EVEN if you hadn't already guessed it, the following confession
should not come as a great surprise.
Your devoted reviewer does not, at the start of the year,
meticulously plan his listening so as to gain an appropriate
balance of genre and wavelength. There's no formula to calculate
the correct proportion of religion to comedy, documentary to music.
One episode of Belief is worth three Friday-night
comedies; one Analysis equal to 500 hours of Wagner.
So, a look back over the year presents a picture of what took my
fancy, what clamoured for attention in the schedules.
And what surprises me about the review this year is how little
religious broadcasting figures in such a survey. Perhaps this can
be taken as a comment on the way in which religion has made it back
into mainstream public discourse. But it was disappointing to see,
for example, Faith in the World Week, Radio 2's annual autumn
season, so compromised by the apparent need to engage in wider
social issues rather than core values and belief systems.
Instead - and if there is a connecting strand in my listening
habits this year - the programmes that lured me, and in some cases
forced me, to listen were ones that engaged with the important
business of listening itself. It may not be a coincidence that in
an age when visual stimuli are ever more distracting and absorbing,
the art of sound has become invested with greater creative
There is no better example of this than Radio 3's Between the
Ears strand, which celebrated 20 years of innovative programming
this year. And looking back over the year, I could include at least
four episodes in my highlights; though special mention should be
reserved for Shadowplay (R3, October) a radio "symphony in
four movements" in which quirky narratives were played out against
a backdrop of carefully structured noise and utterance.
That sound and silence have an architecture was one of the
threads in Noise: A Human History (R4, March) in which
Professor David Hendry took us from the caves of Southern France to
the modern era.
And the deceptions our ears play upon us were the focus of the
hugely entertaining Out of the Ordinary (Radio 4, April),
in which we were invited to experience in the "white noise" of
radio static the aural hallucination of Winston Churchill speaking
lines from "Land of Hope and Glory". A sublime radio
The psychology of sound, and especially of music, is another
area where radio can triumph over other media. The Science of
Music (R4, May), The People's Songs (Radio 2,
throughout the year), and The Sound of Cinema (across the
BBC, October) all dealt in different ways with how sound can move
us; and Stuart Maconie's long-running series for Radio 2 is of
particular value for the social history by which these sounds are
And, of course, sounds can move us to indignation, shame, and
pity - all emotions that I experienced listening to the Cardinal
Archbishop of Durban in a Radio 5 Live interview last March. For
sheer toe-curling embarrassment - the sound of a senior cleric
digging his own grave on the paedophile-priest issue - this was my
stand-out worst radio moment of the year. Still, that's one
noteworthy religious programme, at least.