RADIO / Signs of misdirected youth: Robert Hanks puts his finger on the pulses of Radio 3 and Radio 4

There aren't many sounds more uncomfortable than Radio 3 trying to widen its appeal. This doesn't necessarily reflect badly on Radio 3 - if it was seriously competing with Radio 1, something would have gone pretty awry - but that thought doesn't make its efforts at popularisation any less painful to listen to.

The Music Machine is certainly a more creditable attempt than most. This is a daily magazine specifically aimed at younger listeners, and timed to attract the post-school audience. The first programme, last Tuesday, got off to a bad start: the theme was pulse, a concept Tommy Pearson proceeded to define negatively by interviewing Annie Nightingale - the pulse, you realised, being what The Music Machine didn't have its finger on. Annie Nightingale is not precisely a youth cult these days (I'm not sure that she ever was, precisely); and she sounded slightly unsure what she was doing there herself. After that, things picked up considerably. The programme suffers from over-eclecticism - balancing every classical extract with a bit of African drumming or jazz or rock, to show that, hey, music is music, right? - and at times it moves jerkily, inserting too many soundbite interviews that block its momentum. But Pearson seems a jolly sort of fellow, without ever sounding quite as desperately perky and zany as David Owen Norris used to on The Works, and the explanation of metre in music was interesting and intelligible.

The question is, who is expected to listen to it? If you're listening to Radio 3 already, you probably have the intellectual mandibles to chew something meatier than this. If you aren't, will 15 minutes of self-consciously young programming sandwiched between choral evensong and In Tune turn out to be the right bait?

To be fair, Radio 3 sometimes gets it right: Mixing It, on Monday evenings, is a snug half-way house for people who used to like John Peel but now find that some of the stuff he plays is just too darn noisy. Mixing It still plays its fair share of studenty art- house cacophony - a good example last week involved a hot-wired CD player, managing to expand the first couple of bars of the Beach Boys' 'California Girls' to 10 minutes of migraine-inducing thuds and deconstructed chords - but the odd spot of musical harshness is offset by the gentleness of the presentation. Robert Sandall and Mark Russell were cruelly ridiculed in a listener's letter a couple of weeks ago as 'The Smashie and Nicey of the avant-garde', which seemed unfair: their enthusiasm is never insincere, however inexplicable.

On the other hand, the urge to send them up is strong; they're not always immune to it themselves (how else do you justify a remark like 'Not many weeks go by around here without a reference to John Zorn', except as self-parody?). Still, even granted that it may make you pine for the transparent musical logic of Mantovani or James Last, Mixing It has shown that Radio 3 can broaden its appeal sacrificing its lofty identity.

Meanwhile, as Radio 3 evolves, Radio 4 is adopting a policy of retrenchment, going for humorous panel games and more humorous panel games. (The 'more' in this case refers to the number of games, not to the humorousness.) This week saw the launch of two new ones: Women's Troubles (Wednesday) and Darling, You Were Marvellous (Thursday). The theme of Darling, You Were Marvellous is elusive - 'Creeping beneath the underbelly of the celebrity world,' according to Sandi Toksvig, which didn't leave you much wiser. Still, the basic purpose - to make smutty jokes at the expense of well- known actors - is clear, and the first night went respectably well.

Women's Troubles has already attracted almost universal opprobrium for the bumptious, tiresomely facetious chairing of Frances Edmonds, and I'm not prepared to swim against the tide on this one. There's a Wildean air of expectation about her every remark - the sense that she thinks you'll wish you'd said this - that makes you want to tear things, living things, with your teeth. After hearing her a few times co-presenting Radio 5's afternoon programme, it seemed a fair bet that she'd be going down with the Radio 5 ship.

That said, the (all-female) panel was on fairly snappy form, and the theme is easy to work out - all about how to solve problems - even if it isn't always brilliantly sustained. To be honest, you get the impression that the format was just contrived around the title. Maybe we should just be relieved that they didn't pluck up the nerve to call it Menstruation.

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