The week in radio and podcasts

Small, but comforting, changes to radio schedules find presenters adjusting to support and cheer lives led in isolation

Lauren Laverne (6 Music) | BBC Sounds
Radio 1 Breakfast With Greg James (Radio 1) | BBC Sounds
Scott Mills (Radio 1) | BBC Sounds
Life on Lockdown (Radio 4) | BBC Sounds

The same, but different. Small changes to routines and schedules: radio shows starting later, lasting longer, presenters moved out, brought in… The BBC, generally, is trying to keep its radio DJs broadcasting from their proper BBC studios, though Ken Bruce, as an older national treasure, has been allowed to host his show from home, as has Dotty on 1Xtra. There’s an acknowledgement that consistency is needed, but also fewer specialist shows, more familiar warmth.

And so, from tomorrow, 6 Music’s weekday schedule will change, and Radio 2’s evening one, too. On 2, Sara Cox’s show will extend for another hour, until 8pm, and then Jo Whiley and Trevor Nelson will share the evening 8-10pm slot, each doing a week on, week off. On 6, Lauren Laverne has a longer show, starting at the later time of 8.30am; Mary Anne Hobbs and Shaun Keaveny will share afternoons, alternating weeks. And Craig Charles will take over Drivetime from Steve Lamacq, who’s been told by doctors to stay at home for health reasons. You wonder why Lamacq can’t do a Ken Bruce, but perhaps the bosses are worried about too many home DJ set-ups and everything going haywire.

Anyway. Laverne, always good at reading a room, even a virtual one, has done well since the lockdown. Brave enough to acknowledge the emotional difficulties people are going through, last week she asked for stories from those forced to live alone during these strange days. Sweetly, she articulated how, actually, being separate at these times is an immensely communal act: “Everyone’s taken on these different struggles,” she said, “and we’re all doing it because we’re part of a community. We’re isolating or we’re in lockdown because we care about our NHS workers, because we care about vulnerable people in our community, and because we’re trying to do the right thing for everyone.” Awwwwww.

Over on Radio 1, Greg James was as upbeat and cool as ever. Less acknowledgement of solo sadness – most of his listeners are at home with their parents, after all – and, instead, more music and silliness. A quarantined couple declared that since they’d moved in, they’d fallen in love; Justin Timberlake chatted to an eight-year-old listener about The Greatest Showman.

After James, Scott Mills and Chris Stark continued the positive vibe. On Wednesday, it being Aprils Fools’ Day, Stark pranked Mills by setting up an interview with 5 Live’s Eleanor Oldroyd in which she asked Mills about how the coronavirus had affected the music industry. This wasn’t funny, mostly because the ever-diligent Mills had really done his homework. He carefully answered all Oldroyd’s stupid questions with grace and full information.

On Thursday, the BBC pushed its luck by getting listeners across Radios 1, 2, 6, 1Xtra and Asian Network to do a mass singalong at 9am (perhaps it’s jealous of lovely PE coach Joe Wick’s 9am popularity.) Each station had chosen a song from listeners’ suggestions, and, just after 9, all five were played across the stations, in order. Greg James started, crashing across all four channels with a lovely speech about how “radio is a great pal to us all” and urging listeners to “hashtag UKSingalong”. Each DJ handed over to the next, in time-honoured Smashie and Nicey manner, and though the songs weren’t quite all singalongs, they were solid bangers: Florence and the Machine’s You Got the Love (emotional); Neil Diamond, Sweet Caroline (dum dum duuum); Prince, Raspberry Beret (yasss); Koffee’s Toast (vibes); and Panjabi MC, Mundian to Bach Ke (full-on kitchen disco). The whole effect was… very sweet. Radio giving a virtual cuddle. As radio can.

Meanwhile, on Radio 4 on Friday, a different approach to self-isolation. Producer-presenter Cathy FitzGerald put out a request for people to record a message, telling her about how they were coping. The result, Life on Lockdown, was, as FitzGerald’s programmes usually are, full of quiet humour and humanity. We heard upsetting reports from Italy, where, every evening, a van drives around with a loudspeaker announcing how many have died. Mark Steel told us he was dancing naked to My Sharona.

And a woman with lung cancer, awaiting a now-vital operation, told of how she was focusing on the present moment: “Finding joy in the small things. And in each other. But for now I’m reminded that it’s finally the first day of spring. And I can hear the birds outside, they’ve been singing for days.” I contributed to this immensely moving show, one voice among many, my small piece of material sewn by Fitzgerald to that of others – solo efforts joined together to make up a comfort blanket for us all.

Three (non-American) true crime murder series

This BBC series came out a year ago and tells the incredible – and incredibly depressing – tale of police corruption in a murder case that took place in Cardiff’s Tiger Bay in 1988. Twenty-year-old Lynette White was killed in an unlit flat above a betting shop; the story reveals how her death is linked to the gentrification of Cardiff. Five men were convicted of her murder, and this well-made, gripping series explains what happened and how White’s murder still has repercussions today. Presenter-producer Ceri Dawn Jackson holds our hand throughout.

Tortoise: My Mother’s Murder
The Tortoise podcast offers in-depth journalism – slow news – that requires proper investigation and reporting. (Interestingly, it discussed the coronavirus back in January.) A four-parter within its series of individual shows, My Mother’s Murder is presented by Paul Galizia, whose mother, Daphne Caruana Galizia, was a journalist who exposed corruption in Malta, her home. Paul searches for the truth behind her assassination by car bomb in October 2017. The uncovering of what happened led to the resignation of Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, at the end of last year.

The Nobody Zone
For 30 years, someone kept pushing innocent people in front of London tube trains. That someone was Kieran Kelly, now seen as Ireland’s most prolific serial killer. Despite confessing to13 murders to the police, Kelly was never charged or prosecuted for the deaths he caused. If you can get over the smug presentation style of the narrator, Tim Hinman, and the occasionally OTT sound production, this is a madly interesting story, offered in five different languages: English, Irish, Danish, Spanish and German.


Miranda Sawyer

The GuardianTramp

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