The Critics' Awards 1998: Radio - Open your eyes to the airwaves

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The Independent Culture
Like contact lenses, radio works directly on the brain, with no intervening distractions. It can transport you through time and space, into palaces and prisons, across barriers of class, sex, age and agility. It can inform, engross, encourage and delight. R3's Danube Week did all that and more, taking the listener to the concert-halls, monasteries, opera houses, ballrooms and bars of Vienna and Budapest, and elegantly displaying the grandeur of the Austro-Hungarian empire in its modern European context. Its begetter, John Evans, gets my top prize.

It was a turbulent year. Classic FM got a new boss and a new address and attracted 5 million listeners - without introducing much new programming. Talk Radio has changed hands, image, and several presenters once again. At the BBC, it was musical chairs: Jenny Abramsky became director of radio, and Mark Byford managing director of the World Service. Andy Parfitt took over at R1, and Roger Wright has slipped into Nick Kenyon's chair at R3.

At R4, James Boyle's new schedules have become part of life. They attracted predictable, if often hysterical, flak which has distilled into widespread dissatisfaction with tacky quiz shows. Roger Mosey at R5 and Jim Moir at R2 are consolidating their positions. Besides the sport, R5 has produced some compelling documentaries, such as Who's Driving You Home Tonight?, and R2's Social Action Project team produced the useful year-long series, Cancer and You. My favourite programme on R2 was John Florance's enchanting study of the tuba, Beyond Tubby, and, despite Moir's introduction of younger, trendier presenters, I couldn't have survived without Terry Wogan, whose relaxed, witty charm and batty listeners remain the glory of the station.

Best features came from Roger Fenby at the World Service, whose sound- pictures glow like Rembrandts. His series on the universality of painting, The Likeness of Being, was a scholarly yet accessible reminder that humanity is unfettered by artificial boundaries. The IoS radio drama prize was hell to choose: it is shared between Andrew Rissik's magnificent trilogy about the Trojan Wars, Troy (R3), and Lesley Bruce's Vox Bopp (R4), which wove magical patterns out of the mysterious summer of the Hale-Bopp comet. The prize for best drama serial goes to Enyd Williams, for her splendid production of The Hound of the Baskervilles (R4).

Two venerable men soldiered grandly through the year, as through many before. This is a new award, for veterans, and it is shared between Derek Cooper and Alistair Cooke. Cooper's The Food Programme (R4) continues supreme in its field, praising the excellent and condemning the spurious, while Cooke retains the incisive brilliance of a young man, informed by the experience of 90 years. At only 52, Woman's Hour (R4) has lost none of its edge and wins the best magazine prize. The best new series is the daily Sound Stories (R3), an innovative way of presenting classical music. And the greatest survivor of all is I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue (R4), which has properly become the best sort of cult: hooray for Humphrey Lyttleton. Despite all the gloomy grumbling, radio is thriving. Keep listening.

Programme of 1998: R3's Danube Week