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by Bill O'Sullivan
10th Jul 2013
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Tuning in

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On and off I haven’t had a television in 5 years. One friend I happened to say this to recently called me a Neanderthal, offended at the idea that I would check-out of life and not engage in the communal ritual of watching television. It’s like saying you don’t recycle or don’t vote; you’re not doing your citizen’s duty by not watching television. It’s also a bit obnoxious.

Over the past few years I have spent a lot of time staring into the middle distance while chewing my food, with no particular object to focus my attention on. But it hasn’t been to purify my soul and cleanse my mind – the fact is I’ve become a radio addict. Somewhere between my childhood love of audiobooks, and my now grown-up lack of television, I developed a really strong attachment to radio. One of my earliest memories is the smell of my father making coffee while the musical refrain that precedes the BBC World Service news plays. I remember historical and political events according to radio announcements and the sounds that I associate with them. It’s strange but simultaneously evocative and allows for an automatic personalized approach to factual events. This for me is the best thing about radio- your imagination wanders and fills in the scenic blanks left by the audio. I remember listening to Barack Obama’s first speech as president in 2008 in bed in the middle of the night, I remember listening to Italy lose to Slovakia in a boiling car during the 2010 World Cup, and most recently I remember listening to the Pope’s acceptance speech in Rome, noting his accent and pointedly colloquial register while I overcooked rice.

So now that I’ve made myself thoroughly odd-sounding, here are some of the radio shows I enjoy the most – when, how and why ??

This American Life | Monday evenings while making dinner I don’t know quite how it began but it became a constant in my life. All my friends listen to it, but mainly it’s a sort of communal secretive activity. It’s on Chicago’s WBEZ and does stories, radio-docs and investigative journalism across a vast range of subjects with absolute ingeniousness. Ira Glass, its presenter is the most charismatic man on earth. High scorers for me are David Sedaris readings along with any mention of Piney.

The Blue of the Night | Every night I am totally serious. I listen to it every night. Carl Corcoran murmuring a few simple things about the soothing music he’s just played is as close as I get to my mum tucking me into bed these days. The music is almost always good, introducing new artists as well as relying on classic choices to reassure you on your way to the Land of Nod.

BBC World Service – Assignment | Saturday morning It runs every Thursday but I generally don’t have time on Thursdays. Assignment is a series of radio-docs that gives a more in-depth look at current affairs through the use of personal stories and it covers lesser known political and social issues from around the world. It functions as a distilller of the world’s problems, turning them into juicy radio bites. Some of the stories stand-out for being shocking, others are simply clever, approaching issues from a completely original angle.

Wait Wait?Don’t tell me! | Saturday morning It is one of the most all-American things I can think of – along with the idea of re-fills and the expression Saran Wrap. And yet I love it. It’s sort of your radio (NPR) equivalent to Saturday Night Live. Presented by Peter Sagal and Carl Kasell, it’s a game/quiz show with a panel of journalists and comedians that covers topical issues in a ridiculous and totally sharp-witted way. Gets your brain functioning on mornings when you don’t think it’s going to happen.

Woman’s Hour | Irregularly here but always when at my uncle’s in London – radio is on all the time Hugely varied and informative show that covers absolutely everything as long as it pertains and involves women. Gets powerful and influential women to say and do things for radio which they probably wouldn’t do for other programmes. Latest good listen (and watch) is the How To Be A Powerful Woman series, where the likes of Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman and ex-chief of Random House, Gale Rebuck, give of their best.

Roisin Agnew @Roxeenna socialises A Lot, doesn’t just listen to radio…she swears.

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