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Parution « Radio et narration : de l’enchantement au réenchantement »

recherches en comLe 37ème numéro de la revue Recherches en Communication (Université catholique de Louvain) consacré à « Radio et narration : de l’enchantement au réenchantement «  vient de paraître sous la direction de Frédéric Antoine.

Ce dossier thématique de 10 articles dédiés au récit radiophonique et au développement du narratif radio s’inscrit dans le sillage du colloque Radio et narration. le Réenchantement ? organisé à Bruxelles Facultés St-Louis les 19-20 novembre 2010 par l’Observatoire du Récit médiatique (ORM) de l’École de communication, Université catholique de Louvain et le Groupe de Recherches et d’Études sur la Radio (GRER)

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Le documentaire radiophonique

DeleuLe documentaire radiophonique, publié par Christophe Deleu

(L’Harmattan / INA Éditions Mémoires de la radio, septembre 2013, 262 p.).

 Souvent décrite comme le média du direct par excellence, la radio est très peu connue comme diffuseur de documentaires. Ce genre est à vrai dire peu présent sur les ondes, et il n’y a guère que le secteur public radiophonique (France Culture, France Inter et RFI), et, plus récemment, le secteur associatif, qui en proposent l’écoute. Sur Internet, le site Arte Radio met en ligne des documentaires depuis 2002. Cet ouvrage a d’abord pour ambition de retracer l’apparition du genre documentaire à la radio. Empruntant aussi bien au radioreportage qu’à l’art sonore, le documentaire se développe à la radio après la Seconde Guerre mondiale grâce aux innovations techniques parmi lesquelles la création du Nagra, appareil d’enregistrement demeuré célèbre. Avec l’apparition du numérique, le genre s’est « démocratisé » : jamais techniquement il n’a été aussi facile de réaliser un documentaire sonore. Sa diffusion est aussi favorisée par l’écoute en différé (podcast, streaming) et la création de nombreux festivals sonores. À l’heure de cette mutation, cet ouvrage propose une définition des principaux types de documentaires à la radio : documentaire d’interaction (journalistique, chronique, biographique et autobiographique), documentaire poétique, documentaire d’observation et documentaire fiction.

Christophe Deleu est maître de conférences (habilité à diriger des recherches) en Sciences de l’Information et de la Communication à l’Université de Strasbourg. Il a obtenu sa qualification comme professeur des Universités en 2013. Il est responsable de la formation radio au Cuej (Centre universitaire d’enseignement du journalisme) où il propose un cours sur le documentaire. Il est vice-président du Groupe de Recherches et d’Études sur la Radio (GRER). Il a cofondé l’Addor (Association pour le développement du documentaire à la radio). Il est producteur délégué à France Culture depuis 1997, où il a conçu de nombreux documentaires. Avec François Teste, il a investi le champ du documentaire fiction : La lointaine, prix Scam 2005 ; Vers le Nord, prix de la réalisation aux Radiophonies et prix Phonurgia Nova en 2010 ; Débruitage, Grand Prix SGDL en 2013. Il est l’auteur de l’ouvrage : La parole des anonymes à la radio, Usages, fonctions et portée aux éditions Ina/de Boeck, en 2006.

Photographie de couverture : Sébastien Durand.

Radio – Community, Challenges and Aesthetics, edited by Grażyna Stachyra

okładka_coverRadio – Community, Challenges and Aesthetics, edited by Grażyna Stachyra

Publisher: Maria Curie-Skłodowska University Press, Lublin, Poland, 2013

Paperback: 306 pages – Language: English

ISBN: 978-83-7784-321-5


Among modern media like television or internet, radio sometimes is perceived like an old-fashioned cousin who does his best to keep up to date with the latest fashion. Nevertheless, as this book proves, it still remains lively and still offers a lot of inspiration both to the audience and to the researchers. Despite its long history radio is still able to change and to make a proper use of the new technologies. We listen to the radio during work and on the way to work; in hurry, early in the morning when we need to find out about the latest news, and more comfortably at night, when we need to relax. We may access it through analog or (in some places) digital radio set, internet or mobile phone. We are surrounded by radio messages in some shops, restaurants, taxis or offices. But after a hundred years of its existence do we really know all about radio? The question is rhetorical. We still learn a lot about this fascinating medium. This book attempts to rise some questions about radio’s role in modern society in many dimensions. The title Community, Challenges and Aesthetics shows some focus points, but does not draw the border between them. Selection of papers written by media researchers from many countries (representing Cyprus, England, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal and Spain) indicates that there are many perspectives through which we can describe radio and its role. Nonetheless, this book is divided into two parts. The first one is dedicated to widely considered radio challenges and community building. The second part analyzes radio content in communicational and aesthetical context including also problematics of radio genres. I hope that such variety may interest not only radio researchers, but all those who observe new media and their influence on the society. The era of technical r-evolution is also a period when many cultural, social and ethnic problems arise. Some of them are reflected through the radio broadcast and the changes of its aesthetics. The authors would be grateful if the presented book could bring some more inspiration to the debate about our favourite medium.

