The mission: Can Nicholas Barber talk his way on to the airwaves? Well, it would help if he was 70 with a full set of teeth
Saturday 15 August 1998
in show is a particularly wounding
form of rejection. When you call a programme which has no other purpose than to air the views of anyone who goes to the effort of dialling its number, there is nothing that can pole-axe the self-esteem quite like being told that some other ignorant madman is a more interesting ignorant madman than you.
Of course, there are phone-ins and there are phone-ins. Being rejected by The Exchange on Radio 4, for instance, is the equivalent of a supermodel's brush-off: disappointing, perhaps, but you know what your chances are from the start. The Exchange is the phone-in that separates the men from the boys. If you want to participate you have to be sane, sensible, informed and articulate - attributes that are surplus to the requirements of the competition. You have to speak in immaculately structured sentences, you have to use gender-neutral pronouns, you even have to know what you're talking about. And, as the programme is all over in a matter of half an hour, you have to dial moments after it starts to have any chance of getting on air. Months of phone-in training are required.
Being rejected by Nicky Campbell's Five Live show, "the nation's number one phone-in", is more depressing. I flatter myself that I'm up to the standard of its usual callers, but when I ring, a chatty young man answers, takes my name and number, listens to my opinion on the topic du jour - sex education - and promises that someone will call me back. I wait by the phone. Nobody calls.
But worse, much worse, is being turned down by Three Counties. This is the BBC station for Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire, where our host, Jon Gaunt, is inviting people to ring in with Songs That The Countryside Commission Might Sing, like his suggestion of "Slurry Seems To Be The Hardest Word". I pull some Beatles CDs off a shelf (top tip: if you're ever in a situation where you have to make up puns on song titles, always go for Beatles albums), and ring the station's number - Jon repeats it every half a minute. Again, someone promises to call me back. Again, nobody does.
On the brink of despair, I cheer myself up by getting on Talk Radio (a doddle - ring them and you'll be on the air a minute later), then give Three Counties another try. This time, the presenter, Ronnie Barbour, is inviting people to ring in with Songs That Charles Darwin Might Sing. Sensing a theme to the Three Counties output, I reach for The Beatles albums, and give Ronnie's people a call. They promise to call me back. Miraculously, they do.
I'm on hold for a few minutes, which puts me in the slightly bizarre situation of listening to the radio programme down the phone, and then I enlighten the people of Beds, Bucks and Herts with my suggestions for Now That's What I Call Evolution ("It's Getting Better All The Time", "When I'm 64 Million", "A Day in the Life Cycle"). Ronnie tells me I've won a prize: a bar of soap.
Not being a regular Three Counties listener, I'm not sure whether this is supposed to be an honour or an insult. I'd ask Ronnie, but by now he is requesting calls from people over 70 who still have all their own teeth
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