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ANNOUNCERS' WEEK: DAY TWO

There are some things on Radio 4 that you only notice when they go wrong. For continuity announcers the potential for things to unravel is never more than a stone's throw away, but it edges just a little bit closer each day at midday. This is when we split the output between FM and long wave for the lunchtime shipping forecast, and although you're not supposed to notice, the next four minutes are amongst the trickiest of the day.

Well, actually the first three minutes and fifty seconds are generally fine - but the last ten seconds can be as hairy as an unkempt yak. Let me explain.

First, meet the cast. There are three of us: two announcers - one on FM and one on long wave - and a newsreader.

At midday on FM there are four minutes of news. Not three-and-a-bit, not four-and-bit. Four minutes. Exactly.

On long wave there is a minute of news headlines followed by three minutes of shipping forecast. One plus three equals four. Happiness.

At exactly four minutes past twelve the newsreader and the long wave announcer finish their performances, perfectly synchronised. The FM announcer and the long wave announcer then say - simultaneously, whilst listening to each other - "And now You and Yours with..." And the mighty ship of daily consumer news that is You & Yours sets sail on both long wave and FM at precisely the same moment.

When this works - and it usually does - everything is as smooth as a well-buttered bar of soap.

But in a wonderfully British way, the weather can spoil the whole thing. Not surprisingly, the shipping forecast changes its length according to what the weather's doing. Some days, there are no gales, the sea is calm, the visibility is perfect and Malin is much the same as Hebrides, which bears a striking similarity to North Utsire. The result is a shipping forecast that is shorter than the required three minutes. On other days there are gales all over the place, the sea is up and down like a sailor's breakfast and the shipping forecast is what we continuity announcers describe as "too long".

So while on FM the news is beautifully calm and measured, on long wave the shipping forecast is hurtling towards the 12:04 deadline at the sort of speed that would challenge all but the most expensive shorthand secretaries. And it's scandalous how few really good shorthand secretaries serve on ships these days. So at 12:04 the newsreader finishes on FM and the shipping forecast on long wave is still going. Misery.

And this is why, if the weather is not up to much and you listen to Radio 4 FM at exactly four minutes past twelve, you might just hear a rather pregnant pause while the FM announcer waits for his long wave colleague to declare "and that's the end of the shipping forecast." But you'll have to listen very closely because there are some things on Radio 4 which, even when they go wrong, we still might just get away with.

Comments

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  • Comment number 5. Posted by Andrew Bowden

    on 22 May 2009 08:23

    I knew of the Radio 3 example but I think it might have been something on the Mark Radcliffe show on Radio 1 in the 1990s. Could be wrong though!

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  • Comment number 4. Posted by jbridle

    on 21 May 2009 13:10

    You might be referring to John Cage's _4'33"_ (minutes of silence), which Radio 3 apparently had to turn off the emergency system in order to broadcast back in 2004:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/music/3401901.stm

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  • Comment number 3. Posted by Andrew Bowden

    on 20 May 2009 13:32

    Silence would probably see an automated system think the station had gone off air, before kicking in the emergency tape :)

    I remember listening to a show where they had to have silence in it due to a song they were playing, and they had to fill in forms that basically said "Don't worry! There will be silence!"

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  • Comment number 2. Posted by lordBeddGelert

    on 20 May 2009 12:43

    Hmmm... But why the obsession with 'filling things in' ?

    What is wrong with the 'sound of silence' ?

    Or would that trigger the nuclear attack ?

    It is like these people who have an obsession with filling in the 'fourth plinth' at Trafalgar Square. What on earth is wrong with leaving it empty ?

    As a non metropolitan, isn't London full enough these days ??

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  • Comment number 1. Posted by kleines c

    on 20 May 2009 04:09

    I never realised that reading the shipping forecast could be so exciting, Charles. The Carol Ann Duffy poem 'Prayer' finishes with the lines:

    " ... Darkness outside. Inside, the radio's prayer
    Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre."

    If you need to fill in, the new Poet Laureate could be worth quoting. Ten seconds should be enough? Cheers (breakfast coffee)!

    ;)

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