Some Radio Shows Deserve to Be Seen

It seems the Asian Network may be reprieved, but everywhere else at the BBC the talk is of cuts. News 24 may substitute for the whole of daytime BBC 2. Huge segments of local radio may be replaced with 5Live, leaving only the breakfast and drivetime shows intact. Further sharing is under consideration between domestic radio and the World Service. So here’s a suggestion; why not take consolidation further and make the best radio double up as TV?

It used to be said that certain reporters wouldn’t work on screen because they had a “radio face” which would never pass the glamour barrier, but no-one who has watched TV news recently could seriously maintain that film-star looks are a job requirement. Though viewers are expected to blanch at the sight of a woman over the age of 50, they’ve long since got used to male political correspondents with faces only a mother could love.

The radio on telly idea has already been trialled with The Bottom Line in which the charming Evan Davis can not only be heard on Radio 4, but also seen on News 24 being courteous to businesspeople. And somehow, despite the expanse of grey suits and middle aged males, it still makes interesting viewing. Elsewhere the introduction of webcams means that numerous BBC radio shows can already be watched online and the results are enlightening.

Some have taken to their dual platform like ducks to water. Mark Kermode, for example, gives a magnificently gesticulating performance on 5Live’s Kermode And Mayo film show which is so much more expressive than his more restrained TV appearances. Chris Moyles, somewhat unexpectedly, broadcasts standing up. Richard Bacon and his guests look far matier than pure radio reveals. Seeing radio broadcasters interact adds another dimension to the politician’s evasion or the celebrity’s confession. There’s a relaxed intimacy to radio on screen, an unguarded quality, which seems to bring out the best in people.

Obviously the sets could do with some work. The Today programme studio has a plasticky, functional feel and the floor is strewn with heaps of newspapers. The Radio 1 studio is littered with discarded coffee cups. Often the programme team can be seen chortling or yawning behind the glass screen. And several of the studio webcams seem to have given up broadcasting altogether, like speed cameras which are secretly defunct. But to the Youtube generation, accustomed to watching material produced in someone’s bedroom, such presentational details are irrelevant.

At its best, radio on screen can be compulsive. Radio1 DJ Scott Mills’s decision to blind-taste a selection of cat food lingers in the mind. And if radio became TV, I think we’d find Any Questions just as interesting to watch as Question Time, Brain of Britain as diverting as Mastermind, and Gardeners’ Question Time a thousand times better than Cash In The Attic. (Though you have to say, what wouldn’t be?)

After all, watching radio isn’t new. You only need to see the queues outside the Broadcasting House Radio Theatre to realise there’s no shortage of people who want to see as well as hear their favourite panel show in the making. Would Radio 4’s The Write Stuff or The News Quiz not provide just as much entertainment as BBC 1’s Have I Got News For You? Book Club, The Now Show, or Woman’s Hour? And think of the savings! The webcams are already in place, and radio guests perform for significantly less than their telly counterparts.

There are, of course, many programmes which wouldn’t benefit from the glare of the TV lights. The Archers is one. Who wants to see Caroline out riding with coconut hooves and a bag of gravel or David and Ruth pretend kiss with a plunger and a washing up bowl? But give me the choice of Just A Minute or a thirty year old episode of Murder She Wrote, and really, it’s a no brainer.