RADIO / Can they half-bake a Zeitgeist pie?: Robert Hanks on 1 FM's answer to NME, Melody Maker and Q; plus Chris Morris, alone and unleashed

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The Independent Culture
Traditionally, Radio 1's attitude towards the music it plays has been largely uncritical. Discussions of records tend not to go much deeper than the odd 'What a sensational sound that is' or an occasional 'He's a nice bloke, and that's a great record'. Now and then, on a programme like Round Table somebody would attempt more rigorous analysis ('I quite liked the twiddly bits at the start, but then I thought it got a bit boring'), but that's about it.

While Fab 1 FM has stuck to its upbeat, humourless guns, though, the music press has developed a distinct way of talking about music - one based largely on adjective-mongering and over-indulged metaphors, but also characterised by irony and humour. (It's worth knowing that several of the writers behind On the Hour came out of the music press.) This is the kind of discourse favoured by Collins and Maconie's Hit Parade (Radio 1, Thursday), a magazine programme that its presenters, Andrew Collins and Stuart Maconie, describe as playing out of the rough grass by rock's fairway, and 'news, interviews and comment baked together in a sort of Zeitgeist pie'.

After three weeks, it's become clear that every one of the individual items on the programme fails utterly - the Omituary, in which guest critics swerve effortlessly around supposedly unavoidable cliches while discussing Blur or heavy metal, and the Interrogation, in which Collins and Maconie's would-be amusing Nice Cop / Nasty Cop act seems to irritate celebrity interviewees into clamming up. What does work is the juvenile, defensively ironic tone (Collins and Maconie actually write for Q, but thankfully sound a good deal less mature than that). You feel that Radio 1 is on a course of convergence with the NME and Melody Maker - not something you would wish on The World Tonight or the Church of England, but in terms of general gusto and willingness to be mildly controversial, quite possibly an improvement for Radio 1.

Collins and Maconie aren't the only evidence of Radio 1's new willingness to disturb - Chris Morris, the voice of On the Hour and The Day Today, now has his own show on a Wednesday night. In fact, the first programme was pretty undisturbing. There were moments of brilliance - Morris gently leading Katie Boyle, during a rigged phone-in on animals and justice, to suggest that Weimaraners would be a good breed of dog to sniff out evil-doers in court - but nothing that made you sit up and gulp for air.

That's partly because Morris's devices (getting uncomprehending old people to read out rude phrases like 'Parting the beef curtains', making fake phone-calls to Conservative Central Office) are starting to get familiar. But it's also because he weakens his jokes by giving them a new transparency - he explains exactly how he persuaded John Gummer into a display of mock indignation about a series of events that hadn't yet taken place, and what the woman who read out the bit about beef curtains thought it really meant. What the jokes lose in comic edge, though (there's no longer that sense of mild horror at the humiliation Morris is prepared to inflict on people), they gain in moral force.

In fact, the whole point about Morris is not that he's the funniest broadcaster around (though at the moment he's short on competition), but that he's the most moral. He is desperately keen that you should understand the deceptions involved in broadcasting; and it isn't always pleasant, but it's undeniably useful.