News that the Shipping Forecast has been turned into a choral work for performance in Portsmouth Cathedral comes as no surprise. It is surely one of the great classics of radio. The incantatory rhythm, at once familiar and mysterious, as incomprehensible as Old English, as consoling as a Latin creed, has long inspired poets. Its heart-stopping phrases, "falling slowly", "precipitation within sight", seem to have no connection to our humdrum inland weather, where rain is either "useful" or "unfortunate" and whose forecasters are cheery or apologetic by turns as if personally accountable for the heavens. The Shipping Forecast's storms are never anthropomorphised. Its gales suggest distant peril, from which we can feel safe. Given that scarcely a week passes without the BBC holding some kind of listener survey, it's surely only a matter of time before we're asked our favourite radio programme and I'd guess the Shipping Forecast would be up there for many.
When it comes to favourite radio networks, however, Radio 2 is still the undisputed winner. It has 14.5 million listeners, but the BBC Trust thinks there's significant room for improvement, hence this week's 2 DAY, in which schedules and presenters were shaken up to showcase the network. This was a laudable, if odd idea, given that getting radio listeners to change their habits is like asking the English weather to stay sunny in June. But this kind of "event radio" is on the rise and with it Radio 2's attempts, at the behest of the Trust, to pay more attention to arts and comedy.
On Saturday, the network took a tip from The X Factor with the live final of its New Comedy Award, presented by Patrick Kielty. Six hundred acts were boiled down to six, voted on by the audience. This being Radio 2, the audience sounded about as edgy as a Parent Teacher Association drinking Merlot, but that came as a relief to one comedian who said, "There's nothing worse than looking at the crowd and thinking I've got things in my medicine cabinet older than you." There was lots of encouraging applause and no one heckled. My favourite was the acerbic Joe Lycett, with his mordantly Frankie Howerd-esque story of a driving lesson in Manchester, but Pat Cahill's ingenious rap about having your dog put down was also very good. The winner was Angela Barnes from Maidstone whose weapon was the one-liner ("It's no mistake that the anagram of Maidstone is I am Stoned – that's all there is to do!") and who should fit seamlessly into the throng of talented female comedians on radio and TV.
Adultery has its comedic moments, and in Radio 4's gripping A Forensic Look at Infidelity Nicky Taylor was making the most of them. She went undercover with Harriet Bond, a female private detective agency, and what with the "bug phones" and handbag cameras and other gizmos, it sounded a lot more fun than infidelity itself. Out on the trail of a cheating spouse, Nicky employed an excitable whisper more suited to David Attenborough in the Serengeti. "A dark-haired slim lady just got into the car!" she hissed. "They're kissing!"
Mostly it's the internet which plays cupid in modern infidelity. Social networking is cited in one in five divorces, and whichever ring of hell Dante found occupied by adulterers has obviously expanded with the arrival of Facebook. Taylor found a dating website which saw between 300-400 married people joining every day. The unfaithful themselves were a dreary contingent of ghastly men and hard-voiced women and there was a lot of activity in the Midlands. "I've experienced fantastic sex," enthused one lady. "I call it the James Bond experience." Somehow, one feels, an internet shag somewhere near Birmingham is not quite what Ian Fleming had in mind.Reuse content