Radio 2: Notes on a broadcasting scandal
The replacement of ‘The Radcliffe and Maconie Show’ by Jo Whiley is a blow to music-lovers, says SimonO’Hagan
Tuesday 22 March 2011
It's going to be a tough listen, but there's no avoiding it. Tomorrow night, 8 o'clock, the last Radcliffe and Maconie Show on Radio 2. One of those things you so don't want to happen, but you can't not be there when it does.
I imagine they will bow out with their usual wit and self-deprecation. They've got too much pride, professionalism and dignity not to rise above a woeful decision – the shunting-off of a fantastic programme from a prime midweek evening slot on Radio 2 to an afternoon slot on 6 Music.
It is almost four years since Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie were brought together. Within a few months they had built up a devoted following of two million-plus listeners and created something really special.
Radcliffe and Maconie is a show that first and foremost plays great music. But its real appeal lies in the rapport between the presenters, and the knowledge, warmth, enthusiasm and spontaneity that they bring to a programme that's as droll as it is musically enlightening. Nonsense like This Just In – music "news" of the day that's essentially a satire on a certain type of breathless journalese – sits alongside the best of new and old pop, and live sessions from acts as diverse as Vashti Bunyan, Arcade Fire, and Tinariwen. Then there is that most cherished of features – The Chain, "officially the longest listener-generated, thematically-linked sequence of musically-based items ... [pause]... on the radio," to quote Gordon Burns's cod-melodramatic voiceover. It remains to be seen whether The Chain, now up to No. 2,092, will make the transition to 6Music.
But hang on, people will say, the show's not actually coming to an end. It will live on, just in a new home. And in the age of the iPlayer, what's to stop any R&M fans who can't access 6Music during the afternoon catching up with it later? Well, that's true, up to a point. And no doubt many of us will try going down that route. But R&M is a live show. It is of the moment. And while the iPlayer is brilliant for allowing one to catch up on programmes in isolation, it is not a truly radio experience and it never will be. If it were, why would anyone at the BBC need to think very hard about scheduling, which is something they obviously do think very hard about.
Replacing R&M will be old Radio 1 hand Jo Whiley, and I will give her a go. But on past form she is not a true communicator like R&M, and there's no way she can reproduce their magic – for the simple reason that nobody could. Of course Radio 2's loss is 6Music's gain, but R&M's impact is bound to be lessened.
Nobody likes change, but I do wonder why things are allowed to stay largely the same on Radio 4 but Radio 2's schedules can be messed about with. Of course you want innovation and great one-off shows and series, but you don't tamper with the core structure, of which R&M is absolutely a part.
A key difference between now and when R&M began in April 2007 is that Radio 2 doesn't have the same Controller. R&M was a creation of Lesley Douglas, who was a music-lover who cared deeply about the show. Her successor, Bob Shennan, does not seem to be of the same mould. I guess the warning signs were there when, a year ago, Shennan oversaw a reduction in R&M from four nights a week to three, but to do what he is doing now, and not even replace the show with anything very original, is a scandal.
And in case you've forgotten why Lesley Douglas is no longer at Radio 2 and giving R&M the appreciation and protection it deserves, here are two names to remind you – Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross. No way could Ms Douglas have been blamed for that disaster, but, as she put it, "It happened on my watch", and so – nobly, but unnecessarily, and even tragically – she resigned.
Brand and Ross – you really have an awful lot to answer for.
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