After Redhead, silence

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The Independent Culture
Bi-media is, as you may know, the new watch-word in the BBC: in the past, radio and television each had separate departments dealing with news and current affairs, drama, light entertainment and so forth. Under the Birt regime, the radio and television arms are to be handcuffed together, creating new, bigger departments covering both media.

Some people who work in radio welcome the change, as giving them access to the far larger resources available to television. Others fear that radio will always be the junior partner, will always lose out in the struggle for money, and that radio's distinctive strengths will be obliterated. They're probably both right: radio will benefit, but only if it constantly fights its corner. It seems inevitable that, in a few years, radio will lose its distinctive culture.

One problem in arguing this case is that you can't quantify cultural change. If you send out just one correspondent to the next foreign hotspot, you only have to shell out for one set of airfares, one set of hotel bills, one set of phone-bills; a balance sheet doesn't show the benefits of a different point of view.

The other problem is that the bureaucratic change is confirming something that's already taking place: cost-cutting and low morale have meant that radio is starting to lose some of its confidence and sense of identity.

It may be a symptom of this that the excellent Radio Lives (Thursday, Radio 4), once dedicated to biographies of the great names of radio, has now expanded to include, in the words of its Radio Times billing, "the great names in radio, TV and beyond". True, last week we had a neat warts-and-all job on Brian Redhead - possibly a bit heavy on the warts - but this week we had Liberace, whose connection with the medium didn't seem to extend far beyond an appearance on Desert Island Discs.

Considered by itself, this was vastly entertaining (and will do much, one hopes, to help the rehabilitation of Gerry Anderson, who was here as unobtrusively witty and sympathetic as we always knew he could be). Among other things, the programme quoted at length the Cassandra's celebrated attack on Liberace in the Daily Mirror - a "deadly, winking, sniggering, snuggling, chromium-plated, scent-impregnated, luminous, quivering, giggling, fruit-flavoured, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love... the biggest sentimental vomit of all time": a verdict that seemed, by and large, to stand up to the facts.

Still, the sequence seems to tell you something: about radio's sense of its history, perhaps. Perhaps, too, that after Redhead there are no great popular names left - no more radio lives worth doing. I hope it's not true; I fear it may be.