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Feedback: Operation Dropout

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Roger Bolton Roger Bolton 12:56, Friday, 28 September 2012

Roger Bolton

Sometimes, as a presenter or a continuity announcer, you can feel like an actor, simply reading the words in front of you, not all of which you will have written yourself. Life becomes a bit dull, you want something to go wrong, a situation to arise in which you and you alone stand between triumph and disaster. Of course in these daydreams you save the day and leave the studio to the acclaim of your colleagues, who look at you in a new light, and with the admiration of listeners.

That is the fantasy.

In reality presenters react in very different ways. Some TV hosts , tied to their autocues, just freeze. You can see the eyes go cold, the voice slow to a halt, witness the desperate rustling of papers and then the nervous smile as they wait to be rescued, cheeks flushed.

Others come alive, rejuvenated by disaster, in charge, momentarily, of "their" programmes.

In radio at least the blushes go unseen, but the voice tells all.

I remember in my early days on the Sunday programme losing my way in the script, having to tell the audience that I had done so, and waiting for an understandably irate producer to rush into the studio and sort me out.

On other occasions, when lines to contributors went down, I had to move on to another item as elegantly as possible, or extend an interview until the production team had sorted out the problem.

This of course is relatively easy to do with in a multi item magazine programme. In those days at least breakdowns seemed to be a rare event. Not now, in the view of listeners involved in Feedback's "Operation Dropout".

A particularly long breakdown took place on last week's Any Questions from Stratford Upon Avon.

For over six minutes the Radio 4 continuity announcer, Steve Urquhart, had to fill, not knowing for most of the time if the line would ever be re-established. I talked to him about how he tried to maintain grace under pressure. Here's our conversation, and details of a few more recent drop-outs...

Do let us know if you hear any links go down. The problems are clearly not going away.

Roger Bolton

Roger Bolton presents Feedback on Radio 4.

  • Listen to this week's Feedback
  • Listen again to this week's Feedback, get in touch with the programme, find out how to join the listener panel or subscribe to the podcast on the Feedback web page.
  • Read all of Roger's Feedback blog posts.


  • Comment number 1.

    The BBC is, by definition, endorsing Facebook and Twitter by making endless references to these network sites within its programmes (especially R4). Woman’s Hour hosted an excellent messageboard, yet the programme refused to support or promote it. Did anyone ever spot Ms. Garvey or Ms. Murray posting in relation to an item featured on the programme? This applied to all the Radio 4 messageboards. There wasn’t one occasion when any of the last three programme controllers: Helen Boaden, Mark Damazer or Gwyneth Williams actually placed a posting or offered any overt support for their own boards. I can only remember two occasions when Mr. Bolton cited the R4’s Choice is Yours MB as a contact mechanism for the programme. Pick of the Week hadn’t advertised the POTW messageboard for 6 months, prior to its closure. The Today programme only started to advertise its own messageboards when it had introduced the MK2 censored messageboards.

    Reviewing a radio programme is an analogue process – totally inappropriate for the staccato Twitter medium. One doesn’t tune into Saturday Review and expect comments from Bidisha such as: “load of guff”, “awful dress”, “can’t write or act”, “dreadful split ends”, “love Bob Dylan”……..Someone told me the other day that Nick Robinson tweeted about enjoying the last night of the proms. So what? If one attends a concert one is eager to read or listen to a review; not read about someone promoting their own career, which is what Mr. Robinson – and his other BBC Oxbridge mates – are actually doing by utilising Twitter (and Facebook).

  • Comment number 2.

    Concerning "drop outs" it would appear that the wings have come off. Is sub-standard technology being used or are people not being properly trained in how to use state-of-the-art technology? What about human error, such as a decision either to make people use sub-standard technology or a decision not to provide adequate training to people in how to use for state-of-the-art stuff?

    It really upsets me that people complain to Feedback saying that it "really upsets me" how Cape Wrath is pronounced. I jest, of course. In fact, when I last listened to the Shipping Forecast I couldn't sleep for hours because of the headache I had due to the reader's gratuitous and shocking mispronunciation!

    Is there a difference between "triple" and "treble"? When reading the Feedback phone number Mr Bolton uses the former but Steve Urquhart used the latter.

    I wouldn't be surprised if Feedback got "leaned on" in its investigation into the rules and conventions concerning reporting on the Royals. It is quite clear that BBC coverage of the Royals is fawning and favourable. When the Taliban recently attacked a military base where Prince Harry was stationed I didn't hear any critical coverage of the fact that a number of soldiers where tasked with getting him to a place of safety. Soldiers diverted from action in this way could put the lives of others at risk.

