Tuesday 22 January 2013

The Arrow of Progress

Breakfast television (two words which most definitely do not belong together) is, rather startlingly, 30 years old. I've never watched it - TV in any form would be unbearable at that time of day - but I well recall the unanimous verdict of the Experts at the time breakfast TV was launched: This is it then - breakfast radio is doomed, no one will bother with it any more and the bright shiny go-ahead medium of TV will conquer all. Thirty years on, the Experts - not for the first time - have been proved entirely wrong: breakfast radio continues to thrive, with Radio 4's Today programme (for all its faults) reaching four or five times more people than breakfast TV, and millions tuned (for some reason) to Radio 1 and 2.
The Experts' prediction about breakfast TV was based on a simplistic notion of how 'progress' works - the idea that every technological advance will sweep away what went before and become the norm. Hence the current predictions that the internet and e-readers will kill off books (they won't, any more than photography killed off painting) and newspapers (they might in time, at least the profusion of paid-for nationals we have in the UK). Who would have thought - not the Experts, that's for sure - that supersonic passenger aviation would prove to be a short-lived fad rather than the cutting edge of a brave new high-speed future? Who would thought that manned moon flights, far from becoming the norm, would cease altogether 40 year ago? As every retroprogressive knows, the arrow of progress seldom flies straight and the way to the future is often the path to the past.


  1. Joey Joe Joe Jr.22 January 2013 at 12:23

    What's that Nige, not a fan of a bit of Denise Van Outen in the early hours? The jolly antics of Johnny Vaughan, Zig, and Zag aren't agreeable to your constitution over the morning cuppa? (Big Breakfast references: that's how long it's been since I watched morning TV regularly.)

    Talking about Progress, whatever happened to the government's plans to switch from FM to DAB-only in the near future? Quietly scrapped I hope...

  2. Good question Joey - apparently the government's still committed to making the switch when digital listening tops 50 per cent. That was supposed to happen this year, but is more likely to occur on the Twelfth of Never, largely because DAB is so useless...

  3. I suppose one thing that saved breakfast radio, or radio generally, is that it is protected from the lure of "progress" in visual presentation that is now out of hand on TV and has led to a steady dumbing down of the product. Explosive graphics, endless "cut-to" shots about anything from anywhere, presenters primping before the camera (if not pimping). It's hard to imagine a radio station devoted entirely to the weather, but millions are glued to the Weather Channel because of the visual schlock and drama. Radio is pretty much stuck with the limits it had in the thirties, which means they actually have to worry about the quality of the dialogue.

    It reminds me a bit of Lloyd Webbers's spectaculars. Everybody thought they were cutting-edged genius at first, but over time many came to see there wasn't a lot of lasting quality behind the overpowering special effects and thunderous music.

  4. A very good point, Peter. Radio has its 'progressive' elements, but these tend to be limited to the odd drama or feature and have no place in straight spoken word radio. Besides, the possibilities were pretty much exhausted by the 'pioneers' of the 30s-50s...

  5. Oh that's very good - thanks Peter!