When Talk Radio becomes Bloody Well Shut Up Radio

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The Independent Online
DO YOU find too many talk shows encourage people to phone in and say what they think? Do you agonise over whether to dial that number? Did you discuss making that call with your partner? How did he or she feel about it? How do phone-ins affect people with heart problems or varicose veins? Have you had a positive or negative experience on the line? Or no experience at all? Do many people experience not having experiences? Call us.

We want to hear from men as well as women, and from men who were women and women who were men, and from adults who are childish, but not from children who are adult. Not if it's Talk Radio UK after midnight.

Brook, a 15-year-old, did get through:

Caesar the Geezer: You shouldn't be on the air, darling. You shouldn't talk to me, love.

Brook: Oh, oh, but Caesar, I just need to say one thing.

Caesar: I'm sorry, darling. I'll be in trouble if I allow you to come on the air. There's this group of people who've complained and continue to complain. I'm very surprised you've got through.

Six months after its launch, Talk Radio can celebrate the modest fact that its audience share now exceeds that of Radio 3. Tune in to discover why and you find as the day progresses that you keep having to turn the volume down: first there's Talk Radio, then there's Squabble Radio and finally - when it's wiser to be in bed - there's Bloody Well Shut Up Radio.

The afternoon starts off in a reassuring way with Anna Raeburn "live and direct", just as she always was, taking a sharp intake of breath and going: uh-huh, oh heck, uh-huh, how old are you? uh-huh, let's be constructive here, uh-huh, well I don't think you should put up with it, really I don't.

When I last heard Anna (on Capital, in the mid-Seventies) there was no mention of Femidoms or the emergency pill and she wasn't able to relate things back to her teenage son. Back then he wasn't even an embryo. But the dramatic tension of the phone-in remains securely in place. It's a mini-version of what they teach at screenwriting courses. It kicks off with the hook (the mystery caller) and proceeds via the exposition (the caller's problem) to the confrontation (Anna's cross-examination). Reversals and complications quickly follow (things the caller hadn't told us, but Anna discovers) before the climactic action (Anna's forthright advice) and the crisis and resolution (their reaction to Anna's advice). The denouement is frequently heart-warming: "You take care, love, all right."

Anna's callers know a lot about their chosen subject because their chosen subject tends to be themselves. Tommy Boyd, who follows her with current- affairs topics, is not so lucky. If Tommy announced one afternoon they were going to discuss "things we don't really know much about" every caller would be an expert.

On Wednesday the topic was Joan Collins and her attack on falling standards in Britain. James from Newmarket rang in to compare Joan Collins' views with something he'd thought he'd heard on The Big Breakfast about Roseanne Arnold being pregnant or something. He wasn't "too sure". But if she was, she might be coming to London to have a baby, which he thought was "a bit ironic". Tommy said, "I don't want to put words into your mouth but you seem to be saying ..." James listened in awe to what he seemed to be saying:

James: No I'm not saying that at all. Personally, I'm only 16.

Tommy: Yes, you are saying that. You haven't realised it yet but you must be.

James: Saying what exactly, sir?

Tommy: Saying that progress leads to a greater degree of lawlessness. A lack of respect for the elderly. An education system which is not serving the individual needs of individual children.

It's a bargain. For the price of a local call you can find out what it is you really think. Call in with something you've heard about Roseanne Arnold on The Big Breakfast and come away sounding like a member of John Redwood's think-tank. The caller ought to sign off by saying: "Thanks very much for your views." They'll come in handy.

Caesar the Geezer, the late-night "shock-jock", opens by warning people who are easily offended to "switch your knobs off". But, as in pro wrestling, the aggro is all hype. "It's the Germans," says the Geezer, wheezily gearing himself up to be controversial about the EU. "We should tell them to kiss our arses." More than half the complaints upheld by the Radio Authority in the last three months have been against Talk Radio. It goes to prove that the wrong people are listening. This is playground stuff. The Geezer ought only to take calls from those under 16.