Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

February 22, 2009

the magic of radio

This editorial was published in The Observer at the time of Humphrey Lyttelton's death last April. I did read it then but didn't copy it as I'd already posted a lot on Humph. But it's worth a read as it brilliantly sums up why we love radio.

In 1979, a one-hit-wonder pop song confidently predicted that video had killed the radio star. It hadn't.

While the world seems to fill up with ever more media platforms and shows no signs of saturation, radio, a technology originating in the late 19th century, holds its own among all the 21st-century interlopers.

So The Observer marks with sadness the passing last week of Humphrey Lyttelton, jazz musician and broadcaster. Lyttelton's career on air spanned 40 years. From 1972, he chaired I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, the gently absurdist panel game, more comedy collaboration than competition, in which were trained successive generations of aspiring British wits.

For many of its listeners, Clue was much more than a game - it was a reminder of the pleasures of being part of a club with its in-jokes and its ongoing themes, a club that anyone could join.

The benefits of membership were obvious: you could, for half an hour, eavesdrop on a conversation in which old friends were having the time of their lives.

That is a peculiar power that only radio seems to command. It can be enjoyed collectively, unlike a newspaper which, even when shared, absorbs people's attention one at a time. Radio suffuses the environment more completely than television, but without resorting to the seductive and stultifying hypnosis of the screen. It can capture the attention without holding it hostage.

The best spoken-word radio retains an uncanny kind of intimacy. It draws to our mind that other root of the word 'medium': an individual held to be a channel of communication between the earthly world and a world of spirits. Television is a diversion; radio is immersion.

And then there is the internet, which offers many strands of experience. But it so often demands immediate response and interaction. That, of course, is a magnificent innovation - a revolution in media. But we do not necessarily want revolutions to be playing as we fall sleep, or have them wake us up, or keep us company on long car journeys. That sort of relationship is something we generally reserve for radio.

Humphrey Lyttelton called his recent autobiography It Just Occurred to me ... It was a modest reference to the wisdom his voice always carried - that the best kind of broadcasting is not unlike the best kind of jazz: improvised, individual, entirely alive to the moment, something, within playful limits, that you happily make up as you go along.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, but didn't Queen then riposte by saying that "you've yet to have your finest hour.."

How right they were...

10:29 am  

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