It’s one of those topics that comes up in radio-ist conversation: “there’s no YouTube for audio” preceded sometimes by “how come/it’s a shame that” (and followed by “telly gets all the money).
Hidden away in this not particularly about-audio article, I’ve spotted a possible lead as to why. TV adverts, once colour TV took-off in the US, were 30″ or 60″ movies. That means that people today have had the concept of a short short story told through video, ever since childhood.
In the UK that was split in half, at best, with ITV and Channel 4 influencing today’s young filmmakers. Radio? Commercial radio started late. Were the ad-maker established film-makers, such as big companies such as Pepsi used for TV?
Is it fair to say that in the UK, “creative-types” from any sector other than music rarely listened to commercial radio? And within music, there were strongolds in Radios 1,2 and 3.
2011-Britain has broader players in both camps – TalkSport is commercial and, even in a class society, some artists like football. At the same time BBC 6 Music has drawn another sector of musicianship to a region of ad-less land, containing plenty of people schooled in radio comedy or drama or short-form audio story-telling.
Some of the most successful commercial/pop radio is (I believe…) based on short-form story-telling. Live. Moyles, Geoff Lloyd, Chris Tarrant on Capital Breakfast. I’m suspecting not Classic FM though, which seems to succeed by being the mute friend, unengaging company.
In Ireland, the state broadcaster RTÉ also takes commercials, and creative radio ads were, as I remember it, well developed in pre-Tiger Ireland. This was less necessary in the boom (“It’s expensive? I want!) and hasn’t recovered.
Sketch Shows on Radio 4:
Weekending was a behemoth. There were others in the later years of Weekending, which we can now hear on Radio 7. But the format faded away. Dan & Nick’s Wildebeest Years and Forty Nights in the Wildebeest were developed out of live short-form stuff, on Loose Ends. And then the sketch show was pushed up a notch again by Little Britain. This was popular in part thanks to repeated gags, characters, and occurrences. This is not what YouTube is famous for.
Imagery on the Radio:
As a teen, I remember my grandmother saying “radio is the most visual medium”. I also remember thinking “no it isn’t”. Listening to, let’s say, the Grand National, I remember that. Did I have a visual image of the horses, moving past each other or falling back? No, I had an image of data, dots or blobs or whatevers with the names of the horses I knew, moving relative to each other as was told to me. Even if I’d seen Bechers Brook, that didn’t suddenly make it full theatre of the mind.
Oddly. On schools workshops with teenagers (13, 14 y/o), we talk about ads, as it’s something they notice on the radio. They only listen to commercial radio. I use the example of an advert for car insurance with a pirate. On TV, a man dresses up as a pirate with a parrot on his shoulder ‘n’ stuff. On the radio, all we need to identify the person speaker as a pirate, is to have him start with “Arrrrr”.
Note: none of us have ever met a pirate. And if we did, he wouldn’t say “arrrr”. But it works! That’s the image we have of a pirate, divorced not just from reality but also from the implications of what sort of person this is. “Oh look, a pirate, I bet he knows how to get a good deal on car insurance”, not “F**k, a pirate, run!”
So, this is the theory as to why the UK hasn’t developed a audio-only YouTube: too small a cross-section has been brought-up on short-form audio story telling that really grabs you (as ads are meant to do). In the US, almost all radio is commercial, but I’ve listened to so little I can’t really comment. There, TV is as dominant as anywhere (note: I don’t have figures to back this up), and radio drama there is thought of, even by people in the industry, as old-time stuff, that died out even before the pipe-smoking fedora-wearing actors. So short-form story-telling was almost purely a public radio thang. That’s been going since the 1970s, so right in the crosshairs (that’s how point to things in the US, right?) for the tech start-up generation. Well, look: most of the highest-regarded English language audio in creative radio and a fair chunk of sound art comes from the US. Is it that the numbers haven’t won over against the ingrained message that short form story telling is done with video? And that recorded sound means music? The thoughts of someone more familiar with the US would be most welcome here.
In Part Two, I’ll look at some of the contenders for the title “YouTube for audio”.