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
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”.