The Week In Radio: A measured response to 'psycho summer'

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The Independent Culture

Like a disappointing DAB signal, that dips and rises and disappears again, the debate on ditching FM rumbles on. It is hard to gauge exactly where the government currently stands on switching off the analogue signal and consigning 100 million radio sets to landfill. Not to mention the fact that if we lose 30 million radios in cars, where a third of all radio listening takes place, we'll all be obliged to drive in silence or argue about directions instead. Ed Vaizey, the communications minister, made his first foray into the minefield by saying that 2015 remains a "target" for switching off analogue, but he needs to be convinced that a majority is switching its allegiance to DAB before he starts thinking about a deadline. Does this mean he is listening to those who say Britain should move to the better DAB+ standard? Or to the vociferous band of analogue loyalists who say if FM ain't broke, don't fix it?

Still. Listening to the first in the World Service series China: Shaking the World was enough to put our own little white heat of technology debate in perspective. It was Napoleon who said "China is a sleeping giant and when she awakes she will shake the world", and if you weren't shaking by the beginning of Michael Robinson's programme, you were by the end. Monitoring China's shift from low-wage manufacturing to a high-tech economy, the statistics were simply mind-boggling. Five years ago, for example, China had no high-speed rail track, but next year, it will have more than the whole world put together. Visiting a technology park still being constructed, Robinson was informed that in five years' time it would produce 80 million laptops – a third of the global market. Though a sober enough journalist, the effect of all this change prompted him to speak in perpetual exclamation marks. "It was immediately obvious I hadn't begun to understand the scale of what was being planned! It's absolutely huge! It's a whole city, 100 square km with a population of a million and 300,000 workers. It's bigger than the British army, navy and airforce put together!"

But as the stories of iPad factory workers remind us, the pace of China's change exerts massive pressure on its populace and it's there that the first hints of trouble may arise. "To the post-1990s generation's mindset, the jobs the last generation did were shameful," explained one worker, echoing teenagers the world over. "It's not cool."

Back in England, during what parts of the media have dubbed "psycho summer", it was serendipitous to hear from Dr Gwen Adshead, forensic psychotherapist, on working with violent offenders. Ironically, this Desert Island Discs was originally postponed because it coincided with the shooting spree of Derrick Bird, but coming amid the Raoul Moat saga, the voice of this humane and gentle woman was a welcome counterpoint to the discussion of violent crime elsewhere. Asked about her patients at Broadmoor, she said she sought to understand them. "Unthinking people see this attempt at understanding as excusing people. We don't seek to excuse, but these are people – they once had quite ordinary lives, they were once small boys, young men who were hopeful, whose lives went terribly awry. As in King Lear they are "ruined pieces of Nature"."

Two hundred years ago, an armed criminal could expect less understanding, but just as much celebrity, judging by Voices from the Old Bailey, which starts today and in which the inestimable Amanda Vickery uses newly digitised records to bring alive the trials of 18th-century highwaymen. The 26-year-old James Maclean, with a Venetian mask and a lovely turn of phrase, became a folk hero, visited by 3,000 people in one week in Newgate prison. His execution was "the big theatrical event of that month" according to John Mullan, who adds that it had "the audience participation element, which we have come to regard as utterly improper." After the week we've had though, he may just be revising that idea.

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