    Lawrence Jones

    I certainly wouldn't expect to hear Bidisha say things like that!

  • Comment number 3.

    listening to BBC4 on my MAC Mini almost 24 hrs a day ----the time i am not walking the dog---very often breaks and interruptions occur on ITUNES and via my browsers..perhaps, its only in Israel?-
    --Britts were here before --and were not liked by opposite sides...,
    -,by the way ,thank you for a broadcast on "Haredim" in North Manchester. -
    - A Mistake was made on a percentage of them in Israel-
    ---in some neighborhoods Haredim are 101% --if one is not wearing their "uniform " - "Pinguin attire" -- one might as well not enter the streets...another respective gratitude for a program on a taxi driver from Kiria Yovel in Jerusalem---Pinkhasi, i believe was his surname.

  • Comment number 4.

    Transgendered elderly people in care homes not mentioned in your report on BBC Radio 4 PM programme on 04/10/12

    Having just listened to the PM programme on BBC Radio 4 about a joint StoneWall/Age Concern report on prejudice and discrimination against elderly lesbian, gay and bisexual people in care homes, I am disturbed that your report did not mention or consider transgendered and transsexual elderly folk who are likely to experience similar discrimination.

    I would guess that elderly trans people also experience discrimination and difficulties in being able to dress as they wish when living in care homes.

    It was not clear from the item on the PM programme whether the research only considered discrimination against LGB elderly people in care homes and transgendered people were omitted from the research (in which case why?) – or whether this was an omission on the part of the Radio 4 report on the PM programme.

    Perhaps Eddie Mair, the Editor and Production Team of the PM programme could consider addressing the plight of elderly transgendered people - of whom from my personal experience there are quite a number. I have been concerned for some time that elderly transgendered people living in their own homes or in nursing homes are lonely, isolated and suffering discrimination.

    Amber Goth

  • Comment number 5.

    I am from Karachi Pakistan. Here we imposed of new local government ordinance, most of the people don't accept it. Would you please do a programme on it.
    let me explain some background:
    Karachi is the biggest city of Pakistan and economical hub too. It is being unstable since sub division of the south Asian sub continent. The massive flow of Urdu speaking migrants from different parts of India made the city culturally Unstable, diverse and let it aloof from other parts of the country. Unfortunately after Ayub Khan's Martial law the new inhabitants of metro police felt more alone in power politics because they were too much in decisive positions since birth of Pakistan either in shape of early prime ministers or other authorities. After electrol democratic rise in Pakistan, alienation of these new settlers become widen. The history of the city and urban areas of sindh always shown different election results as compare to the other parts of the country. Unfortunately the tendency of urban areas of sindh, where urdu speaking class is in majority always shown attachment with autocratic political parties e.g jammat-i-islami or now M.Q.M. The reasons behind this are two; Historical and political. Historical reason is also some thing to do with genetics, Urdu speaking class was belonged to court of Indian Muslim emperors and they inherited autocratic-al mindset as folk tales. They ruled over the sub continent by sword for a millennium. Political reason behind was their sweet will of restoration of power over majority.
    During decade of 80, industrial and economical development of Karachi also urged the other citizen of Pakistan to migrate here for better earnings. That era was crucial point of current ethnic disturbance.The continuous migration added more non-diffused cultural pluralism to the already alienated society and caused serious threat to the political life of autocratic minded urdu speaking majority.
    Now the city of 20 million population claims 2 million Sindhis, 2 million Pakhtoons, 5 million Punjab based population, 1 million Baloch, 1 million Baltis and 2 million Bangalis and Burmis settling mostly scattered in the city. Urdu speakings are now no more majority of the city but they are gaining benefit of non unity of other ethnic groups.
    M.Q.M, the political party representing or misrepresenting the urban Sindh or Urdu speaking class is scared of the situation and finds its way of getting rid of this political loss in unpopular local government system which is still opposed by the PML nawaz: the voice of punjab, all Sindhi nationalists, ANP: the pukhtoon major party and Baloch Baltis as well as other ethnic groups too.
    Here I have a question whether the system is for public or people are system? And is not it compulsory to respect the demand of the majority?
    Recent past since 1985 has shown nepotist patronage of M.Q.M's workers in local body institutions, all appointments and promotions in these institutions were done on grounds of political affiliation rather than merit. 95 percent of employees in City District Government Karachi, all Town municipal administrations are M.Q.M's political workers and even the neutral urdu speaking man finds closed doors for his appointment there.
    In this situation notorious new sindh local government act will really add anarchy in the already unstable Karachi. International agencies and watch dogs should intervene.


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