A concrete love affair

By PhotoIain

Happy World Radio Day 2021

World Radio Day is an annual UNESCO initiative to highlight the unique power of radio to touch lives and bring people together across every corner of the globe. In this 10th anniversary year of the WRD initiative there are three sub-themes: 
Evolution: The world changes, radio evolves. 
Innovation: The world changes, radio adapts and innovates.
Connection: The world changes, radio connects. 

Since my last musings on this day last year, the world has indeed changed beyond recognition with Covid-19 impacting every aspect of our daily lives. 

Back in January and early February 2020 the world was still hearing stories from New South Wales and Victoria about the destruction wrought by devastating bushfires. What was surely some of Australia’s darkest days might well have been ABC’s finest hour. ABC’s vital coverage with key weather reports, dispatches from the fire-front and the voices of people who’ve lost their homes and communities. These broadcasts were so essential that as transmission sites succumbed to fire, volunteer local engineers worked hard to restore ABC to air ASAP, while - in ordinary times competitors - commercial broadcasters joined the effort to keep ABC on-air by donating equipment even their own broadcast facilities. As I streamed ABC Canberra during sleepless nights, I reflected on how truly essential those broadcasts must have been to families fleeing the fire-fronts, the mediums incomparable resilience and ubiquity providing vital information and a connection to the world beyond.  

When the news agenda began shifting attention to reports of Covid-19 spreading in Europe, little did I know how essential those qualities would become to us all in the coming months. 

When the UK entered lockdown, BBC local radio in England and the various BBC stations in Scotland, Wales and NI kickstarted BBC Making a Difference. Thanks to radio’s stunning reach and ubiquity they turned every workplace wall, every kitchen table and every car dashboard into a virtual noticeboard connecting people in need of help with offers of assistance in their broadcast areas. One story I heard, which I think encapsulates BBC Making a Difference, was a nurse who’s car had broken down on her way to a nightshift, within 5 minutes of her call for help being aired she was on the move again thanks to a fellow radio listener.

With most of the world staying at home, many experiencing isolation from family, friends and support networks, the mediums strong sense of community and inclusivity has never been more relevant or more needed than now. I think 2020 has proved beyond doubt, you’ve always got a friend when you’ve got a radio.

On top this stunning open arms inclusivity is its capacity to make even the most mundane of days, memorable, meaningful perhaps even special in a way that only radio can - yet another aspect where radio has come into its own 2020, and I’m sure every listener will have their own favourite shows or features which have made these many many days of lockdown a little less mundane. 

During 2020, I’ve loved Mary Anne Hobbs guest-mix on lockdown Friday afternoons everyone together virtually ‘Upstairs at the open arms’ on BBC 6Music, getting a mention and connecting with the DJs on Twitter has been brilliant appointment to listen radio. I’ve loved Friday night with Pete Tong “as we continue” after 30 years at Radio 1 and still saying the name of each artist old and new with incomparable enthusiasm. Sunday afternoons have been about modern-classical composer Alexis Ffrench’s show on Scala Radio while Monday-Friday drive-time is almost always Eddie Mair on LBC. There have been incredible one-off’s when Absolute Radio, with the help of the Audio Content Fund, switched 1215AM to ‘Absolute Radio 40’s’ for 24 hours  to mark VE Day 75 - the UK’s first national analogue pop-up station. There have been so many podcasts listening as I WFH, often serendipitously and concisely informative like ‘The Urbanist’ Tall Stories episode about the imminent the closure of Berlin’s Tegel airport. Some podcasts have been very sad, The Guardians ‘Today in Focus’ with stories from the NHS frontline and the heartfelt voices of families who’ve lost loved ones to the pandemic. 

It has been an extraordinary year of radio. An extraordinary year of evolution, innovation and connection.  

Of radio I love the history, I love its ubiquity, I love - this year more than ever - its stunning resilience. I love the technology whether it be AM, FM, DAB, podcasts, streaming or Spotify, I love how you can pause and rewind live radio via the BBC Sounds app and listen again anywhere anytime. I love the content and I love so many of the characters who’ve graced our airwaves over the years, I love commercial radio just as much as I love public service broadcasting. I love the architecture, the infrastructure, even the boring technical and regulatory stuff. Most of all I love the serendipity you find after tuning in or loading up the app and still finding myself - on an absolutely daily basis - surprised, enlightened or entertained thanks to this truly wonderful medium.

Happy World Radio Day 2021!

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