The Week in Radio

COMMERCIAL RADIO is not best known for its commitment to conservation. But in one major respect at least, it has a significant role to play in the protection of an endangered species. It is - and pray God it remains - the only place in Scotland where the Scots mid-Atlantic accent is preserved in all its hideous splendour.

On its own, the infinite shades of the Scottish accent - Glaswegian or Orcadian, Lowland or Island - is a thing of beauty. So, sometimes, is the American accent. Stick the two together, however, and you have not only the silliest accent in the world, but probably the ugliest. It's an awkward thing to render in print, but if you can imagine either Jimmy Knapp or Malcolm Rifkind being run through a mangle backwards, then you have something of its unique stylishness.

I find the banter between DJ and traffic reporter the most compelling (DJ: "And that's the noos broug' to yis from the Sgoddish Parliamen'. An' here's our delightfoo Jaggie Macgormag wi' the AA Roadwash draffig speshaw. Jaggie, that noo hairstyle makes yis luke twenny years younger." Jackie (giggling wanly): "Oh Dougie, you are a one." DJ: "Heh heh. And sbeakin' of hairstyles, here's a fab number from that gread Scoddish blon' Rod Stooart. Take it away, Rod.")

Haven't these people heard of Smashey and Nicey? Don't they know they sound odd? What do they do when they finish work and go down the road for a drink? ("Pin' a Speshaw an' a wide wine fir the liddle ladey, pleash. An' a pagged of crushbs fir extra").

But, just as there is a distinct and recognisable "voice" for Radio 2 or Classic FM, so there is now a recognisable persona attached to commercial radio in Scotland. The three best-known stations are Forth FM on the east coast, Clyde Radio on the west and Scot FM ploughing a formulaic furrow straight down the middle of the road. Most, if not all of them, have aspirations to becoming the verbal version of the Daily Record, and clog the patient listener's ears with relentless pluggings of "fibaw, noos and glassig toons".

Occasionally, there are flickerings of Edinburgh Festival happenings or bold leaps into alternative forms of sport - a novelty piece on flounder- stamping, say - but basically the formula remains steady. To listen to it, you get the impression that Scotland is populated by compulsive tile- grouters, conservatory fetishists and squelch-rock devotees, and that there are only four national teams - Rungersh, Sheltuc, Hubs and Hurts.

Turn away from Scotland, though, and there are even finer forms of surreality to be found. Over the past few years, there seems to be a steady policy of taking all the intelligence out of Radio 1 (yes, it did exist) and replacing it with what sounds remarkably like ducks on speed. With the honourable exceptions of Jo Wiley and Kevin Greening, most of the presenters sound either dated (are there really still people out there murmuring "wicked" and "largin' it", and "mega" over the throbbing turntables of Britain?) or unhappily niched.

The best and most reassuring corner of sanity is Mark Radcliffe - or rather Mark and Lard - from 2pm to 4pm every weekday. Nicky Campbell used to hold this slot, and one gets the impression that it remains the Radio 1 equivalent of a relegation; Campbell, like Radcliffe, managed to be sharp, funny and remarkably good at satirising the radio hierarchy without that hierarchy appearing to notice. Radcliffe briefly presented the breakfast show, and was presumably shifted downwards for being too intellectually strenuous for early on a Monday morning.

But for the listener faced with either a stolid plod through the Radio 4 Afternoon Play or something much, much worse on the commercial stations, Mark and Lard are a nice dry dose of serendipitous anarchy - even if they are as bad, if not worse, than Campbell at remembering the music they're playing.

This week, their competition on Radio 4 has been This Sceptred Isle, a series of historical readings based on Winston Churchill's History of the English-Speaking Peoples. This is history at its popular and anecdotal best; delivered in comfortably-digested slices, and given by that most schoolmistressy of actresses, Anna Massey. Her brisk delivery, spliced with plenty of well-chosen readings and quotations, leaves one with the virtuous sense of having not only learnt something, but having enjoyed learning it enormously. Next week, the series moves into the 20th century and should - if this week is anything to go by - be very good indeed. Or, as Forth FM would have it, "bruwiunt, Jaggey".

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