This week I had the chance to do a piece of work combining two of my favourite things: cycling and the radio. It won’t have escaped the attention of many that there was a two day tube strike in London, and as good student journalists we were covering the story. My angle was to see how people were getting to work without the otherwise reliable London Underground, which I explored by creating an audio journey of ‘bike the strike’.
Biking the strike
Bike the strike was the brainchild of Mark Ames, of the excellent ibikelondon blog. He volunteered to lead less confident cyclists on his usual commute from Bethnal Green to Mayfair, and encouraged other regular riders to do the same; soon there were more than fifty ride leaders volunteering to help others cycle to work – see them here. I joined Mark and a couple of others; anecdotal observations would suggest that tube strikes = loads of cyclists!
My first post for rather a long time, but I’m starting 2014 as I mean to continue… just don’t call it a resolution!
As usual I put the radio on before bed last night, and chanced upon the end of a programme on Radio 4 called Bingo, Barbie and Barthes, the second in a two part series celebrating 50 years of cultural studies. My attention was caught immediately by the voice of Laurie Taylor, one of my favourite broadcasters whose Thinking Allowed on Radio 4 is a weekly fixture in my listening schedule. Having presented a social sciences programme for well over a decade, it’s appropriate that he should host a show about cultural studies and its mid-1960s’ foundation at the pioneering Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham.
Ever since my brief undergraduate introduction to some of the luminaries and work of the CCCS I’ve been interested in much of the associated theory, though I don’t claim to be an expert. Nonetheless, having heard what the great Stuart Hall – among many others – had to say about the cultural studies ‘project’ led me to reflect on some of my own interests as regards journalism and the media.
If cultural studies has given us one thing above any other, it’s probably the opportunity to see value in (and rigorously analyse) culture of all kinds, not just the high culture of the middle and upper classes. One of the participants in Bingo, Barbie and Barthes made the point that a great deal of the average weekend newspaper supplement is given over to food, fashion, pop music and films, and just a few pages deal with classical music and the theatre – a direct result of the Birmingham school’s interest in multiple forms of cultural expression and ability to find value and meaning outside of traditional high culture. I’m sure partly in response, journalists across the spectrum now do something similar, bringing to the fore stories of everyday lives and experiences. In my preferred narrow band of speech radio the obvious examples would be You and Yours, Saturday Live and of course John Peel’s much-loved Home Truths in its day. In the USA Ira Glass does something a bit like this in the extremely popular This American Life. You might argue that some breakfast television shows do a similar job.
On my broadcast journalism course we’ve been implored by our brilliant teachers and visiting experts alike to make sure we capture the voices of the people directly affected by our stories – to see the value of the way that newsworthy issues play out in everyday life, and not just get caught up in the high drama of Westminster politics, the UN and the latest mission to space. I’ll be pleased if in some small way I’m able to actively participate in this project that saw the democratisation of culture – culture as a whole way of life, as Raymond Williams would have it.
A couple of weeks ago my classmates and I went on a trip to Global Radio. Londoners may know the big office in one corner of Leicester Square as Capital FM’s HQ, but it’s also home to Heart, Smooth, Classic and XFM, as well as LBC 97.3. It’s the latter which was the main subject of a talk given to us by Global’s Head of News and Group News Coordinator (we were impressed to be met by such senior journalists); they explained LBC’s policy of giving leading politicians a radio platform from which they can debate with listeners, with Mayor of London Boris Johnson and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (whose Call Clegg show on Thursday mornings is a really good listen) the current examples. While this gives the politicians the chance to speak directly to voters with a huge radio audience listening in, it also provides LBC with ready-made headlines which often make it into the bulletins of other media organisations. Today was just such a day.
- Capital Radio London, Leicester Square, a photo by R/DV/RS on Flickr.
I listened to the excellent PM on Radio 4 on my way home, and not one but two of the items featured stories and clips from LBC – Boris Johnson talking about the extent to which cyclists must take responsibility for their own safety, and Nick Clegg on the debate about Roma community integration in Sheffield. For both stories the presenter name-checked LBC. The BBC won’t like doing it, but when there’s a big story it has to be run. When I got home I sat down with a cup of tea and the Evening Standard, and again LBC was cited in relation to Boris and cycling in London. LBC has a unusual place in the British radio landscape, but even so this is impressive stuff.
I’ve been listening to the excellent 99% Invisible podcast for a few months now, and it’s come to be a real must-listen programme for me. This ‘tiny radio show about design’ covers fascinating stories from the worlds of design, architecture, urbanism and other related areas, and though I have a prior interest it really is good. Roman Mars and the other presenter/producers operate partly through a Kickstarter sponsorship model and they’re now raising money for the fourth season of the show. I donated a few pounds this morning – follow the link below to do the same.
I count myself very fortunate to have been able to study for a master’s degree in urban studies at University College London after graduating from my first degree. I had a brilliant time at UCL, and particularly in the Urban Lab and Geography Department where I took the majority of my papers. Now some of my lecturers from UCL have created UCLoo, a ‘festival of the toilet’, which is the subject of my first podcast – have a listen below.
In you go…
The purpose of the festival is to provoke a dialogue on water-based sanitation, on the basis that flushing toilets are profligate in their use of fresh water at a time when global water stress is ever increasing. While every person in the UK flushes 50 litres of water down the toilet every day, there are 2. 6 billion people who have no access to improved sanitation at all. The convenors want the festival to start a revolution in more sustainable sanitation.
The festival runs from the 19th of November to the 3rd of December with lots of events planned (including the exciting sounding Bloomsbury Loo Tours!), some of which I will be attending to record more audio and which will come to light as an extended podcast later in the year.
On Tuesday night I was lucky enough to sit in with the great Art Terry on Is Black Music, his radio show for alternative black music on London’s Resonance 104.4 FM. Resonance say they’re ‘the world’s first radio art station’ and broadcast from a studio on Borough High Street. Resonance is also home to The Bike Show, which is one of my favourite things on the radio, so it was a real pleasure to visit.
I joined Art at the studio at 11.30 on Tuesday night, ready to begin the show at midnight – there is something about that time of the day that really suits radio broadcasting – and we settled in for an hour to play some music and talk a little bit. Art played back to back music from Valerie June, with whom I was a little familiar, and Krystle Warren, who I was pleased to hear for the first time.
Having visited BBC network and local stations and Global Radio in Leicester Square, it was great to see a completely different side of broadcasting, one which is able to operate outside of the confines of public and commercial remit and is run largely by volunteers who just want to contribute to a community good. Earlier this year I took part in Velonotte, a night time bicycle tour of early Victorian London which set off from Buckingham Palace at midnight, and which was accompanied by a live broadcast on Resonance – it’s hard to imagine this being able to happen on any other radio station.
Taken as I was by the music and the mood, I was inspired to take a dodgy selfie of myself and Art.
Me and Art Terry in the studio at Resonance FM.
You can listen to the show here: