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TV vs. Radio: Is the Radio industry undersold?
Listening to the legendary Melvyn Bragg speak at a recent Broadcast event, he raised an interesting observation; when we speak about broadcasting we generally think of TV whilst radio seems to sit quietly in the background. But we do have an exceptional radio network here in the UK and often its quality, importance and popularity are undermined and overshadowed by the bright lights of the small screen.
Many broadcasters presenters start out in radio before moving on to TV and many remain there their entire careers enjoying an eclectic and challenging portfolio of work. It is also hugely popular. Looking at BBC Radio 4 alone, in 2013 the broadcaster drew in over 10.9 million listeners a week. One could also argue that when it comes to the BBC especially, there is more diversity in the kind of programming they offer in radio than on TV. BBC Radio stations 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Live and 6 all have distinct characters and appeal to a range of audiences, something that BBC Television seems to struggle with and which it has been criticized for not doing, especially since announcing the cull of BBC3 from our screens.
Radio can also join us on more journeys than TV. We can listen to the radio whilst walking to work, getting ready in the morning and carrying out mundane activities that only require part of our attention. It becomes more of a companion for our daily lives than TV and in our household you can always hear the comforting murmur of the BBC Radio 4 presenters chatting away in the background.
For presenters there is often the attitude that radio is somewhat lesser than TV and not as exciting, but it’s a narrow-minded attitude as some could argue that creating a radio documentary requires more creativity and imaginative thinking than television. It may be true that a picture can replace a thousand words but when you don’t have the luxury of image, how can you transport your listener to a new world and take them on a journey of discovery using only words? Radio 4 documentaries manage to do this every day, encouraging the listener to fill in the gaps by using their imagination
It could be said that BBC Radio is also more innovative than its television counter-parts. The discovery of new music and alternative artists is at the forefront of several of the stations and millions tune in to BBC Radio 1 for just this. But this is barely recognized by the media. We rarely hear the critics giving reviews on radio documentaries, despite their huge popularity and even the Radio Times has shunted the radio listings to a small space at the back of the magazine.
Does TV have more glitz and glamour then radio? Does it have more variety and is it more impactful? I would argue not but this is the perception we have in the broadcasting industry and it seems now is the time we move beyond this and recognize the huge contribution radio makes to the broadcasting world.