Earlier this month, I was in a gallery at the Science Museum, London, surrounded by BBC staff, their acting DG Tim Davie, and (much more excitingly) musician Damon Albarn. DJ Simon Mayo was also sat at his mixing desk, fading out the sound of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Happy Birthday’ and we were instantly reminded that this little gathering (wine, crisps and chatter) was being broadcast live to millions!
The live Radio 2 drive-time show was in honour of the 90th anniversary of the first BBC broadcast – 14 November 1922. The Science Museum have pulled together a small display in homage to the beginnings of public service broadcasting, including part of the original 2LO transmitter (“This is 2LO calling…” was synonymous with the BBC in the early days). Blur frontman Damon was waiting (a little nervously?) ahead of the BBC radio ‘simul-cast’ of his especially-commissioned 3-minute music montage, ‘2LO’.
And at 17:33 exactly, Mayo greeted an estimated audience of around 80 million listeners, across all BBC radio national and regional stations, and BBC World Service stations across the globe – let alone those listening live online. Standing a couple of metres away from the mixing desk and Damon blocking out the dozens of eyes on him and listening with his eyes close, I was reminded of how wonderful radio is.
Unlike TV, radio is so refreshingly straight forward – you can reach into millions of homes, offices, cars, from a small trestle table in a museum. No need for make-up, lighting, cameras, take after take – just voices, music and the sound of life carrying on in a room somewhere, being picked up in another room halfway across the world.
I love radio – it feels both unobtrusive and engaging; perfect ‘sonic wallpaper’ burbling away at home, plus a frequent supplier of interesting news, thoughts, music – life. Wherever you are in the world, it can give you a snapshot of local life in a much more intimate way than television. I can’t imagine life without it.
If I was ever on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, my luxury item would have to be a wind-up radio.
You can see more pictures from the ‘BBC Radio at 90’ celebration including the Science Museum’s new display here.