A few weeks before Christmas I was cordially invited to take part in a radio show on Marlow FM. ‘Musical Milestones’ is the brainchild of presenter Paul Mansell and offers each guest the chance to select pieces of music that marked a significant moment in their lives. It was a real pleasure to take part in Paul’s superb programme, and a delight to be back in the world of radio – it reminded me of how radio used to be.
To me, radio used to be a medium, rather than being just another cog in the greater machinery of the media. When I took my first tentative steps into radio broadcasting I was taught to communicate with the listener, it was my mind speaking to their mind. Some of my presenting mentors suggested bringing a mascot with me in the early days, something you could focus on to ensure you maintained that one-on-one approach. Even with guests and other presenters in the studio, a skilled broadcaster could ensure the mano-a-mano relationship with the listener remained intact. Alas, over the years approaches to broadcasting changed somewhat. For one thing the dreaded listening figures, or RAJAR, became a millstone around the neck of radio and broadcasters. Slowly and surely the humble radio presenter had to focus less on developing and nurturing their relationship with their listener, and instead go chasing after a mass market. In the heartland of BBC local radio the figures of “Dave & Sue” were imposed upon the psyche of the production staff. These ageing avatars represented the pool of thousands of potential listeners, and producers were encouraged to grab and maintain their interest.
When the concept of online social media was in its infancy radio broadcasters already seemed to be using every trick in the book to attract the ears of a potential audience. Constant programme trailing became a necessity, marketing was rampant, and the cross-pollination of TV and the internet sat alongside the already existing features and stories hacked from newspapers and web-based news wire services. Pretty soon the likes of Twitter and Facebook also became regular fixtures within radio broadcasting. These days radio no longer feels like the singular medium it once was. It has evolved – for better or worse – into another tranche of the media pie, one of the myriad methods of disseminating and digesting news and information. Now, I’m not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing, life has to move forwards and things have to evolve. However, in these days of mass media it is refreshing to find examples of good, solid, traditional broadcasting. My recent experience of the work of the talented team at Marlow FM has served to remind me that there will always be a place for broadcasters who wish to embrace radio as a medium. Like architecture, the old and the new styles of broadcasting may not be to everyone’s taste, but they can co-exist quite well and make up a wonderfully diverse soundscape.
Radio Milestones © Richard A. Usher 2014
Musical Milestones © Paul Mansell 2013/2014
Photography © Raymondo Marcus 2013