23 February 2013, Varsity Online Culture Section
With the hustle and bustle of lectures, essays and supervisions, every student needs an outlet. For me it comes in the form of Radio Four. After dumping my bag and books on the desk after a hectic morning, nothing is more welcome than a cup of tea and a twiddling of the dials to reach a programme on as varied a subject as slipped disks to a history of the unicorn. If that doesn’t take your mind off deadlines nothing will.
Radio Four is the eccentric of the airwaves. Whilst Radio 1 and all its cohorts play endless streams of music and adverts, Radio Four broadcasts comedy, political analysis, drama and documentaries, and that’s just in the morning. The channel, in its infinite variety, provides programmes of the highest quality: well researched, well performed and well presented. I can happily say that Radio Four has yet to broadcast anything below par, and even if they did it would be pretty swiftly dealt with. Yet Radio Four faces continual scrutiny from the belligerent press – by which I mean The Daily Mail. Radio Four is repeatedly subject to claims of broadcasting dull niche market products to middle class, middle England, and instead should focus on what the wider culture want.
It is certainly true that whilst the programmes Radio Four present on slipped disks are both informative and practical, they are certainly not the primary reason I tune in (yet). But why should this matter? It’s the focus on the niche market that we should celebrate. That these shows are even broadcast is a great sign for British culture. By giving the niche markets the same amount of air time as current events and comedy shows us to be an indiscriminate nation willing to give all interests the same equality, not merely those that produce the pound signs.
Nearly all other media is aimed at attracting younger viewers. These so called “young people” have a plethora of media to choose from, whereas the people who desire radio comedy and Gardner’s Question Time have just the one. The result of this media profiteering is an indistinguishable blur. Even the niche television channels are becoming increasing monotonous. The Discovery Channel seems to be a parade of Nazi programmes followed by repeats of Mythbusters. So, if we are to get quality and diversity, where can we go? Only Radio Four can afford to give the time to niche cultural products you didn’t realise existed or could be interested in. For instance, when was the last time you saw a documentary on 19th century hymn writers on ITV or heard a comedy panel show on Radio 1?
This recessional idea of efficiency in broadcasting and products for all is unreasonable and damaging. People primarily respond to quality rather than blatant attempts to appeal for their audience. Individuals are more complex than these demographic statistics tell us, and the diverse schedule of radio four at least enables interested viewers to pick from a range offered nowhere else. The BBC is there to reinforce the oft forgotten and overlooked cracks in our culture and fill them, at lunchtime, on radio four. Radio Four may not be for all, bit everyone has the potential to enjoy a programme on it. Besides, what are people meant to fall asleep to if not The Shipping Forecast?