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Jon Zilkha Jon Zilkha | 17:38 UK time, Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Can radio make good "TV"? For the past couple of weeks on Today, we've been conducting an experiment: filming the goings-on in our studio so that it's now possible not only to listen to the programme, but also to watch some of it.

Many radio interviews, of course, aren't done face-to-face, but "down the line" with the interviewee in a different studio. It's fair to say that when presenter and guest are together, it usually makes their encounter a much better listen.

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As my colleague Brett Spencer has written regarding similar experiments at 5 Live, the results are making for interesting viewing. Our experiences can be seen on the Today site, among them Sarah Montague's grilling of BBC Trust Chairman Sir Michael Lyons, Labour MP Stephen Pound describing the expenses scandal as "like a slasher-movie", and Michael Horowitz insisting that there is still honour among poets.

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Experimenting with what is grandly called "visualisation" is hardly new. For us, the idea was to see whether the cameras could capture something of the intensity of interviews, as well as to give an insight into the working of the programme.

It also gives us the tools to bring out the lighter side of what we do - the nervous swinging legs of the young Scouts accompanying their new chief Bear Grylls for instance.

We've also filmed the presenters' daily review of the programme in the studio, so that you can see exactly what they thought of what we'd just broadcast.

And while we hope that the added visual dimension makes the programme more accessible and appealing online, Today TV isn't here yet. And of course the bigger question is: does it mean that the magic of radio is lost? We'll see. And so can you.


  • Comment number 1.

    From my earlier post.

    "Radio with pictures might sound like television, but it's important to remember that visualising radio is a different medium altogether. Our aim is to give the option of a rich multimedia experience while ensuring that we don't interfere with those listening to the linear transmission."

    More Pseuds' Corner Birtspeak.. How long before James Naughtie is given a telling off for reading the paper 'on camera' or Sarah Montague told to go to the hairdressers before she can appear on Today. And that they have to ditch their headphones in exchange for earpieces.

    And Ed 'The Ted' Stourton is given a carpeting for appearing on air without a tie ? Sounds ridiculous, but remember the flak that Peter Sissons got ? This is the thin end of a very dangerous, and pointless, wedge.

    Further to this - this is fatuous nonsense of the first degree. How soon will it be that this is accompanied by self-conscious preening before going 'on-air'. Or replacing the excellent Sarah Montague with Spangles Kaplinsky from 5 News ? Or even asking Justin Webb to start applying the Grecian 2000 before he returns from the USA.

    Or a vapid 'news you can use' stream of headlines at the bottom of the screen ? Or advertising logos / pictures for other BBC output ?? Context sensitive advertising where James Naughtie mentioning GPs brings up a picture of Doctor Who ??

    You eejits just don't understand that 'the pictures are better on radio'. Will you be asking reporters on the field to make their reports even more concise, and to skip on the detail, because 'a picture is worth a thousand words, dahling, and we'd like some slides and video to accompany your little bit of chat'.

    Will you be asking John Humphrys to 'put on a bit of foundation, dear..' - I would like to see you try. This is self-serving nonsense of the first degree.

  • Comment number 2.

    Can radio make good "TV"?

    Well, it can, but this will probably detract from it being good radio...

    Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle alludes to the fact that simply observing something changes what is being observed.

    What will you do when the complaints start coming in that because Sarah Montague is furrowing her brow, she is being too sceptical and thus she is betraying party political allegiance ?

    Or if John Humphrys rolls his eyes [heaven forbid] he is being cynical and the spin doctors threaten not to put their man or woman up for an interview if he does it again ?

    Someone has to ask much more searching questions of these fatuous initiatives from 'Future Media and Technology' which evangelise for 'the medium is the message' nonsense, and over-emphasise the technology at the expense of downgrading the quality of the argument we actually hear.

    You geeks might be impressed by a load of technology, gadgets, coloured lights, bells and whistles. We are far more discriminating than that.

    What price now James Naughtie's comment [I believe in connection with Nick Clarke that..

    "Nick's bond with his audience was iron-clad. They knew his integrity for what it was, the mark of the man. At the microphone, as away from it, his personality glittered with that truth. Radio was perfect for him, because it always reveals the fakes in the end."

    Tinker with radio at your peril - because you risk destroying it.

  • Comment number 3.

    It seems like only early April that the idea of the presenters getting their costumes for the Today programme was being treated as a joke...

  • Comment number 4.

    lordBeddGelert sums it up perfectly in #1 and #2.

  • Comment number 5.

    lordBeddGelert, couldn't agree more.

    Some of radio's best shows wouldn't be possible with video, from greats like The Goons Show to more modern shows like The Mighty Boosh, the radio versions were very different from the TV versions because of the platform they're working in, if you started adding video they'd just be doing the TV show on radio and those not watching along on the website would not get the full experience.

    The news and current affairs programs would just become clones of already existing TV shows.

    Live music performances would also change, bands performing on radio are often more relaxed without the cameras and you can get some good interviews and performances because of this that you just don't get when they're on camera.

    This, for me, is multi-platform media going too far, the additional information you can get about the shows on the internet is good, as is the interactivity available with instant messaging etc and being able to download shows after they've been broadcast, what we don't need is to be able to see what's going on in the studio.

  • Comment number 6.

    An interesting conundrum. So radio is not doing so well huh, and you have targets to hit before the DG gets his pencil sharpener out. I know, lets make radio virtual TV. It doesn't apparently matter that most people use radio because it is easily portable and does not require visual attention. And good orators are a great listen.

    Clean out the rubbish on many of your radio outlets and you may have enough of an audience to do what the DG wants and some money left over.

