Going to the dogs
It was e-mail number 1,226 on the same topic which finally did it for me.
The other 1,225 had pictures attached (dogs in prams, dogs in clothes) but this one contained a new feature: a link to the dog's own website. Our fault of course - we were doing an item (listen here) about dogs' names and we'd asked for photographs - but the size of the response was still surprising, almost shocking. Have you really (dear listener) been poised next to your laptop all these years, digital camera at the ready, just waiting for the moment when you could give Thompson the Chocolate Labrador or Colin the Spinoni their fifteen minutes? That's the way it looks.
I'm being slightly unfair to us. We always knew that the dog item would have 'legs', but it's very hard to predict how much any of the subjects we cover will grab the audience.
E-mails are one way for us to judge whether or not we're hitting the right notes (and, incidentally, there've been another 30 to do with dogs since I started writing this). Like all the other means at our disposal - focus groups, surveys, and so on - they're imperfect but they serve a purpose.
And sometimes feedback comes in less subtle forms: the high-profile politician who phoned this week to say why he "loathes the programme"; the letter to a presenter which opened with the novel greeting, Dear C***. But if there was a prize for best feedback this week, I'd award it to the cabbie who was giving me a lift early one morning.
I asked if he'd mind putting Today on the radio, and he confessed he'd never listened to it. After all of three minutes he started chuckling to himself, and a couple of minutes later he turned to me. "Gawd, mate," he said, "this is dreadful, isn't it?". And then quietly, under his breath, "Absolutely minging."