Lesley Douglas on Broadcasting
American TV, yes. American radio, no. Unless it's Bob Dylan...
Monday 27 November 2006
I must admit I didn't see it coming myself at first. I'd seen a press release some time ago about Theme Time Radio Hour, Bob Dylan's show on the American satellite station XM, and thought it sounded interesting. But it was only when I noticed a buzz building around the shows in America that I went out and got hold of a couple and listened to them. What I heard blew me away. It was nothing short of public service broadcasting - Bob Dylan sharing his musical enthusiasms in a Bob Dylan way.
The result was the first buy-in of a radio show I have ever done. And it begs a question: could there be a whole raft of other audio gems out there in the world of English-language broadcasting waiting to be snapped up by British radio stations?
Look at the television schedules. Most of the programmes made by HBO are fantastic, although I'm the only woman I know of my age who didn't watch Sex and the City. My favourite comedy of all time is Frasier - and the Golden Girls when I was younger. And then there's The Simpsons, which most people would acknowledge as the top animation show ever.
When the Americans get it right, they get it very, very right and they can test your own standards. Let's face it, there's not exactly a massive cultural divide between America and the UK.
But there is a difference between radio and television. The nature of radio is about that special one-to-one relationship between the listener and the presenter, who should be able to provide reference points that the audience can relate to. Bob Dylan manages that perfectly.
When you are considering a buy-in for radio you are talking about America or Australia to get English-speaking programmes. And I'm afraid that for quite a long time American radio has been in the doldrums.
I do think that XM and the other satellite broadcaster, Sirius, are doing some quite interesting things in the States, and when I have been in America I have been listening to them. The problem is, the things that they are doing are actually the sort of things we are already doing. They have got a Sixties service on XM and a lot of the music they play you wouldn't hear anywhere else. Except on Sounds of the Sixties on Radio 2.
The one presenter who has always stood out in America is Howard Stern. But nowadays I'm not so sure about him. I know he has got this considerable satellite deal with Sirius but in my view he is pushing it too far now. In his heyday he was a radio genius, the ultimate shock jock. But would I ever think of taking Howard Stern into Radio 2? No, I would not.
I was listening to him when I went to Austin, Texas, for the South by Southwest Music Festival. I thought to myself "This sounds old-fashioned. It's purely shock." There was a time when Howard Stern was witty and shocking and pushing the boundaries. Now it feels like all he's doing is pushing the boundaries. And he's pushing them further and further and further.
And as for Australian radio, I've heard little bits but I don't think there's anything that would enhance what we already do.
Of course, you can't deny the influence of America on the growth of popular music and we cover it in great depth. Americans come here to work. Paul Gambaccini is the best example of a great music broadcaster and musicologist who happens to be American and brings an American slant to things. We also regularly use big American names to front documentaries and other shows. Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp and Val Kilmer have hosted shows for Radio 2. Kris Kristofferson is working on a programme about Willie Nelson, and Michael Buble is doing a show for us at Christmas.
But in all honesty I think there's little scope for us to do more buy-ins from overseas. The real reason is that we have, I think, the greatest craft skills here in the UK, both in terms of production and presenters.
The only possible reason for bringing in programmes is that they enhance your output, and the Bob Dylan show is the only thing I have ever heard that would do that.
Lesley Douglas is controller of Radio 2 and 6 Music
At last, another chance to Take That and party
On Wednesday night I was at London's Abbey Road studios, which was full to the gills with females who wanted to be transported back 15 years. The reason? Gary, Howard, Mark and Jason. Take That!
We'd done competitions on air to distribute the 300 tickets and virtually everyone in the house was a woman.
Naturally, the place really warmed up when they sang their old songs but it was the latest material that impressed me. The new single is superb.
It was a great gig, which we broadcast on Saturday night, and after the concert had finished they did a Beatles medley, just to mark the fact they were at Abbey Road.
The boys didn't have their leather gear on and there was no sign of the fire and flames they normally have on stage for the massive spectacle of their usual concerts. This was a "stripped down" show; a risk for any performer. But they pulled it off - and I say that as a Bruce Springsteen fan.
Pick a location, any location
The week after next Chris Evans is going to present special editions of his programme from Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England. Chris being Chris, he decides to pick the broadcast locations - which could include the tiniest cottage in the most remote hamlet - by randomly taking them out of a tombola. Now call me a pessimist but I - and Chris's producer - noted that this could be a logistical nightmare and we could end up going from Land's End to John O'Groats. We thought maybe he should be a bit more selective. Chris being Chris, argued that the tombola was what made the whole thing exciting. That's why, Chris being Chris, he will be presenting his show from such places as Auchterderran and a place called Sebastopol. No, not the city in the Crimea - it's a suburb of Pontypool, south Wales.
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