Socialist Worker

Radio: sharing secrets in the intimacy of a studio

ON THE RADIO with Mike Gonzalez

Issue No. 2170

Radio allows an intimacy that television can’t ever provide.

Even in the age of video on mobile phones the camera is an actor. It changes reactions and selects a framework that shapes the event and the way we see it.

Radio can avoid that. The microphone can hide in the darkness, and make itself absent in all sorts of ways.

I think that’s why hoary old favourites like Desert Island Discs (Friday, 9am) have worked for 50 years, asking guests to pick eight records to take to an island that, improbably, has no facilities other than an endless supply of needles and an old record player.

Eight moments in a lifetime caught in a piece of music to stimulate the memory. It’s a simple but brilliant device. And in the intimacy of a studio, you can share secrets.

And it is a formula that works in other ways – though the interviewer matters. The devisor of the show, the softly spoken Roy Plomley, was polite and self-effacing.

Current presenter Kirsty Young began to do it well as soon as she shook off the conviction that she was the important person in the studio.

Radio 4 seems to have the monopoly of these courteous and unpretentious encounters. Peter White’s No Triumph, No Tragedy (Thursday, 9.30pm) brings us disabled people who have confronted appalling misfortune but overcome it with an inspiring determination.

Olivia O’Leary’s Between Ourselves (Wednesday, 9.30pm) reunites people who had lived through the same experience but from different points of view – such as the Iran embassy siege and Nelson Mandela’s release from prison.

On the Ropes (available on BBC iPlayer) in which the less than usually bombastic John Humphries talks to people who have experienced failure and actually listened while they spoke.

They are quiet explorations, with no audience to fawn to, no smart-arsed presenter justifying his multi-million pound salary. Just conversations in the dark.

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Tue 22 Sep 2009, 18:28 BST
Issue No. 2170
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