Monday, 2 May 2016

TV or Radio? The Great Debate


The great debate. 

The crew of Journey into Space
In 1953, an adventure series called Journey into Space became the last evening radio programme to command a bigger audience than an evening TV programme. ‘A watershed in national life,’ is how that moment has been described, and it begs the question people have been asking ever since: ‘how does radio survive - indeed, prosper - in the age of television?’

Although no single radio programme can out-perform the best loved TV programmes for viewing/listening figures, radio still has a massive overall Share of the Ear. This little phrase is built from statistics covering all man-made sound devises which reach the nation’s ears...CDs, downloads, various radio sources and TV included. In fact, radio’s Share of the Ear is an impressive massive 83% overall (60% for under 35’s). 
I read these statistics with interest because, for a high proportion of my adult life (about 83% of it, probably!) I’ve been a non-TV owner. In other words, my household generally had no television anywhere within it. Or, to quote my daughter’s friend when she came home from primary school for tea with Becki; ‘what, no telly? How am going to watch my cartoons?’
We knew we were in the minority - less than 10% of the population watch no TV within each week of their lives (and well done to those who own a telly and choose not to watch it every single day). I know that, as the kids were growing, they missed being part of the TV playground culture. The answer my children came up with was to make sure they knew enough about each programme that was a hot topic with their have watched it once at least in someone’s house, so that they didn’t look ‘uncool’. But with no TV and only very early computers, I think they had great childhoods, doing the sorts of things that kids today are being encouraged to return to. 
Having no TV in the house is a freedom and a joy. It allows you to plan your day without interference from a head full of soap characters. It means you look for a variety of evening entertainments that, in our house, include playing games, studying, writing, reading, taking walks, chatting on the phone and making music as well as listening to it. 
We opted for no TV the day we moved into our first house. We both agreed that watching telly was a banal occupation and waste of our time. We were already hooked on Radio Four, which we thought then (and it’s still true today, in my opinion) had the best current affairs and general interest programmes, and that the drama and book readings were superior to all the TV dramas, because you see the pictures in your head. In any case, Radio Four has the very best of all soaps...The Archers

Helen and her Archer's husband,
 the scary Rob Titchener
Radio keeps your spirits up in difficult times. The Shipping Forcast has always been not only the saviour of the fishing industry, but the insomniac, too. While in Britain, Aung San Suu Kyi met up with Dave Lee Travis, specifically to tell him how she listened to his BBC World Service programme, A Jolly Good Show. During her long incarceration under house arrest, his banter and music had lifted her spirits, and, apparently, allowed her a link with real people that the news items could not. It’s not just that radio has the best pictures...TV is never as interactive as radio can be, with its phone-ins and request shows. 
The trouble with TV - a trouble radio listening does not share - is that it is addictive. It’s easier than winking to flick the remote and switch it on. And once on, something holds the mind in a sort of thick, warm, sweet soup, as if ones’ thinking facility has gone into melt-down. Despite the fact that there are really good TV programmes, especially on BBC 2 & 4, the difficulty with actually owning a TV is stopping the watching when there’s really nothing on the box. On the otherhand, I can download my favourite radio programmes, such as Open Book and Poetry Please, and Woman's Hour, of course, and listen as a passenger when on the move or just whenever I want.
We knew that radio was the best listening ear 30 years ago, when we were bringing up our kids sans television. I know it for sure now, because we can compare. At last, we do own a TV. We made the decision during the process of moving. Among the big discussion points that arise when you’re on the move; what will we do with all our extra furniture? When will the solicitor pull out their fingers? How can we get the vendor to bring down their price? Where is that certificate from the council they’re asking for...a Most Important Question arose...will we have a telly in the new house? Our old house wasn’t wired for TV reception, although we had taken to watching DVDs, to save cinema costs. Then Becki left us her HD TV when she went off to France. We took it with us in the move and set it up in our new lounge...and switched it on. 
Instant entertainment.  And, to Jim’s delight, instant 24hour news.  So now I know absolutely just how addictive the TV is. We tried to have TV one evening a week, for instance...but we’re breaking them; by 8pm we are so brain-dead that a little TV viewing feels like the only thing we’re capable’s just too tempting to sink into the warm, sweet soup. I guess I have learnt new things from some of the TV I’ve watched over the last year. But certainly no more than I learnt in any year listening to the radio. 

Radio remains one of the best ways for new scriptwriters in the UK to find an audience, for two reasons. Radio Four comminsions and produces more new drama then almost any TV channel. There are 15 minute, 30 minute, 45 minute, 60 minute and 90  drama slots for new writers in every genre, especially comedy, and an entire website dedicated to helping new writers get on the radio; bbc radio 4 writers room
In the meantime, I continue to love the radio, and  Radio Four, Three, Two, Radio Wales and Classic FM fill my days and most of my evenings. And I'm not alone. Read about Josh Spero's love affair with Radio 4 here.

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