Magazine article The Spectator

Radio Wake Up to Birdsong

Magazine article The Spectator

Radio Wake Up to Birdsong

Article excerpt

What will you miss most if your hearing begins to diminish? Those secretly overheard snippets of conversation on the bus?

The throwaway comments of partner or child? A great Shakespearean in full flow on the stage of the National? High on my list would be the Dawn Chorus. Once it starts up again in full orchestral mode you know for sure that winter is on the wane and spring must come. That cacophony of trills and warbles is a convincing restatement of nature's invincibility. We might be doing all we can to destroy the environment but the birds are still singing loud enough to wake you from the deepest sleep. To no longer hear it every morning would be a crushing blow, an absence of hope.

Even in the heart of the city the song of a single blackbird can be deafening above the din of traffic. A lunchtime sandwich in a West End square would not be the same without the sound of sparrows cheeping. Birdsong, even in this high-tech world, is so much part of the fabric of life it's no surprise it's always featured strongly on radio. Back in 1923 the first 'live' outside broadcast was of the cellist Beatrice Harrison playing a duet with the nightingales in her Surrey garden. The broadcast became an annual event.

No Radio 4 year would be complete without a new series about birds by Brett Westwood and the sound recordist Chris Watson. And when back in 1991 Quentin Howard wanted to test the transmitters of the new Classic FM station before it went properly on air, he used a 40-minute recording of the birds in his garden, creating such a buzz among the listening world it's become a permanent fixture of the airwaves (check it out on www. birdsongradio. com). As far as I know, though, we've never before had a Tweet of the Day, dedicated each morning to the song of a single bird.

When this was first announced as the latest big series on Radio 4 (produced by Sarah Blunt), I wondered why anyone would want to tune in at 5.58 for a wake-up call of birdsong. All you have to do (even if you live in the centre of Peckham) is fling open the bedroom window and get a blast of the real thing. But after just a few days I'm converted.

It's surprising how much you can pack into just 90 seconds of airtime. That's only about 200 words max, given that we've also got to hear something of the bird, but so far on each day I've learnt something I didn't know before. …

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