Radio to die for

Das Radio

Ich habe ein Radio

Just for a fraction of a second I was alarmed. The gentleman at my door had announced that he was from Ipsos MORI, and though newly retired from Latin teaching, I was still sufficiently switched on to the language to fear that he was some kind of Pratchettian Grim Reaper, calling on those who were “themselves to die”…!

Ipsos MORI is, as I’m sure you media-savvy types out there know, a market research outfit operating out of Harrow, UK; and MORI is not the infinitive of the Latin moror, meaning “I die”,  but an acronym for Market and Opinion Research International. Whether they know or care what a doom-laden sound this has in the ears of classicists I have no idea; we’re a vanishingly small percentage of the population, after all. What the reflexive pronoun ipsos means in this context I have been unable to find out. One less dire interpretation of the Latin is to read MORI as the dative of “mos,” meaning custom, habit, or behaviour; so ipsos mori could be read as “for the custom itself,” or just possibly “for the  customer himself” which is sort of OK for a customer survey. But then why is “ipsos” in the accusative plural? Crikey- I’m even boring myself now. I’d better get on with the blog!

It’s all about the radio. The gentleman explained that to take part in the survey, you have to keep an online diary of your radio listening- all of it, even radio which you hear by accident in a public place, for example. It’s all quite fun, really. You get a password to log in, and a crisp five pound note by way of thanks for taking part and laying on a moral obligation to play the game and not mess them about by just filling in Radio 1 24/7 and pocketing the cash. There’s money in them thar surveys if they can afford to splash the fivers around like that. Not for me, though- my wife took it off me straight away, lest I should waste it on booze or worse.

I should warn you that I have a love/hate relationship with the radio. When I used to commute to work, I’d switch on BBC Radio 3 in the car; but often had to switch it off again because the inane “Phone-ins” caused me to seethe with an anger which could have made me a hazard to other road users. Other beefs include announcers with a breathless, stuttering delivery, frequently dropping key words below the level of audibility in a moving car (step forward, Petroc Trelawney) or presenters rendered ineffectual by their own accents, (what on earth is a “flight concerto”, Sean Rafferty?) not to mention the infuriating practice of starting a piece without saying what it is. I don’t always want to play Guess the Composer: neither do I want to be told “and now so-and-so plays Schubert”. I want to know what Schubert! Then again, when I switch on in the middle of an unknown piece, the first thing I want to know when it ends is who the composer was: but the BBC house rules seem to demand that first of all we have the performers, the concert hall, even the presenter’s personal impressions- anything rather than what the piece actually was! Composers come at the bottom of the stack… as usual.

The main problem with Radio 3 is of course their terror of appearing elitist, or of potentially excluding any section of the listening public. I am excluded, of course, but then I am a composer, of sorts, and so at the bottom of the stack. The range of music on Radio 3 has been gradually widened over the years I’ve been listening to include not only the smug autoeroticism of jazz, but film scores (great when you can see the film…) and songs from musicals (…when you can see the show) as well. Which brings me by a commodious vicus of recirculation (thank you, Jimmy Joyce) to Das Radio!

Heute Abend

“Das Radio” is the second chapter in volume one of Heute Abend, which must be one of the all-time great German textbooks. Quite unusable in schools now, of course- it expects you to actually learn the language, for God’s sake, rather than just colouring in pictures of the Bundesdienstflagge; the references to smoking wouldn’t go down too well either (“Eine Zigarette? Hier, nehmen Sie eine. Sie sind gut… ich liebe sie sehr“) But it’s the poor radio-owning father that I’m reminded of here. He is listening to Beethoven (“Ah, wundervoll, das Adagio”) when his daughter comes in and complains: “Oh, Vater, wie schrecklich! Immer klassisch and immer klassisch!” Fed up with the always classical, she switches to a jazz station and poor Dad reaches for his hat and stick and goes for a walk. Note, by the way, that this story is in only the second chapter of a German primer… you had to work for your qualifications in those days, but you learned the language, even if you did end up hooked on fags.

Das Zweite Kapitel

Well, I’ve had the debate with my own children: singer/songwriter, rapper, classical musician- our family’s musical taste is as eclectic as anyone at the BBC could hope for- and we’ve agreed that there’s a time and a place for everything. There is no point in saying that any one genre is “better” than another, as if there existed some universal standard of musical excellence to which we could all refer. But we do agree that no-one should be forced to listen to music that doesn’t appeal to them. Which brings me back to my listening diary, and the requirement to fill in radio listened to as it were involuntarily.

Sitting (or “sat” as you have to say these days) in the outpatients department of the local hospital recently, I had no choice but to listen to what seemed to me the most depressing, droning drivel I have heard for a long time. I didn’t complain (you just don’t, do you) but on the way out asked the receptionist what it was, so that I could enter it in my listening diary. It was, I was told, a station called “Smooth Radio.” I tell you this so that, like the P. G. Wodehouse character who wanted to know Bertie Wooster’s tailor, you are able to avoid it; unless, like the receptionist, you think an irritating tinny cacophony in the background is just what the hapless sufferers in outpatients need to hear to cheer them up. This kind of noise pollution is just part of life, though. The dentist has radio 2 playing, presumably as a distraction from the pain she is inflicting, though I would rather suffer in silence. I genuinely do not understand why it is assumed that you can play music any time, any place, and that no one will mind. Every now and then the pub at the end of the road has a band playing out of doors, so that the whole street can share the joy: the thumping monotony of it brings me little joy, however, if I want to be “sat” in my garden on a summer’s evening. They do not go in my radio diary, of course; but they’ll be the first up against the wall when I come to power… their’s is music to die for, all right!

Happy listening, everyone!

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