Thursday, November 05, 2009

Cut the Chatter!

Pliable, ever on the money, proposes, in response to BBC Radio Scotland's annual "no music day", a day of music programming without any talk by the classical DJ's.  Such a "no presenters day" is an appropriate answer to the downward spiral of replacing more and more music with mediating speech and, eventually, eliminating music altogether.  This has been tragic in the case of classical and new music programming at some of the Pacifica stations in the US (I well realize that there are other causes as well, in a mad scramble among interest groups for limited air time, but the tendency in all areas is that talk trumps tunes)  and the increased tendency of management to insist upon music programming packaged in talk is very much at work in Europe as well.  There is a place for some smart talk about music on air — and there is such a tradition in the major European broadcasters (i.e. it wasn't unusual to hear an Adorno or a Barraque introduce a piece; as a kid, I was lucky enough to have heard William Malloch on KPFK doing the same)  — but when the sum of airtime for music is constantly under pressure to reduce, then the smart talk (which has tended towards glib talk) comes at the cost of the music itself.

Unfortunately, I have very little faith that such an day without chatter will be allowed to take place.  The people who talk on air have simply more institutional influence than those who just make music.  I remember that back in the 1970's, in response to criticism about inane so-called color commentary, one of the American networks tried the experiment of broadcasting a football game with only a neutral play-by-play and a few stats.  It was great.  However, directly after the broadcast, there was a discussion round with three color-commentators, who, like Foxes in a Hen House, decided for us on the spot that the absence of comments "didn't work". 



Paul Muller said...

I remember a football game broadcast with no play-by-play or voices of any kind. Interesting, but strange. Here in SoCal we listen to Vin Scully doing Dodger games and so are very spoiled - anything more than one voice seems too chatty.

If radio is reducing music content and adding talk, the Internet would seem to more than offset this. But there needs to be a balance - I want to know about the who and what of the piece I am about to hear, especially with new music.

TimR-J said...

This is from poor memory and hopelessly vague, but a couple of years ago, as part of what I think was the anniversary of the BBC's first football commentary on radio, one of the weekend's big games was broadcast on two separate channels with modern commentary and the older (much more sparse) style. After the game lots of people agreed that the old version was good. It never came back.