Radio: Listen Again feature, BBC

The i-era seals the fate of tape recorders
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The Independent Culture

In a touching anecdote revealed in last Monday's celebration of 40 years of Just a Minute (which, incidentally, is peanuts the Daily Service has been going for 80), we learned that Paul Merton would tape the show and listen to it in his bedsit when he craved entertainment. Five years later, he was on the show.

These days, you don't need to do this: you have the Listen Again feature (assuming you have broadband), which gives you seven days to hear whatever you want, whenever you want. And some shows hang on considerably longer.

The effect this has had on our listening habits is incalculable. It is, in a way, too early to tell yet. My job would be a lot harder without it, for one thing. But I also suspect that what it does is consolidate the BBC's audience share. You might have noticed that the words "whatever you want" in the sentence above refer only to BBC programmes. Of the other intelligent radio stations, only Resonance FM allows you to hear its programmes again. (You can still hear, as of time of writing, its 27 December broadcast of Christopher Smart's extraordinary poem "Jubilate Agno".)

Oneword Radio's website contains the following upsetting sentences: "The future of Oneword has been uncertain for some time now. We are carrying out a strategic review which should see a resolution in the new year." It adds, ominously: "We have currently taken down the functionality of this site and the programme pages." (The owner of Oneword, UBC Media, has decided to abandon the station and concentrate on "business-to-business radio services operations", whatever the hell they are. I must say they don't sound like anything I'd be interested in.) You can, though, follow links to a few shows salvaged from the wreckage.

Meanwhile, the BBC has redesigned its Listen Again feature so that it looks all black and shiny, like something you'd get in a swanky car, and renamed itself the "iPlayer". One wonders to what end. Are we, perhaps, meant to think of the iPod? Is everything, one day, going to have to have a lower-case i in front of it before we wish to have anything to do with it?

This is the kind of thing that would not go down well, I imagine, with the new character in The Archers, Alistair's father, currently clogging up the home with his broken leg. He has been tormenting Shula by giving her child an air gun for Christmas, offering the Grundys the contents of her freezer, and teasing the vicar for being religious. He is the show's only intelligent character since Nelson Gabriel, which is going back some time. We salute him, and will miss him when he's gone.

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