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Taking to the air

06 September 2013

David Winter reflects on religious radio, its aims and audience

Telling It Slant: Broadcasting faith in a contemporary world
Chris Chivers
Pretext £9.99 (£2.50 p&p)*

ON Monday 2 January 1928, a dogged campaign by a Miss Kathleen Cordeaux of Bushey, Hertfordshire, finally achieved its objective. A "Short Religious Service", as it was called, opened the daily transmissions of the BBC's National Service. As Miss Cordeaux had hoped, it contained "a little sacred music, hymns, and a brief reading or address to comfort the sick and lonely".

In much the same form, but under the more familiar title of The Daily Service, that same broadcast is still there every weekday morning on Radio 4. Other than the news and the weather forecast, it is the longest-running programme on the BBC. Located nowadays on long-wave (in competition with Woman's Hour on FM and digital wavelengths), it still has a dedicated audience; and doubtless many of them will enjoy this collection of 52 scripts of these short services presented by Canon Chris Chivers over the past seven years.

Each script includes a brief reflection on an already chosen theme, or is linked to a current event, together with a Bible reading, prayers, and details of the music (hymns and an anthem, typically) which made up the service.

As examples of "oasis" broadcasting they could hardly be improved; and I know from long experience that there are people who make this spot their daily pause for reflection and prayer.

The book's subtitle, however, "Broadcasting faith in a contemporary world", surely claims too much for it. This is, in fact, ghetto broadcasting of a very high standard, but, given the small size and eclectic nature of the audience, it is hardly engaging with the mainstream of contemporary culture.

For that, surely, one must look to Pause for Thought on the Radio 2 breakfast show, or Thought for the Day on Radio 4's Today programme, each of which has audiences running into many millions, and which are broadcast in an entertainment or current-affairs context.

Chivers is an excellent communicator, as is attested by many of these scripts, and especially by a sermon for Pentecost broadcast in a Sunday service from Blackburn Cathedral. Christians will find them stimulating and challenging; but I don't think they are entirely the an- swer to the challenge of "broadcasting faith" to those who are in the aisles of IKEA rather than in church.

Canon David Winter is a retired cleric in the diocese of Oxford, and a former Head of Religious Broadcasting at the BBC.

*This title can be obtained from the publisher's website: www.pretext.co.za

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