Emma Barnett

Hear this: I've gone goo-goo for Radio Ga-Ga

November 24, 2016 23:20

As you lay the table for this week's Friday-night dinner, stop and think about the conversations that will ensue. I bet you can predict a few of them - especially if you are having your regular crew over. "How's the children/your hip/ annoying neighbour?" are probably some of the refrains that spring to mind.

But how amazing would it be if you could edit out all of the boring platitudes and just cut to the good stuff? It is precisely this desire that we all have for brilliant conversation that I believe underpins the continued popularity of radio in this country. How else can it be explained that in the frenetic digital age, radio listener figures are at an all time high – with 90 per cent of Britons tuning into their favourite stations every week?

At its best, speech radio delivers a perfect conversation to hungry lugholes. Well-cast and highly informed characters come together, while we presenters fire questions at them - asking all the things that you, the listener, are secretly yearning to know.

I began presenting radio a few years ago because of one phenomenal exchange. In my former job, I tracked down one of the founders of Twitter, Evan Williams, and coaxed him into his first British interview. Over one too many cocktails, I landed my scoop and a brilliant insight into the future of communication. Later, as I frantically and rather woozily typed up our chat, I was dismayed no one had heard our sparky conversation verbatim. That's when I decided to get into the profession of live conversations. A Sunday evening show on LBC followed - during which the great and good of London called me to shout, laugh and cry about the big issues of the day over a happy three-year period.

Fast forward to the present day, I'm now the Women's Editor of the Telegraph and regularly present Woman's Hour and have just started my own new Sunday evening show on BBC 5 Live – The 5 Live Hit List – in which I count down the top 40 news stories of the week (based on people's web browsing habits).

At its very best, radio can ask all those things you yearn to know

I have been utterly bitten by the radio bug. But I don't just love it for the fast-paced dialogue and the revelations. It also offers a rare forum in polite British life in which to have a properly frank exchange.

A few week ago on Jeremy Vine's Radio 2 show. The "comedian" Alexei Sayle had been invited on to react intelligently to my Telegraph column about the frightening rise of European antisemitism in the light of the recent Gaza conflict. Instead he began slandering me - accusing me of endorsing the murder of women and children - simply for speaking up about a frightening new trend. It was utterly bizarre.

In no other social scenario would he have showed his true hand to me so soon - but on live radio there isn't the time for pleasantries. I kept a cool head and took almost a sick pleasure in shooting down his prejudices one by one. But at least I knew where I stood and our spicy clash was anything but dull. In fact, such emotional exchanges are radio gold - especially when you are the presenter.

Well-produced radio brings together big personalities, who would never normally meet, to debate their passions against the clock. Presenters ask questions they would rarely dare to ask in quite the same way outside the studio. .

So as you settle down for your Shabbat dinner this Friday evening, why not try mixing it up a little? Ask the question you're burning to ask. Strategically interject when someone is droning on. Ride the uncomfortable silences. And crucially -say what you really think.

And if all goes terribly wrong? Rest assured you can disappear later on, stuffed full of challah, and take refuge next to the wireless.

November 24, 2016 23:20

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive