What seems like a very long time ago now, I launched and published a monthly magazine for the radio industry. It was called, unsurprisingly, Radio Month and it aimed to do for the world of radio what Broadcast did for the television industry. I was the grandly-styled publisher and Nick Higham, who later went on to become BBC television’s media correspondent, was the editor. There were four of us altogether, in an unheated, rather smelly former shop on Dawes Road, in Fulham.
Radio Month was a trade magazine. It talked about programme-making and station management, studio equipment and the then relatively new business of selling advertising; commercial radio in the UK was only five years old when we launched and was still making itself up as it went along. We had a good run for three or four years, then came the recession of the early 1980s. Our own advertising dried up and the magazine went bust.
That painful moment was, quite directly, the start of my career as a business writer, although that’s another story. But working with the BBC’s Peter Day and his producer Sandra Kanthal through the recording of last week’s In Business programme about Dark Angels reminded me of two things in particular from that time.
The first is that radio then was populated mainly by enthusiasts. With a couple of notable exceptions (Kenny Everett, a true comic genius, being one) it wasn’t a celebrity medium. You could look like the back end of a bus and still be a brilliant broadcaster, the pay was generally lousy, the hours long, the working conditions sometimes hair-raising, and the company often eccentric. Most people who worked in radio did so because they really loved the medium. They were genuine, and genuinely committed. Sadly, I’ve lost touch with that world now so I don’t know whether the same is still true. I hope so. Peter and Sandra certainly both seemed cast in that mould.
The second thought, and it’s hardly an original one – though I think it connects with the first in some slightly opaque way, was that radio was, and remains, so much more a vehicle for the imagination than television. Peter and Sandra had nothing but a couple of microphones (one of them admittedly rather large and hairy, like an unkempt rat on a stick) and a tiny digital recorder with which to create half an hour of radio. The resulting programme was rich with the sound of bells, of footsteps, of different voices, of echo and its opposite – close presence, all building an atmosphere of Oxford and the mood of a Dark Angels course. It left one room to create one’s own pictures, all the more powerful for being personal. (Click here if you missed the programme.)
The analogy is there with good writing, which leaves room for one to attach one’s own thoughts and feelings to the words written; a lesson which the business world still largely has to learn. And perhaps the people who write well for business are also rather like the radio-makers, unseen craftsmen and women, who know how to create space for one to make an imaginative connection with the subject at hand, no matter how dry. These are not the people who would ever write, as I recently heard one organisation proudly declare, that they are ‘nurturing their talent pipeline’; for which Orwellian abstraction read people.