Sunday, 25 March 2012

Sounds of the 20th Century: In praise of radio

I recently read an interview with the editor of Radio Times that mentioned film/cinema nine times, television/video five times, and radio only three. It's a shame that radio is seen as a minority interest by a magazine that has 'radio' in the title. But I've always quite liked having minority interests. It makes you feel a bit special.

Television feels like wallpaper much of the time. Listening to the radio is something you choose to do. Something that becomes part of who you are.

Radio has always  been part of my life, starting with Listen with Mother in pre-school days. (Which I actually listened to with my mother, because in those days women could afford to stay at home if they wanted to.)

Ten years later, there was Radio Luxembourg, Radio Caroline and Radio Mi Amigo. (Anyone living in the south of England remember those?) And always, of course, Radio 1.

I still miss John Peel, and one of the great things about Sounds of the 20th Century on Radio 2 was those snippets of Peely that cropped up from time to time – and seeing the Twitter love for him in my timeline.

There were a lot of great things about Sounds of the 20th Century, the 'disintermediated audio collage' of music and current events that covered 1951 to 2000 one year a week. And one of the great things was the community of listeners that grew up around the show via Twitter. Live tweeting while watching TV gets the press, but live tweeting while listening to the radio is better (there are no pictures to miss).

I met a lot of like minds during the part of the series that covered the 1970s: the  pop music golden age for us middle-aged types. Then, a whole new bunch of listener/tweeters turned up for the 80s. And then another wave for the '90s. School discos got mentioned a lot (never had them in my day). And even if we didn't have the same memories, it was fun to see other people's reactions to the music and events of each era and to swap notes.

By the end of the series – it finished last week – it was a fully fledged cult programme. Someone even coined a term for the fans: 'Centurions'. And according to the BBC's social media number crunchers, the show even beat Question Time in terms of 'listener engagement'.

I'd had the final week's show in my diary for weeks. So when I was asked to go to a works do taking place last Thursday, I turned it down on the grounds that I would be busy. A few days later, it turned out that I genuinely did need to be somewhere else: the Sounds of the 20th Century end of series party. They wanted the tweeters there.

That sounds more showbiz than it was: actually it was ropey red wine upstairs in a London pub. But that's about my level, and it made it a friendly and fun night. I met the producers! I met other tweeters! I put faces to usernames. And yes, I live tweeted as the show went out – listening on two little FM radios. Just as it should be.

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