RADIO / Let's hear it for Radio 1: Robert Hanks reflects on Radio 1's dwindling audience

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The Independent Culture
The drop in Radio 1's audience that was reported last week has unearthed all kinds of dark demons - not only Batesy and Tony Blackburn writing 'Told you so' articles in the press, but thoughtful, sensitive people you never imagined would listen to Radio 1 in the first place have been shaking their heads and muttering that this is what comes of trying to be too clever.

The finger of blame has been pointed at Matthew Bannister, the new controller who was brought in to help Radio 1 fight off commercial competition. This strikes me as rather harsh - after all, a man who can scare off Dave Lee Travis and Simon Bates is a man we ought to be building statues to, not burning effigies of. Of course Radio 1 without Batesy attracts fewer listeners; newsagents make less money if they don't sell cigarettes, but that doesn't mean smoking isn't a destructive habit that ought to be discouraged. (The analogy is exact: listening to The Golden Hour, as clinical tests have showed, makes the breath smell and the fingers turn yellow.)

In trying to introduce wit and intelligence to Radio 1, there should be no question that Bannister is working on the right lines; the argument ought to be about whether he's doing it well enough. It's hard to make out what the entrails are saying on this one. Danny Baker on the radio, self-confident and in command, is surely a great thing - as opposed to Danny Baker the sweating, nervous television personality; and the idea, floating around recently, that his voice is alienatingly cockney is absurd in a nation where EastEnders can become a national institution.

But there have been mistakes: in particular, shifting Steve Wright to the breakfast slot, as opposed to shifting Steve Wright to a decent, useful job like directing traffic. The idea has got around that Steve Wright is clever: this is untrue. Steve Wright is loud and fast, and probably quite good at Trivial Pursuit. But really, the kind of intelligence he offers is the kind that comes from reading Improve Your Word Power books - hence, presumably, the 'Word of the Hour' slot. Yesterday morning, the word for you to learn was 'infra dig', which seems oddly appropriate.

Among many other improbable compliments, Wright has been called a 'post-modern' DJ. You have had pairs of shoes that were more post-modern than Steve Wright. Generally, this is an adjective that gets bandied around far too much. In The Art of Parties (Radio 1, Sunday), Dave Hill applied it to the New Romantic groups of the early Eighties. In this case, calling them 'post-modern' seemed to be a way of allowing them to pass everything off as a joke - members of Human League, ABC, etc were rolled on one by one to explain that they were being humorous - it was the other groups who took themselves too seriously.

Hill seemed to be suffering from a peculiar brand of naivety that involved a refusal to take things at face value: you only had to look at Phil Oakey's hair, flapping like a broken wing down one side of his head, to know that he was a prat. But for Hill, the Human League were 'deeply intellectual, wantonly ridiculous': the haircut was meant to be ironic, right?

On the whole, though, this was a shrewd, funny analysis of early Eighties pop, which drew together disparate musical phenomena and showed how the same deities - Kraftwerk, Bowie - presided over them all. If Radio 1 loses listeners by broadcasting talkie, witty programmes like this, then frankly, the problem isn't with Radio 1.

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