*** DEBUG END ***

Radio review: Sunday Feature: The sonic century — the microphone, The Documentary Podcast, and All in the Mind

18 November 2022


Sunday Feature: The sonic century — the microphone (Radio 3, Sunday) contained many insights

Sunday Feature: The sonic century — the microphone (Radio 3, Sunday) contained many insights

THE historian Lord Briggs wrote: “To talk about broadcasting is to talk about everything else.” In Sunday Feature: The sonic century — the microphone (Radio 3, Sunday), the oral historian Alan Dein made the case for thinking about the microphone in the same way: an object which, though normally hidden from sight, plays such a formative part in facilitating our present and constructing our past.

Most of us carry around microphones of one sort or another; many will have them embedded in household devices. But all of us invest in recordings of past voices and events a confidence that the microphone is imparting some sense of truth and authenticity.

That is the case even when the recording originates in a late 19th-century anthropological expedition to the Torres Straits. Befogged by hiss and crackle, this is the earliest ethnographic recording still surviving; and, although the vocal group recorded must have strained to have their voices captured by the phonograph, the recording beguiles us into feeling that, somehow, this represents an authentic snapshot of the past. The microphone, in whatever shape or form it might take, is as intrusive a piece of staging as a proscenium arch.

There were many insights in this imaginative presentation, not least the way in which microphones have become both a help and hindrance to performers. As a prop, it provides rock stars with something to swing around their heads. It enables crooners whose voices would not otherwise reach the front row of the stalls to sing Puccini. And it tricks public speakers into thinking that they need not project. If the art of Demosthenes dies, we know what to blame.

Much has been made in the run-up to the World Cup of human-rights violations in the host nation (Comment, 4 November). In The Documentary Podcast (World Service, released Saturday), Salma El-Wardany sought to answer the question whether women in Qatar feel the privations of living in a traditional, authoritarian society as keenly as do migrant workers and the LGBTQ community.

It was a difficult brief; for, despite the guardianship laws which prevent women from marrying or travelling abroad (under the age of 25) without permission, most of the women she spoke to seemed genuinely content; and hardly likely to swap their status for the notional “freedoms” of the West.

And, finally, a brain-teaser: if it takes eight printers eight minutes to print eight brochures, how long would it take 24 printers to print 24 brochures? Posed as a trailer to the new series of All in the Mind (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week), the puzzle is intended to deter us from the blandishments of neat patterns and to the rigours of rational thought. Claudia Hammond’s guest for the show was Professor Steven Pinker, who has a new book on the subject, which, with Professor Pinker’s trademark flair for rhetoric, warns of the “pandemic of poppycock” enveloping civilisation. (You will have guessed by now that the answer is not 24.)

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Awards Ceremony: 6 September 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available


Inspiration: The Influences That Have Shaped My Life

September - November 2024

St Martin in the Fields Autumn Lecture Series 2024

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


Visit our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)