The Week In Radio: Comedy gems in a digital wilderness

If there were ever words more prone to raise an involuntary shudder, apart from "And now, You and Yours... ", it is "DAB radio". At least in those listeners concerned that one day their beloved Roberts, or bedside clock radio or kitchen transistor – along with more than 100 million other analogue sets – will become obsolete as the nation's FM and AM stations are shifted onto DAB. Most have no idea when this day will arrive. Some hope it will just go away. Perhaps that secretly goes for the government too, which has yet to endorse the projected 2015 date for switchover set in its own Digital Britain report.

The stipulation is that digital switchover won't happen until 90 per cent of the country, and all main roads, have reception. Currently around 24 per cent of people have digital radios and by 2014 all new cars will have to be equipped with DAB. Within the radio industry itself, there is an impatience for the DAB switchover to be confirmed. The public at large, however, is rather more ambivalent.

Last week, Stephen Miron, chief executive of the country's biggest radio group, Global Radio, which owns Classic FM, Heart, Capital and LBC, admitted he had stopped even using the term DAB because "it sounds like something you'd catch in a far away country".

But whatever he chooses to call it, there's no denying that Digital Audio Broadcasting is beset with problems. Channel 4, which was geared up to launch a national speech alternative to Radio 4, ducked out last October. Analogue radios, unlike TVs, cannot be easily provided with a converter, which means that when the networks abandon FM, a lot of decent radios will end up on the scrapheap. Not to mention the millions of older cars driving around unable to get any national network at all.

A lot of the problem is that DAB seems to be counter-intuitive to the whole idea of radio. The idea, for example, that we will be listening via our computers, overlooks the joy of a set in every room. Then there's the promise of interactivity. According to Miron, the future promises radios with touch screens, so that when listening to a car programme, for instance, you could also book a test drive. But who wants radio to be interactive? Isn't the whole point of radio that it gets on by itself in the background while you grapple with work or ironing or cooking or all three at once?

There's the green issue – DAB swallows battery power at six times the rate – and last, but very much not least, the sound quality. Can I be the only person whose DAB radio signal vanishes like the dew? Why is this new technology about as effective as Gordon Brown on YouTube?

"But," said someone to me recently, "Doesn't the BBC do a really good digital channel that just reads books out?" He meant, of course, BBC Radio 7, the most popular of the BBC's digital-only stations, though its audience is less than a million.

Slip into Radio 7 and you could be forgiven for thinking you'd wandered into a suburban sitting room circa 1980 – there's Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves and Poirot, there's Dad's Army, not to mention The Goon Show. It does an inspired line in adapted classics – A Suitable Boy, The Colour Purple and Dracula are currently in play – and has ingenious ways of recrafting old stuff.

Comedy Controller, for example, is a kind of Desert Island Discs of the comedy world. Saturday morning featured Helen Lederer's choice of six comedians who had influenced her, including Arthur Smith, whom she met "round the back of the bikeshed of the cabaret world in the 80s", Jeremy Hardy, John Hegley and Ross Noble. The advantage of Radio 7 is that the extracts can run at enormous length, but that's the disadvantage too. Though Lederer's choices were pretty faultless, listening to these blasts from the past over three hours made one crave a bit more editing.

On the face of it, Radio 7 makes perfect sense. Recycling is a virtue, and it's a crime for the BBC archives to languish unheard. It also provides a home for CBeebies Radio. What could be better than to dip into a treasure trove of the best of past comedy and drama?

The dilemma it faces is more integral to radio itself. Unlike TV viewers who are "promiscuous" – in the unlovely phrase of the advertising suits – radio listeners tend to stick faithfully to one or two stations. Perhaps we'll all get more promiscuous when DAB takes over. Or perhaps, judging by my own children, tethered permanently to their iPods like goats to a stake, the next generation will no longer listen to radio at all. But that's another story.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
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.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits