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Monday, 18 February 2019

NEWS, VIEWS & PHONE-IN BLUES

I read the splendid Gillian Reynolds' radio column in the Sunday Times yesterday. 'Radio 4 is losing listeners, three-quarters of a million year on year to December. Its flagship show, Today, has been in audience decline for a couple of years..... losing 348,000 listeners between October and December.'

I am not surprised. For many years, I enjoyed waking up to the radio/alarm to hear a  bit of news on Today before getting up for work. But, for the past couple of years, I have avoided the programme because of the same topics day after day. Regardless of my personal opinions on these matters, and it's nobody's business anyway, I am fed up to the back teeth with a daily fixed agenda of Brexit, Trump, gender, mental health, NHS decline, climate, obesity, sugar, salt, booze, 'Grim Reaper' reports, surveys and warnings. I've had enough and, from the declining Radio 4 listener numbers, it appears I have company. Some of the decline will be to do with accusations of BBC bias, John Humphrys's interviewing techniques or Nick Robinson's long-winded questions. But, for me, it's the agenda.

I'm not blaming the editors because these are topics that are hogging attention. As ever, good news is often relegated to novelty spots dotted amongst the running order.

I am the same with newspapers. In the past I would buy a daily paper, not really loyal to one. I liked to mix it up a bit. On Saturdays, I would buy five newspapers - The Times, Daily Telegraph, Guardian, Daily Express and Daily Mail, and on Sundays, I would buy their 'sister' publications. I would absorb the news coverage and devour the op-eds and analysis/observation columns. I liked the crosswords too. But, for reasons similar to those for my avoidance of radio news, I stopped and, I reckon, for about two years, I did not buy or read a newspaper. I now buy one on a Saturday and one on a Sunday.

I avoid television news as much as possible too because, while radio has the advantage of being faceless, viewers have no choice but to look at the hangdog Huw Edwards or the intensity of Julie Etchingham just so we know when to be worried or when to relax and smile.

In the early years of Radio 5Live, phone-ins were new, exciting, risky and entertaining. They tackled the issues pretty well, sometimes with a certain blokey style but it was a bit different to other stations. Now, phone-ins attract all-sorts of angry people and numpties in amongst those callers who are intelligent and articulate but are often interrupted or shouted down by the host or other callers. It all wears me down. I haven't listened to 5Live for over four years.

Some phone-in shows are like being stuck in a lift with a bunch pf people who like the sound of their own voices. The thought of being so incarcerated brings me out in a cold sweat. At least St. Remote de Control is never far away to bring peace and silence to bear. Click. And relax!

Twitter, with its news, views and 'free speech', is overwhelmingly destructive. Good, positive messages of human kindness, creative arts and outstanding achievements are swamped by abuse, lies, anger and venom. I used to tweet a couple of dozen times a day, but I've cut back drastically. I fell into the illusion that my opinions mattered and would make me feel and look like a wise man. Nobody cares about much of what is tweeted.

I closed my Facebook account a year ago. Too much bullshit, again choking the good stuff.

So, my news intake is reduced to a daily skim. The views and opinions of politicians and experts tend to liquefy my cerebral cortex. Phone-ins make my ears bleed. Social media is interesting sporadically but ultimately, it's a huge bore.

As the mighty singer-songwriter, Harry Chapin said: 'Sometimes words can serve me well and sometimes words can go to hell.........'

Too many words in the world, including all of the above.


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