  • Comment number 7.

    I would prefer the experiment to be in reverse order.
    If the drive to give value for money is to be taken seriously then, imv, it should be possible for radio news; any station; be fed from the central organisation of rolling news. BBC NEWS.

    Editorial teams would be stripped back to one authority and the cult of 'personality' presenter stopped.

  • Comment number 8.

    To give an existing example, Leo Laporte (an American) started using a webcam as he broadcasted his weekend technology talkshow, a year and half down the road what he has turned it into is something truly unique, broadcasting live as he records audio podcasts, his radio show and more. Personally, I think it's fantastic - neither him or his guests dress up, apply makeup, it's not slick or smooth, but always authentic. The visual side does not have to intrude if no big deal is made of it, but adds a layer of intensity and interest to the content. Don't believe me? Take a look - broadcasts 24/7 -

  • Comment number 9.

    If commercial channels wish to experiment with their own capital then fine, they will live or die via their revenue, but the BBC is playing little people games with license payers money, a fee that is well adrift of what is acceptable to most TV watchers.

    Perhaps the BBC is warning us that the TV fee is soon to leap out of reach for many of those on lower incomes and that free radio with add ons will be all that is left? Or will there be a revolution against the TV Licensing Authority leading to free TV? If that happens then the revolution could just snowball elsewhere. Democracy at work anyone?

  • Comment number 10.


    Oh come on, I've read better rants against the licence fee, I'm sure... I'm not exactly in favour of "BBC r4TV" (Radio+webcam) myself, due to many of the issues that were riased in comments #1 and #2, but I don't see any anterior motive, just the BBC trying to give a bit of extra value for money with something that probably costs very little to implement and operate.

  • Comment number 11.


    As an avid supporter of the BBC I don't really think you'd know an anti-BBC rant if you saw one boilerplated. You certainly don't recognise rants of your own. If that is the best you can do I'd keep quiet.

    The BBC is a spendthrift, even its own DG recognises that. So what on earth is it doing trying to manufacture radio with pictures, a technology so clever it can't even make it work properly.

  • Comment number 12.


    "The BBC is a spendthrift, even its own DG recognises that. So what on earth is it doing trying to manufacture radio with pictures, a technology so clever it can't even make it work properly."

    I'm sure that the same arguments were used when the BBC started broadcasting TV, or when they started to offer a web presence etc.

    "You certainly don't recognise rants of your own."

    Mirror, mirror on the wall...

  • Comment number 13.


    Before you post stuff like "I'm sure...etc" you'd be wise to do your homework.

    The British Broadcasting Company (pre-1927) was a commercial business run on strict budgets and principals. It came to fame during the General Strike when there were no newspapers and its "independence" was questioned by leading politicians. After receiving its Royal Charter right the way through to the early 1980s, it existed on much more modest means than it has since. Thatcher disliked the BBC intensely and ever since then it has gone downhill rather rapidly.

  • Comment number 14.


    "Thatcher disliked the BBC intensely"

    Did she take after you or did you jump on her bandwagon?...

  • Comment number 15.

    Another distraction from accurate reporting. We keep hearing how limited resources are but there seems to be no trouble finding a camera crew and all the associated facilities.
    Please spend some money on good journalistic research so that you can give us more depth and accuracy in the news coverage.

  • Comment number 16.

    lessnews - bang on the button. Newsnight and the rest of 'news' are already having to find cuts of 15% if Private Eye is to be believed.

    How is this 'adding value' ??

  • Comment number 17.


    Although I have met and spoken to Thatcher I don't believe I had any more influence over her than she had over me. I would say that the only thing we had in common was that we both wished we could be somewhere other than where we were. I regarded her then as a tyrant and I still do now. As I have said to you before I am interested in restoring the BBC to its greatness and Auntie is running out of time....

    There are plenty in the Conservative Party who would probably wish the BBC a safe passage to oblivion.

  • Comment number 18.

    I have to say that as far as I am concerned Radio has a distinct advantage over television, which is that you can get far more coverage for the same time than you can visually with live feeds etc. They are all very well but Radio in This Morning form is abslutely cracking. I really don't want to see the news reader, what I want to hear is intellect not pretty legs(one gets past that stage.)I will never forget the Gilligan saga led by John Humphries, if ever there was classic archive material that was it. Leave the pictures out please

  • Comment number 19.

    Well, it's rather spoiled it all for me - the studio looks like a cleaning cupboard in a 1970s vintage hospital - lacking in natural light and rather depressing. Great respect to Humphreys et al. for living there for several hours every day. I'd far rather not have seen it.

    It's amazing that since the BBC web site moved to the new 'Flash' video format (something, incidentally, that I recommended in a previous 'Editors blog' post!), every possible opportunity to use video has been used, exploited and then used some more. There's video everywhere.

    But radio doesn't need video. Occasionally, when something very important is said by (usually) a politician on the Today Programme, BBC TV news use it in their report. The sound waves are visualised to fill the screen. It's quite obvious that the TV producer longs for some images, as they often do with TV news reports - hence the floating numbers, but that's another story. But there aren't any. That is radio's beauty.

    TV news interviews are usually far more boring than radio ones. This is precisely because you can see the interviewee. George Osborne's views on the expenses scandal may be very interesting, but his face and torso, and Big Ben in the background, are not nearly so captivating. Yet television naturally demands to be watched and so the audience stares, bored and not listening, to the interviewee.

    Thinking about it, you take more notice of what a panelist is saying on Any Questions than you do on Question Time.

    I say keep radio as radio.


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