RADIO / Spring on the air: Nick Curtis senses a change of season

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The Independent Culture
Spring is here, so the network controllers have been busy in their respective gardens. First there was Radio 5: always an unruly growth, it was unveiled in new form on Monday, ruthlessly pruned by its controller, Jenny Abramsky. So far the twin stems of news and sport seem sturdy enough, but 5 Live has yet to bear a flower.

Radio 4's Gardeners' Question Time, meanwhile, has been resolutely refusing to acknowledge that all its prize plants have been pinched. On show for the first time on Saturday, Classic FM's Gardening Forum showed the old GQT panel transplanted and blooming. GF may be bothered by tiresome plugs by sponsors, but it has maintained the banter and bonhomie so beloved of die- hard listeners. The original GQT feels wanting. The easy expertise and relaxed tone are there, but the familiarity needs to be rebuilt.

Down in the dell of Radio 2, that hardy perennial The News Huddlines celebrated 18 years of broadcasting on Thursday. Despite its age, Huddlines' roots continue to show: amid the topical stuff was a sketch about a bottom- biting sailor called Jack C Nipper (say it quickly). Those gags about rear admirals and sailors who expose themselves 'near the rowlocks' should be weeded out before they choke the show.

Over on Radio 3, they've finally planted something in that barren patch between 12.35am and 6.55am. Radio imitated nature on Saturday night and Sunday morning as Planet 24 supplied That Was, over six hours of nocturnal 'ambient sounds' - otherwise known as wind, rain, waves, birds and so on.

On Saturday, the ambience marathon began with the sound of someone pouring a drink - which is exactly what I was doing. At 2.30am I conked out to the sound of rainfall, to be rudely awoken at 6.30am by a dawn chorus in my bedroom. That Was sounds suspiciously like a cheap way to fill airtime.

Earlier on Saturday evening, R 3 displayed the last orchid in its Thirties Season. The Fall of the City, an experimental verse drama by the American poet / playwright Archibald MacLeish, was fronted by Orson Welles. Pre-dating his infamous War of the Worlds broadcast, it used the same techniques. Despite the stagy melodrama of its performances, it was genuinely thrilling.

Welles' bizarre accent was peculiarly apt for the role of old-style radio anchorman, describing the scene as a city gathered to hear a dead woman forecast the coming of a conqueror. His commentary was startlingly realistic, proceeding by minor increments ('Nothing yet . . . Wait] . . .') and pregnant with the breathless self-importance of a man forced to fill in the hiatuses of a momentous event.

Alongside Welles, the voices haranguing the milling crowd generated real fear as this community shucked off collective liberty in favour of tyranny. In a week of replantings and uprootings the Fall of the City, first broadcast 57 years ago, flowered brief but bright.