Talk about a terrible crisis in masculinity

SUDDENLY THERE are signs that the crisis in masculinity is more serious than we had thought. It was reported last week that Talk Radio's attempt to appeal to young men has resulted in an unprecedented slump in its ratings. In America, meanwhile, a grim epidemic of voluntary castration has been causing concern. While no sane person would argue that there is any kind of connection between these two stories, it is surely undeniable that, as reflections of male decline, they offer a grim sense of symmetry.

The new vogue among American men for what is called "cutting" is particularly alarming. According to a report in this week's Independent on Sunday, an increasing number of men have taken to advertising their needs in Ball Club Quarterly, the castraters' own magazine, and hundreds are now volunteering for the operation every year. Those who have had the cut apparently call themselves "nullos", while the more adventurous souls who have had their nipples removed are known in the business as "smoothies". Nullos, according to the experts, tend to be flaccid, exhausted, afflicted by a low sense of self-esteem and a problem with gender-identity.

All of which may seem at first glance to be some way from what has been happening at Talk Radio, where the new proprietor Kelvin MacKenzie has been putting on programmes that appeal to men in their twenties and thirties - football phone-ins, that is. As a result, the station's ratings fell by an astonishing 17.5 per cent in the three months to September.

I report this news with a sense of personal sadness. For a few months, about five years ago, I was Talk's "resident bookworm", appearing once a week on Sean Bolger's breakfast show to review a new title or to discuss some book-related topic with listeners. Now and then, we would put aside a full 30 minutes for a phone-in about how to get published or the best way of encouraging children to read.

It was not the sort of radio that wins awards, but there was a sense of listener engagement that was not to be found elsewhere. Generally, Talk seemed to be providing an ease and openness of debate which was in refreshing contrast to the cosy exclusiveness of the BBC.

At the time, Talk producers would argue that it was not simply ratings that mattered: a sure sign of the station's health lay in the quality of calls from listeners. The nutters, bores and insomniacs of the early days made way for people with genuinely interesting, if eccentric, views. Occasionally the mix was strange - I once reviewed Richard Ford's novel Independence Day between a discussion about Eric Cantona's future and a phone-in with Psychic Sue - but it almost always offered a provocative sense of the unpredictable.

By the time MacKenzie took over, I was no longer resident bookworm and watched from a distance as its brilliant presenters - Bolger, Tommy Boyd, David Starkey and others - were replaced by a series of football pundits, leaving only the great advice columnist Anna Raeburn as an oasis of wit and sanity in a desert of saloon-bar banality.

Now, as hour after hour of airtime is spent discussing Kevin's midfield crisis or whether Bobby's turning things round at St James's Park, the great adventure is over, and hundreds of thousands, myself included, have returned sadly to the restrained intelligence of Radio 4 and the rather impressive Radio 2. Defending the slump in ratings, a Talk spokesman desperately pointed out that at least more young men were now listening.

Tune in for a few moments to one of the station's new school of presenters - Degsy, Banksy, Watto, Alan Brazillo - and you will realise the terrible depressive effect of male values. Nullo listeners communicate drearily with smoothie presenters - with not a cutter in sight.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

    Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

    In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
    Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

    How has your club fared in summer sales?

    Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
    Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

    'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

    Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
    The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

    The best swim shorts for men

    Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup