Your host is not stop­ping at this sta­tion

It’s all change on the air­waves as broad­cast­ers or pod­cast­ers strug­gle to sat­isfy our ‘hun­gry ears’. By Char­lotte Run­cie

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - FRONT PAGE -

Ra­dio knits it­self into the fab­ric of life, with voices that be­come as in­ti­mate to us as fam­ily. But in 2018, ra­dio has been through some big changes, and de­pend­ing on your point of view, Jan­uary could ei­ther be the start of an ex­cit­ing new era or the end of days.

Most dra­matic was the move­ment of a con­stel­la­tion of star pre­sen­ters. Come Jan­uary, Ra­dio 2’s daily line-up will be over­hauled. Chris Evans ditches his break­fast show to present morn­ings on Vir­gin Ra­dio in­stead, with Zoë Ball tak­ing over at the BBC. Ball has an aura of glam­our which I’m look­ing for­ward to, even though I’ll be tun­ing in with badtem­pered trep­i­da­tion over my de­press­ing sugar-free Jan­uary muesli.

Af­ter­noons are dif­fer­ent, too. Si­mon Mayo stepped down from Driv­e­time in the au­tumn, fol­low­ing a much­pub­li­cised de­ba­cle start­ing in June when he was obliged by ex­ec­u­tives to share the slot with Jo Whi­ley in an at­tempt to bring some di­ver­sity to the all-male day­time line-up. The re­sult was one long cringe, so pal­pa­ble was the dis­com­fort of the two hosts. Thank­fully, in the new year, both will be back to pre­sent­ing shows they ac­tu­ally like, and Driv­e­time will be the do­main of funny, big­sis­ter­ish Sara Cox.

Ed­die Mair, hav­ing spent 20 years mak­ing Ra­dio 4’s PM a place of wit, gen­eros­ity and un­der­ex­plored sto­ries, has left to start a ri­val af­ter­noon cur­rent af­fairs show on LBC. His re­place­ment at PM is Evan Davis, box-fresh from News­night, who has al­ready made a promis­ing start, in­stantly cap­tur­ing the warmth and in­tel­li­gence that PM needs. Mean­while, Mair’s show on LBC is tak­ing time to find its feet.

It’s not just the voices chang­ing. It’s the lis­ten­ers, too. Six mil­lion adults in the UK – and 20 per cent of those aged 15-24 – now lis­ten to pod­casts ev­ery week, a fig­ure that’s dou­bled in the past five years. Of­com has started col­lect­ing An ill-fated at­tempt to fix some­thing that wasn’t bro­ken. Thank­fully short-lived. statis­tics on pod­cast con­sump­tion, cit­ing a Bri­tish “pod­cast­ing boom” in 2018, but there’s still no sin­gle re­li­able way to mea­sure in­di­vid­ual pod­casts’ pop­u­lar­ity, since dif­fer­ent providers of­fer dif­fer­ent charts. Surely an of­fi­cial top 40 is just around the cor­ner.

The BBC knows which way the wind is blow­ing, and ap­pointed Ja­son Phipps its first ever com­mis­sion­ing ed­i­tor for pod­casts in May. He has un­ap­petis­ingly promised to “de­liver great con­tent to hun­gry ears across the UK”, which is a line from W1A if ever I heard one. In the au­tumn, it launched BBC

Sounds, bring­ing ra­dio and pod­casts to­gether un­der one on­line um­brella. The idea is to blur old-fash­ioned lines be­tween plat­forms: all sounds are equal.

If things change as much again in 2019 as they have in 2018, I’ll meet you back here next Christ­mas and we can share pod­cast rec­om­men­da­tions on the Ama­zon Echo while the ra­dio in the kitchen gath­ers dust and Lon­don burns. But I don’t think it will come to that.

Amid all the flux, 2018 man­aged to prove that ra­dio still does some things – a bal­ance of rhythms through­out the day, joy­ous un­ex­pected mo­ments of po­etry, phone-ins or rare mu­sic, the thrill of live events such as the Ar­mistice com­mem­o­ra­tions – best of all. Good ra­dio is more than just “sounds”.

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