“To inform, educate and entertain,” the principles of John Reith, the first director of the BBC were well-known. Reith would have been most content if a programme broadcast by the corporation conformed to all three of the principles; sometimes it seems to fall short on all three counts.
Turning on BBC Radio 2 at teatime on a bank holiday Monday, there was a music request programme, requests which involved telephone conversations with callers who were each asked what they were doing and how they had enjoyed the holiday weekend. Perhaps there are listeners who find such interchanges fascinating. That someone they did not know, from a distant corner of the country, had enjoyed a nice day on the beach, or had been for a nice meal with their family, and was happy to share the details with the nation, perhaps now falls within the description of light entertainment. The presenter seemed to draw out the calls, perhaps the BBC budget is under pressure and there was a wish not to pay more PRS dues than was necessary, so perhaps there was a deliberate intention to play as few records as possible. Even the music, which included “Nellie the Elephant” and “YMCA,” was dull to the point of being soporific. Why does the BBC, a massively resourced organisation, resort to programming more suited to a community or local radio station? At least a local audience might have recognised the voices and places.
The alternatives to Radio 2 were plentiful: along with Radio 2’s BBC sister stations and the commercial stations along the FM waveband were immediately accessible, along with the digital stations, the online music platforms, and, if all else failed, a call to Siri would bring a selection from the iPhone. Yet there is something about the immediacy of live and interactive radio from an established and recognisable broadcaster that still compels attention.
Perhaps the persistence in listening to the programme was about a search for community, a feeling of being part of an audience that was sharing a common experience. A good broadcaster will have the capacity to make each listener feel that they are being spoken to directly, that they are being addressed as individuals. The genius of presenters like the late Terry Wogan, and those of his vintage who have been on air for two generations, lies in their ability to establish a warm rapport with successive groups of listeners.
Being BBC Radio Boring is not a necessary option for the country’s most popular station. If not informing and educating, it might make a better fist of entertaining.