15 May 2006

Booing at the Para Olympics

I had not heard of new BBC Radio 4 programme, Down the Line, before I read about it from the Guardian (Fri 12.05.06). That obviously means that, once again, I am about to say my opinion on something that I have no first hand experience on. Although it is not so much this particular spoof-programme, a parody of a radio phone-in show, where kind of whacky people ring and give their opinion on a topic such as race, religion or anything that will end up offending people, but merely the fact, that radio these days is parody of itself. Most of the times when you turn any radio on, you hope that they were joking and by no means serious with their idiotic statements on nothing that are not adding value to anything and only said at the first place due to the ego-centric nature of an average presenter and their larger-than-life fondness to their own voice. The idea behind this kind of show is almost like preparing bad food just for laugh.

The twist in Down the Line, created by the father of the brilliant Fast Show, Paul Whitehouse, was that they did not want to tell anyone that this is a comedy. In the Guardian article Whitehouse says that his 10-year-old daughter understood in ten minutes that this is spoof show, which is great for her (and surely for the proud father) but I am the first to admit that I would not have probably understood that. Keeping still in mind that I have not heard the show in question, but what I have heard, are mad call-in-radio shows in several different countries and I have also heard plenty of Radio 4. Before buying a digital receiver that was all I listened to, so I can safely say that their line of programming does not let the listener to expect a parody. Quite frankly it is not letting one to expect a call-in show either, but this kind of human testing is, in my opinion a bit silly. It is like Punk’d for old people but the difference between this, or any of Ali G’s variations, is that we are not fooling someone in the show, but only its audience. It resonates the radio broadcasting of War of the worlds in 1938, when people ran on the streets to witness the end of the world. One day our media reading skills will be on a level that this may work but I doubt I am living at that distant point in future.

I used to think making fun out of radio DJs and their manner of talking was the funniest thing ever. Me and my mates used to talk like them making these ignorant remarks and getting the facts wrong about artists, translating song titles wrong (this was in Finnish) etc. My sister once said, after few years of listening to these appalling jokes, that as a radio presenter, shouldn’t I concentrate on how to make good links rather than bad ones? That, is it not a bit cruel to laugh at people who you think are not very good? My sister, as usual, was very much on point. Athletes do not go to the Para Olympics to laugh at someone on a wheelchair, do they.

My theory, and please take it as yours if you think it makes sense, is that let’s try to make good radio rather than emphasise the poor state of this media. It is not very challenging to make radio laughable. This is very low-level psychology, is it not? It is easier to be laughed at when you are being silly, than being laughed at when you are being serious. I personally thought that for instance Alan Partridge was very funny character with his radio show, but that was because it was in TV so we knew that it is not in radio. And quite frankly TV can do as they wish but there are more important things to be done in radio than to ridicule 90 per cent of the industry. And although it is very elitist for me to say that nine out of ten people in radio sounds awful, and even more so the arrogant assumption that I would somehow be the one in ten, but it is not quite as elitist as Radio 4, a station with very different listener demographics and budget, to poke the fun out of the stations that are not in their position. So in the end, how elitist must the Radio 4 think their listeners are, if they are supposed to find this funny. I would love to end here but I must add that Radio 4 listeners may just be elitist enough to be up for it. Straight after they understand that this is not about their station but about all the other, lesser stations for the ignorant masses.

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