Broadcast a little sunshine for us Goldies

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The Independent Online
WHEN large portions of the day are absorbed by the ironing, cleaning, cooking and school run, you tend to listen to a lot of radio. The radio is a trusty companion to all us household labourers. This is why I am mystified by the BBC's failure to grasp an opportunity to make listeners feel happier. It seems instead to want to make us gloomier, with 24-hour news. Perhaps those who organise the output don't have time to listen very much in their own homes.

In the past few years there has been a huge growth in golden-oldie pop stations, which run tried and tested music. Now the melodious Classic FM, with its hum-along snatches from the great composers, is tempting me away from Radio 4. This leads me to conclude that we need something more from our national broadcaster - a golden-speech station, properly structured and not just idle chat, radiating pleasantness and nice British virtues such as low-key humour and nostalgia. Whenever Radio 4 threatens to get too bleak or hard-edged, the service could be split. Now the BBC is backing down on its potty idea of putting the news service on long wave, Radio 4 Gold could usefully take over.

This would head off any cheeky threat from Richard Branson to grab the best BBC airwaves for his rock station, but it would also chime in with demographic trends. I have noticed that those homes in which Radio 4 is listened to on long wave tend to have greying occupants. I can even see the posters, in deep yellow: 'Don't feel old with Radio Gold.'

The most obvious innovation, and none too costly, would be to trawl the BBC's radio archives far more effectively than at present. It amazes me that no one has sprung up to replace John Ebdon, axed in 1987, who used his Monday-morning slot archive feature to come up with 'no very serious conclusion'. And why should it be that only television takes repeats of classic hits seriously? It is true that the BBC is currently running classic comedies such as After Henry and Whose Line Is It, Anyway? But it is doing this really to remind you that they were first thought up by radio and then pinched by television, rather than glorying in their past.

Radio repeats could be used in a gold format most creatively. For example, The Archers is currently upsetting a huge swathe of listeners with its graphic story-lines about abortion, Shula's infertility treatment and piercing sound-effects of childbirth. Radio 4 Gold (R4G) could opt out and play old episodes of The Archers. How nice to go back to simple stories of everyday country folk.

The same could be applied to Desert Island Discs. If the guest, for example Frank Bruno, sounded a bit too strident, then R4G could reach for a more whimsical repeat, or even hunt down golden guests. I'm thinking here of the racing writer Lord Oaksey, who scored a big hit in the shires recently when, on the programme, he compared the sound of a champagne cork being removed from the bottle to the sigh of a satisfied woman.

Another programme that could be doctored is Woman's Hour, now a virtuously politically correct compilation. A Golden Woman's Hour could go out simultaneously: for example, an item about lesbian motherhood could be replaced by, say, a discussion of the merits of fan-assisted ovens. It is all technically possible, I'm assured.

As for drama, R4G could abandon contemporary plays in favour of classic serials - perhaps the detective Paul Temple could be exhumed. There could also be a weeding-out of anything too gritty for its time-slot - for instance Thursday morning's Face the Facts, which tends to investigate things like murder. This could be replaced by a new country programme to provide a breath of fresh air in the run-up to the weekend.

The news would remain ever-present on the hour, for Goldies need it, too. But the R4G bulletin would be an obvious candidate for Martyn Lewis's good-news treatment. Compilers should be instructed to add at the end two golden news items, written and tested against a new 'smile clause' that could be inserted into the BBC's editorial guidelines.

And as for Mr Lewis, now he is being transferred to the Six O'Clock News, he might be given a second string to his bow overseeing these bulletins. After all, we all prefer cheerful companions. My advice to John Birt is: be bold, go Gold.