BBC 7 it was, and then BBC Radio 7. It doesn’t matter what septal form it’s taking now because it’ll be Radio 4 Extra soon and with that change the world gets just that little bit bleaker. Not Japanese tsunami bleak. Or impending AV referendum stupidity bleak. But culturally bleak. Radio 7 was a smart place to hang out. Not self conscious. Not really linked to the real world at all – even the rapid repeats of The Now Show or News Quiz seemed to jar a bit, although the no-budget Newsjack fitted right in. Radio 7 was where average, brilliant, awful, bizarre, forgettable and incredible radio programmes went when everybody else thought they’d died. And now it’s going to be an appendage. This is what we call progress.
I actually listened on day one. Via the interweb. It seemed a frightfully modern way of catching Tony Hancock but the bitrate was terrible and I barely heard a thing. Then I tried on digital TV but it was Telewest so there was no chance of that working. So, like a fair few other intrigued middle class souls, I went out and bought a new-fangled DAB radio and immediately set the presets to Radios 3 and 4, the World Service and BBC 7. Don’t tell me you didn’t do the same.
I dread to think how many times they’ve repeated Radio Active and some fond memories have been well and truly trodden on (I’m sure Alan Parker’s 59 Minutes of Truth was once awesome, but now I’m switching it off). I’ve come to loathe the very mention of Garrison Keillor’s awful awful self important programme to the extent that I will never now buy a Honda because he voices the adverts. Which is a shame because I like reading his stuff. And I’ve also discovered things from every era of radio – from Twilight Zone episodes to Bleak Expectations via Journey into Space and Spy Nozy. There’s also been one bona fide classic new commission – Cold Blood, as well as a splendid revival of The Man in Black. It was here I first heard the Ladies of Letters and for that reason alone I must be thankful.
Occasionally they tried to go interactive and almost disastrously attempted to give the presenters personalities. No need. If you were listening to Radio 7 it was because you loved radio in all its quirky diversity. And now whilst it’s not quite gone it’s being shunted back towards that mainstream and uncertain future of being a slotted-in part of Radio 4. A sort of radio ‘red button’ service. There’s already a spin-off for the Archers where the proper Radio 7 approach would have been to being repeating the Ambridge chronicles from the earliest available episodes. Grace Archer could die all over again. It’s not that I’m against the rebrand in principle but this new channel now will have to justify itself in relation to its mainstream sibling – how can you prioritise another rerun of The Mausoleum Club over putting out those extra minutes of The Now Show that didn’t make the cut?
So I shall feel a tinge as Radio 7 morphs into its new identity and I shall cheer every time the esoterica of its old incarnation rears its head and sigh a little whenever it’s used just as an overflow for Radio 4.
It’s been fun.