays; if anyone has any practical listening suggestions please let me know.