By Beccy Leach
I’ve been watching the radio. Not looking at a rectangular plastic thing in the corner of the room but watching BBC Radio 5 live online to see the presenters read from their screens, chat to their guests, occasionally glance sheepishly at the webcam or inappropriately greet someone with a wave during a serious story when they forget the camera’s there.
Not so long ago we would watch TV and radio was just for listening, but nothing is so clear cut these days. What happens now to all those people with a “face for radio”? One of my students said she’d listened to a radio documentary I’d recommended online but kept expecting pictures to appear every time the presenter described a scene. And I must admit that I’ve also subconsciously done the same. When you’re sitting in front of a screen it’s easy to find yourself inadvertently staring at it.
The whole idea of radio coming from TVs and computers can still feel strange. I was watching someone in an office listening to 6 Music coming very quietly from the speakers of an enormous TV mounted on the wall above him. Again my eyes were frequently drawn to the screen – and disappointed on each occasion to see the same bland logo displaying brief programme details.
Audio slideshows can make radio more screen-friendly by marrying compelling audio with quality still images. But for me, part of the joy of listening to radio is using my imagination to build a picture in my head and the job of the reporter or presenter is surely to describe the full horror of the scene of a disaster or the beauty of the surrounding countryside – much like the author of a novel.
A book cover designer from a leading publisher once told me that she never puts pictures or representations of a novel’s characters on its cover because readers prefer to use their imaginations. There’s clearly a well-deserved place in this age of big screens for radio with webcams and with photos, as long as we still have the chance to listen to quality crafted radio and be transported somewhere in our imaginations through the sounds and descriptions we hear.
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