Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Radio One More Time: Playground

Back in the pre-digital past, when there were few radio networks, Radio One felt it had a duty to be, if not all things to all people, at least to be serving more than just the teenager-with-a-tranny that was seen as its core, solidly dumbed-down audience. Playground was part of this remit, launching in the mid-70s on Sundays to cater to younger listeners. It was presumably intended to be a public garden in which young minds could be tended, and, like many gardens, it was shoved in an otherwise unattractive part of ground.

So early Sunday mornings, it was, where David Rider was given the chance to present a kind of aural Blue Peter, mixing the odd record with improving features, none of which at all we can remember. In fact, because it was on first thing on Sunday mornings, the only time we ever remember hearing it was when we were on holiday and a combination of excitement and unnatural beds, coupled with a grim determination to make the best of the day, meant we were up and about early enough. What we do remember, though, is the 'Have You Been Paying Attention' competition at the end, which - although holding out the promise of a small prize - clearly functioned as a stern 'listen to this, there will be questions later'. Nowadays, of course, the kids would just whip through the programme on listen again to claim the prize, but it wouldn't matter as the competition would still be won by one of Liz Kershaw's friends pretending to be eight years old.

Towards the end of the run - "to prop up an ill-considered idea" would be the uncharitable view - Maggie Philbin and Keith Chegwin from Swap Shop were parachuted in to "help out"; as a ratings-boosting idea this would have worked better if Maggie and Keith had mentioned their jobs on radio more often on Swap Shop. Instead, their appearance felt less like the glamour of television rubbing off on the programme, more like they were doing it under some sort of Community Service Order about which they were hoping news would not leak. It's similar, in fact, to the way that on Smile, Barney Harwood's sole mention of his involvement in Radio 4's Go For It has been a single, near-subliminal in-joke. Somewhere in Broadcasting House, there will be an executive wondering why the hiring of TV stars doesn't deliver audiences to radio, you know.

The sense of a kids programme caught in adult radio wasn't quite as marked as when Johnny 'hookers, drugs and motorbikes' Walker used to pause for five minutes during Radio 5's AM Alternative to play five minutes of Wiggly Park - at least Playground formed a distinct 'family' programme block, being followed by Junior Choice. Indeed, it was eventually subsumed by Junior Choice when, in 1986, Keith and Maggie jumped ship to stand alongside Tony Blackburn. Although there were promises made that Blackburn would continue with the more educational aspects of Playground's remit, they lasted about as long as "incorporating Melody Maker" did on the NME masthead.

[Radio One More Time: 40 posts about 40 years]