No applause before midday, thank you

Posted on June 1, 2010


Is 9am on a Tuesday really the best time to broadcast the Reith lectures?

Is the scheduling of the now institutional and undeniably public service broadcasts another illustration of the direction towards a wholly on-demand service in which the BBC is shifting ?

Is merely asking the question enough to cause the hair of BBC marketeers to turn grey (or white, in some cases?)

I’m thinking the first two questions as I hurriedly make myself a second (cheeky) cup of coffee. I’m trying to forget John Humphrys’ borderline crass dismissal of opera fanatics as “opera nuts” during the last minutes of the Today programme. I’m making sure I’ve got everything packed for the day ahead. I’m constructing my grilled sausage sandwiches. And then, the first in a series of the perennial favourite and undeniably public service ‘Reith Lectures’ begins on Radio 4.

I really don’t understand who thought it was a good idea to schedule the broadcast of a lecture at 9.00am on a Monday morning ?” I tweet, making a point of including the hashtag #reith I heard in the on-air announcement.

My beef isn’t the usual criticism levelled at Radio 4 by those who have the time and feel suitably inspired to email into Feedback. It’s not that heavy conversation, or in-depth arguments are ill-suited to 9am. Nor is it that I’m thinking that no-one will listen to it at this time of day either. I’m well aware of Start the Week and In Our Time and Midweek too. I know these things are popular.

What’s more I also know that the audiences who love these programmes are the very people who embody the principles the BBC so staunchily defends, the same principles I love the organisation for. Life is so very complicated.

Oh, and of course. I also know I don’t have to listen to stuff when it’s broadcast. I am well aware that the Reith Lectures are available via BBC iPlayer or as a downloadable podcast. I received an Orwellian tweet from @Reith_Lectures advising me so.

When Martin Rees started on his lecture however, it wasn’t his words I was paying attention to. I was focussed more on the short burst of applause from the audience. Something wasn’t right about that. And in that respect I stumbled after only the first few – and most straightforward – of minutes of the broadcast.

Inexplicable irrepressible conventions

My internal programming can’t handle applause at that time of day, you see. It’s wrong. It’s evil. My simple brain tells me we’re not meant to hear applause at that time in the morning. The area of my brain labelled “Inexplicable Irrepressible Conventions”.

Why is it for example I am happy to accept applause at a live broadcast of a lunchtime concert from the Wigmore Hall, but similar applause from live relays of afternoon concerts a few hours later from up and down the country seems just a step too far?

Why does comedy have a natural home early evening or shortly before the news, but listening to it before midday – even on a Sunday morning – is something akin to drinking a large glass of cheap white wine for breakfast?

And, why if I’m happy to embrace challenges presented by panel discussions like Start the Week or Midweek and understand why the likes of In Our Time has the dedicated following, why on earth would a lecture first thing on a Tuesday morning cause such an internal stir.

The clue is in the title of the programme, a point rammed home by the presence of an audience in the mix. I might have been required to attend University lectures at 9.00am on some mornings when I was a student, but that’s the dim and distant past now. I don’t warm to the idea of a lecture first thing in the morning. The mere mention of it is enough to put me off. If I hear an audience on the radio showing their appreciation at an unusual time of the day, it won’t be long before my fingers are hovering over one of the other presets. My internal sensors have been knocked out of whack by the smallest of signposts. I’m in need of calibration.

These are the small signposts which can send my internal sensors off balance. And it’s not because I’m steadfastly refusing to embrace the on-demand world. I appreciate the opportunity for an hour or so extra in bed the Today programme running order catch-up provides.

My problem with applause before midday is pure and simple. I expect radio – regardless of broadcaster – to reflect the perception I have of a normal day. Radio is the wildtrack to my day. Sometimes it’s forward in the mix, sometimes it does necessarily occupies the background. But it’s always there. As such it has to live and breath just like I do. And when it doesn’t – when those conventions are momentarily turned upside down – I suddenly find myself disconnected from the very thing with which I have a mysterious one-way connection with.

Such a viewpoint could be at odds with the direction the BBC is going in.

On-demand, off-schedule programming erodes the traditional linear schedule, edging the Corporation further and further away from broadcasting and closer to publishing.

Working for the BPC just doesn’t have the same cache.

Posted in: Audio & Music