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The Year in Radio: What Were Your Highlights?

Heather Davies Heather Davies | 14:31 UK time, Thursday, 22 December 2011

This Christmas Day (Sunday 25th December) at 7pm, 5 live will be broadcasting a two-hour programme about the year in radio.

To some of you this will seem like an obvious thing to do, but some of you may be wondering why we're doing it at all - 5 live is the home of live news and live sport on BBC Radio - so where does a programme about radio fit in?

Well, 5 live's Service License states that its "programming should be designed to inform, entertain and involve." This means providing more than just the news and the sport, but looking at the wider cultural world to help bring context to recent events.

In the current schedule, there are regular slots where panellists discuss the latest newspaper headlines, magazines, TV programmes, books, comedy shows, and there's even a dedicated weekly film review show. Only very occasionally do any of these programmes look at radio. And if you flick around the dial, you'd struggle to find another network doing it either. Radio is lumped under the banner "Media" and seldom discussed, unless there is a breaking news story.

Why is this? Well, there's something to be said for not seeming too inward-looking. One of radio's great strengths is the direct and personal relationship we can have with our listeners - getting right to the heart of the issues that matter to them, being that trusted guide - if we spend too much time thinking about the nuts and bolts of "Radio", do we put listeners off?

Secondly, radio stations have in the past been quite protective of their listenership. They don't want to lose listeners to other networks, so when there have been obvious cross-over moments they've not always been highlighted.

However in the last couple of years things have really changed. We've seen the development of a new type of radio presenter who enjoys breaking down the barriers between themselves and the listener (Richard Bacon on 5 live, Shaun Keaveny on 6 Music, Gemma Cairney on 1Xtra, Alex Baker on Kerrang!) - using things like social media to connect with their audiences in new ways. Being a presenter has become a 24/7 job.

New technology means that radio listening is also different - this year we've seen the launch of on-demand radio via the Radio Player, a cross-industry initiative where you can access the online stream or previously broadcast programmes from most UK radio stations via a keyword search (such as "rock music") - making it as easy to find commercial station Planet Rock as it is to find the Rock Show on Radio 1. As listeners this enables us to be more choosy, and jump around between networks, programmes and even features. And it seems this is a good thing.

In 2011, Radio is in the strongest place it has ever been. More people are listening to the radio than ever before with 90.7% of UK population tuning in to the radio every week and total listening hours up 2% year on year (RAJAR Q3 2011). Technology and fresh talent will be playing a part in this, but 2011 has also been the year of some dramatic breaking news.

We started the year with seemingly endless snow, which made listening to your local radio station a must - which roads were open, were the buses running, had the school decided to shut? There were big stories internationally with the Egyptian revolution, earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan, the deaths of Osama Bin Laden and Colonel Gaddafi. Back at home, we had the Royal Wedding, the riots and the death of Amy Winehouse - all of these stories broken first on the radio.

But radio is also our trusted guide, the companion that makes the housework go a little quicker, or that drive to work a bit more fun. Radio is incredibly important to lots of us and as a result surely it makes sense to talk about it - where-else - but on the radio.
And so earlier this month BBC Radio 4's Jane Garvey and Key 103's Mike Toolan sat down in a radio studio (with producer Ben Green at the helm) to talk about the year in radio. We covered the big industry stories - the move to Salford, consolidation, Sound Women, local radio - and were joined by radio experts, critics and head honchos - but we also spoke to some big names about their highlights from the year in radio.

Here's BBC Radio 2 and 5 live presenter Simon Mayo with his radio highlights from 2011.

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What was your radio highlight of the year?

Heather Davies is one of the Radio Academy's 30 Under 30 and also works on Sounds of the 20th Century for BBC Radio 2. Heather is @heatherrhian on Twitter.
Radio 2011 is on BBC Radio 5 live on Sunday 25th December at 7pm and repeated on Monday 26th December at 5am. You'll be able to hear it online shortly afterwards and it will also be downloadable as a podcast.

Additional reading:
Independent - Radio: The lost sons of our wars live on in their playlists
Telegraph - From The Archers to Vanessa Feltz: Radio review of 2011
Radio Talk Podcast Review of the Year


  • Comment number 1.

    "What were your highlights?" - Nothing on here

  • Comment number 2.

    I have tried really hard but I can't remember any particular highlights from the year. I can tell you what I don't like and haven't liked but as to the highlights........

  • Comment number 3.

    If there was one programme aired on BBC5 Live, it was the brilliant "Breadlines and Tinsel" Well done to Geoff Bird.

  • Comment number 4.

    I'm listening to Bacon's look back at the year. One of his guests is a woman called Katie Hopkins. What an odious character! I'd never heard of her so I looked her up and apparently she achieved fame by being obnoxious on The Apprentice. That's it, that's why she's famous! Why do we give air time to people like this? On the other hand she's SO horrible she makes Bacon seem not quite as objectionable as usual.

  • Comment number 5.

    Add your comment here:

    'Highlights'? - of course you are being gloatingly ironical to immodestly mask R5's groundbreaking leadership in a descent to a new genre of not so much old school highlights of normalcy but nadirs of perdition.

    And so much further to further to inversely rise in 2012!

  • Comment number 6.

    You give us a little help by giving us some reference articles such as the Telegraph Radio Review of 2011 entitled "From the Archers to Vanessa Feltz".

    The Telegraph radio review is written by Gillian Reynolds - very experienced and very knowledgeable about radio. However, looking through all the comments that she has made over the year, she has not mentioned the riots that affected London and other big cities. That is astonishing to me.

    That was big news. It was big news in parliament, and it was big news on the radio.
    That is what 5 live is about - live coverage. Gillian Reynolds has praised Danny Baker on 5 live, but I wanted to say that the dirty business, the unpleasant happenings, live reporting is what 5 live can do. If you want entertainment, there is the Danny Baker Show.

    I would praise as a highlight, 5 live's coverage of the riots. I remember that almost everybody on these message boards, even hardened critics of 5 live, were full of praise for 5 live's coverage. Therefore the coverage of the riots is a strong candidate for a highlight of the year.

  • Comment number 7.

    thought they'd have made some effort over the holidys this year, but no - repeats, cheap comilations and northern stand-ins

  • Comment number 8.

    What one regards as 'highlights' is conditional on what one regards as news and how one interprets political and economical venets in the world.

    It's not so much the highlights but the very selective use of them and what was missing after events took place.

    For example the overthrow of leaders like Mubarrak and Gadaffi has been well highlighted because apparently when certain dictators are deposed everything is going to be alright and its people can live happily ever after!

    You've failed (Not just 5 Live but the BBC generally) to highlight that the plight of protestors in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen Iraq, etc etc is just the same regardless of what darn leader they've got!

  • Comment number 9.

    Todays phone in on Sinead O'Connors marriage break up and associated callers marital problems certainly isn't a highlight.

  • Comment number 10.

    On Boxing Day I heard a complete trailer for what was due to be heard on 5North on Christmas Day.

    I agree with Nick about missing a trick on the Arab Spring repercussions and developments. That's why everyone should listen to From Our Own Correspondent on Radio Four, a version of which used to be on Radio Five Live before it was downgraded to what Adrian thinks is a news programme - Breakfast!

  • Comment number 11.

    To the few (very) that remain on this site/blog/station: with an unearned income of over £6 million a month don't you feel short-changed? Presenters, managers etc on six figure salaries whilst they holiday, only to return and demand answers from the fat-cats!


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