Magazine article The Spectator

Creeping Changes

Magazine article The Spectator

Creeping Changes

Article excerpt

Best line of the week on radio by a league was Stuart Maconie's when he said, talking about the pop group Abba, 'The girls stuck it out, on stage and in the studio, the words of their ex-husbands' perfect three-minute psychodramas bursting on their tongues like acid bonbons.'

Maconie was turning over the history of the break-up song, not as you might expect on Radio 2, the old Light Programme, but on heavy-thinking Radio 4, home to news, current affairs and 'radical economics'. The Art of Breaking Apart (produced by Paul Bajoria) was given a theoretical twist by calling on a 'Professor of Popular Music' at Salford University (where Johnny Marr is currently also a teaching fellow) to add his gravitas to the musical dissection. Essentially, though, this was an excuse to overdose on heart-breaking clips from the tracks of Dylan, Fleetwood Mac, Marvin Gaye and, of course, Scott Walker, belching out the bitterness of regret and failure.

It was worth staying up late on Monday night to catch it, Maconie picking at the wounds of his heroes until they bled for us once again, Linda Thompson giving a memorable rendition of her husband and fellow band-member's 'Aaarrrgghhh' as he cheated on her when she was eight months' pregnant with his child. But when it ended I expected to hear the Radio 2 jingle, and was a bit confused when the old-fashioned Queen's English of Today in Parliament echoed through the bathroom instead.

A creeping change has been coming upon the BBC stations, which are edging, sliding, merging into each other as they attempt to attract newer, younger listeners. They're hoping we won't notice. That the core audience will keep on tuning in, in spite of these subtle makeovers. But will we?

Radio 3 began the year with a superbly off-putting non-stop diet of Mozart. Since then, though, as if to make up for the blip, the station has been resolutely taking us further and further from its original ethos as we are expected to join in with applauding the Top 20 specialist classical hits or the Top 50 performers. Every presenter has to prove their popularity by insisting that they've been deluged with emails ever since they came on air, Will from Wrigglesworth-under-Water letting us know that it's a beautiful morning down on the marshes, that he's just taken the dog for a walk and has really enjoyed the bit of Bach we've just been treated to by Suzy, Sarah, James or Rob.

It betrays a lack of confidence, a fear that unless we are reminded every few minutes that there are people out there who are loyal to the station and who are enjoying every minute of it that we might turn off, not wanting to be thought of as part of a 'minority interest'. …

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