Friday, 16 October 2009

"Let's break this addiction to London - it's time radio was proud to head for the hills"

by Stuart Maconie, Radio 2 DJ. Quoted from The Radio Times, page 26, dated 26th September - 2nd October 2009. (Hear Stuart Maconie with Mark Radcliffe, Mon-Thur Radio 2, and on Sun 6 Music)

"By the time you read this, my swollen ankle, sunburn and bag of mud-spattered dirty laundry will be, I hope, just a memory, along with hundreds of other more pleasant ones from my journey along Hadrian's Wall. I don't intend to bang on about the trip again. If you listened to the shows, you'll have heard enough about that. But I'd like to say why we did it, in light of something a former radio executive said to me about it. Namely. "Why?"

I found that an extraordinary question. Every week radio shows come from nightclubs, zoos, hospitals, restaurants and such. No-one ever asks why, normally because they come from cities. In fact, normally because they come from cities. In fact, normally because they come from London. Even I, with barely a quarter of a Wogan-sized tenure at the BBC microphone, have presented shows from the top of the BT Tower, from battleships and hotel lobbies, football grounds and parks. I doubt if there's a postal district in the capital that's not had an OB van parked there at some time. It would never occur to anyone in the business to ask why. The assumption being everyone in the country is surely interested in the comings and goings of the folk Camden, Islington, Westminster and such.

Well, I'm interested in how people live, work and play in Bowness-on-Solway and Carlisle, in Crosby-on-Eden and Chollerford, in Byker and Wallsend. There are fewer of them, I grant you, but they appreciate their radio favourites as much as any big-city denizen. And they pay their licence fees, often for programmes that assume they care about Routemaster buses, Tube strikes and an inch of snow bringing chaos to Chalk Farm. To ask why, when radio programmes turn their faces north and reflect on their lives and loves, is not just bizarre, it's vaguely insulting.

A lady who met me with her madly energetic dog just outside Wallsend turned out to be a fan of my 6 Music show Freak Zone. She said that with the demise of the independent record shop, my show was becoming her main source of new music and new old music from around Britain. The village of Ryton on the Tyne, home to The Unthanks, one of Britain's best new folks acts. They told me they'd never heard their home patch mentioned on national radio before. I heard the same in Burgh-by Sands* and Brampton and Banks. True, these places are small, but no smaller than Highbury or Clapham, and yet I've grown up hearing those names in dramas, comedies or the news with the implication being that they are places I should know.

A man I met on the Whin Sill ridge by the sycamore tree immortalised by a visit from Kevin Costner in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves thanked me profusely for coming to his village** of Haltwhistle, and when I said that it probably only usually got mentioned on local radio he said, "We don't even get mentioned on that."

Anyway, I shall step down from from my soapbox and simply say, in answer to the question "why?": because it's there."

Hadriana: I recently wrote to Stuart kindly asking if I could re-produce the article here but I've not had a response as yet. Not to worry..thought I...he's a busy chap. I still think the article deserves a bit of a wider audience as it has not been posted on the web as yet (not to my knowledge). I thoroughly agree with its content and it is very nice to hear a national broadcaster's non-London centric views!

Hadriana's tiny, incidental notes:

* pronounced.....Bruff-by Sands

** Haltwhistle is known as a town in these parts...
(Above Photo of "South Tyne at Haltwhistle", my choice, from the Frith Collection)