Magazine article The Spectator

Radio: Kate Chisholm

Magazine article The Spectator

Radio: Kate Chisholm

Article excerpt

Just to prove my esteemed colleague wrong I've been out there in podcast space looking for a wireless moment that will outclass the impact, the fascination, the compelling authority of much (though not all) of Radio 4's daily output. Of course, there's a lot of good stuff being made but how do you discover what's worth spending time with? It's hard to make a serendipitous discovery by surfing the web. There's no equivalent to the simple switching of a button and that instant connection, our attention held, communication created, imagination fed. You have to work hard to find a podcast that has edge, knowledge, aural style; all you can do is research online, picking up tips on Twitter or Facebook, and listening to a lot of duds.

Love Me , a new podcast from CBC (Canada's elite broadcasting corporation), launches on Monday and is made by some of the team behind WireTap , which for ten years took us into the mind of Jonathan Goldstein and the quirky people he came across in search of a good story. From a sneak preview, Love Me , 'a show about the messiness of human connection', is sharply produced with engaging voices and vivid storytelling, but do we really need yet more first-person narratives about falling in love?

The setting was unusual -- a journalist flies out to Haiti to cover the aftermath of the earthquake and meets a French soldier. He speaks only French, she only English. They 'fall in love' via Google translate. It was cleverly done and kept me listening. But everything is beginning to sound a bit the same in podcast space. That determinedly cheery delivery, the constant presence of a background beat as if we were in the cinema watching a film, the sense that we are being manipulated to keep on listening by cliffhangers, spoilers, a heightening of the drama. It's changing the way radio is made even on that bastion of Reithian values, Radio 4.

Take FutureProofing on Wednesday nights, Radio 4's 'hypothetical time machine', attempting to predict what life might be like in 2116 and beyond. I caught it in the car while driving home from yoga and, having been away and radio-free for a fortnight, was struck by how different it sounded from the usual fare on 4 -- and not in a good way. Timandra Harkness and Leo Johnson were tackling the prospect of technology being developed to such a sophisticated extent that robotic 'humans' could be used to kill actual human soldiers on the battlefield. Their chatty, informal approach was at odds with the horror of the subject matter (Don McCullin was a guest, talking about his experiences in Vietnam, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere as a photographer), as were the production values: atmospheric music, hyped-up tabloid language, and a sense that we were being not simply informed but challenged always to agree. …

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