Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Radio One More Time: Which Way Now?

As part of the BBC, Radio One has always struggled to justify its existence - mainly to people who felt that all the network did was play pop music (for some people, a waste of money in its own right) or duplicate the work done by the commercial radio sector (a common complaint even before the ILR network was completed, meaning that everyone had access to a Top 40 station; usually heard from someone who couldn't tell them the difference between John Peel and Johnny Vaughan's musical choices).

Radio One, clearly, needed to prove it was different and valuable in a way to critics who couldn't see that there was a difference between a radio giving a session to the Jesus And Mary Chain and one playing Rick Astley seven times a day. An easy way of doing this, of course, was to promote Social Awareness. Of, you know, things.

My first actual intersection with one of the network's big campaigns was when I sent off for a Which Way Now? pack - a plastic folder, crammed with helpful information on choosing your options wisely, and a colour picture of Peter Powell. It arrived too late to actually help me choose my options, and I suspect had I followed its advice I would have wound up doing Geography in the portakabin classroom with Young Mr Curtis rather than History in the bottom of the C-Block with Mr Nicholls, which would have been rather a mistake.

More useful was the Art-E-Fax campaign on Janice Long's show, which although smaller in scope (not breaking in to programming every five minutes across the day) was much more useful. It was, seriously, the first time anyone had suggested to me that working in what we're now expected to term the "creative industries" was something you could seriously aspire to rather than the sort of pipe dream which would see you "starving in a garret". This was back when there were only just four TV networks, four national radio networks and none of that internet business; schools career teachers tended to rely on "bakery or army" as providing 'career choice'. It was just the sort of encouragement I needed; without it, I suspect by now I would be a very, very rich baker. And miserable.

The more usual social action stuff would be what you'd expect - endless campaigns about the dangers of drugs, and AIDS, and getting AIDS while taking drugs. To be fair to the commercial sector, this sort of accessible advice, delivered by djs and tucked between pop songs, wasn't the sole preserve of Radio 1; ILR stations used to do it a lot, too, and for much the same reasons. Partly a desire to be of genuine assistance to their listeners, but mostly because it made good sense for their survival - a promise of community action was essential to persuading the IBA or the Radio Authority to choose your franchise bid. This might seem a cynical viewpoint, but the way the larger commercial stations dropped their in-house teams working on such material as soon as licence terms were made more fluid in the late 90s would suggest conviction was less motivating than the desire to appear a good corporate citizen.

It's not recorded if Simon Bates saved more people from drug misuse than his programme drove to drink.

[Radio One More Time]


Robin Carmody said...

Although it's interesting that the idea that the BBC should make cutbacks *hasn't* led to large-scale calls for Radio 1 to be privatised, such as would have been the case until recently. Obviously, there have been generational shifts that have led those who grew up with pop music to control virtually every institution in the country, while those who believe it shouldn't be on the radio at all have either died or become too old to be in any positions of influence.

But there are also other developments to which Mail hacks who, a decade ago, were still calling for Radio 1 to be privatised in op-eds which had a transparently racist subtext (they knew what ILRs played while Westwood et al were on air) have transferred their rage: I dare say that the Mail is still saying the same thing, only now in articles saying that DAB is "a waste of our money" (but we all know which two stations they would particularly have in mind, and Sports Extra, 6Music and BBC7 are not among them).

The difference is that the hacks who are writing such things now, with a few exceptions, do not disapprove of *all* pop music. In some ways I preferred the previous generation of ultra-right hacks: at least you knew where you stood with them. Certainly, I'd always take Hitchens (P) over Littlejohn.

Adam Macqueen said...

You can date people precisely by which Radio 1 presenters were on the front of their Which Way Now booklet when they were doing their GCSE options. Mine were Bruno Brookes and the Rankin Miss P. I dropped geography.

simon h b said...

"Dear Daily Telegraph,

I must complain about the deplorable lowering of educational standards in today's schools. When I was a child, standards were so high it took Peter Powell to explain options. Now, I discover, the choices have been simplified to a point where Bruno Brookes is capable of explaining them..."

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