Grażyna Stachyra

Table of Contents:

 Grażyna StachyraIntroduction (p. 7)

I. Society, Community and Radio Challenges

Guy Starkey Radio and localness: ownership and content in the convergent/divergent age of media proliferation (pp. 11 – 28) 

Tiziano Bonini – Radio public isn’t what it used to be: emerging models in the age of networked society (pp. 29 – 38)

Stanisław Jędrzejewski – Public Service Media Radio 2.0 ahead (pp. 39 – 52)

Jean-Jacques Cheval – Guess who was on the radio last night? (pp. 53 – 62)

Urszula Doliwa – Polish radio stations run by NGOs and the community media model (pp. 63 – 78)

Katarzyna Maciejewska-Mieszkowska Public regional radio stations as a participant in the electoral communication in Poland. Case study (pp. 79 – 96)

Mirosława Wielopolska-Szymura – Ethnic community radio in Canadian and Australian multicultural societies (pp. 97 – 110)

Magdalena Szydłowska – Programmes for national minorities in the Polish Radio. The important tasks of the public radio (pp. 111 – 120)

Robert Rajczyk – National minorities’ groups in Romania access to media. The case study of radio (pp. 121 -132)

Lidia Pokrzycka – Radio in Iceland. General characteristics of the market (pp. 133 – 145)

II. Radio Content and Aesthetics

Angeliki Gazi – Images, acoustic identity and radio sound (pp. 147 – 152)

Karolina Albińska – Did pictures kill the radio star? ‘Radiovision’ as a new/old incarnation of radio in the audiovisual era (pp. 153 – 176)

Madalena Oliveira – Sounds and Identity: The role of radio in community building (pp. 177 – 188)

Thomas Wilke – On the meaning, uses and representation of hate radio in Hotel Rwanda (pp. 189 – 210)

Emma Rodero – The same song for different broadcasters. Voice and prosody in radio news (pp. 211 – 224)

Golo Föllmer – “Radio Aesthetics – Radio Identities”. A project overview and a methodological study on the experimental variation of radio speech (pp. 225 – 234)

Grit Boehme – How listeners perceive the presenter’s voice (pp. 235 – 250)

Paulina Czarnek – The entertaining role of call-out in Polish commercial radio stations (pp. 251 – 262)

Monika Białek – The image of contemporary Poland in Polish radio feature broadcasts (pp. 263 – 276)

Joanna Bachura – Feature – the marriage of fact and fiction (pp. 277 – 286)

Grażyna Stachyra – Radio charitainment. A case study of Radio Eska’s campaign ‘We undress to dress’ (pp. 287 – 298)

Notes on Authors (pp. 299 – 306)

Radio Wars: Broadcasting during the Cold War

fcwh20.v013.i02.cover« Radio Wars: Broadcasting during the Cold War » is the latest special issue from Cold War History, guest edited by Dr. Linda Risso. Radio Wars: Broadcasting in the Cold War, Cold War History, n° 13:02, 2013, ISSN 1468-2745 (Print), 1743-7962 (Online).

This special issue aims to:

* Investigate radio broadcasts in a series of case studies that spans the Cold War.

* Examine outgoing propaganda themes and techniques, considering how these changed over time.

* Tackle the interplay between Eastern and Western radio broadcasting, investigating how radio stations were aware of their opponents and felt the need to continuously alter the focus and content of their programmes.

* Question whether the cooperation between different broadcasting corporations entailed a ‘leading partner’ like the BBC and VOA, considering the impact of the local broadcasters on shaping the priorities, themes and working methods of the bigger broadcasting corporations.

Introduction : Radio Wars: Broadcasting in the Cold War / Linda Risso, pages 145-152
« If the ColdWar was a war of ideas and ideologies for the ‘soul of mankind’, radio was definitely one of the weapons of choice. Radio played an important role in the ideological confrontation between East and West as well as within each bloc and, as archival documents gathered here reveal, it was among the most pressing concerns of contemporary information agencies.
Radio broadcasts could penetrate the Iron Curtain and directly address the ‘enemy’. This was extremely important in the early ColdWar. For the audiences behind the Iron Curtain, Western broadcasting opened an alternative channel for the flow of new information and ideas and it contributed to the erosion of public support for the government. If recently published figures are correct, one-third of Soviet urban adults and around half of East European adults were regular listeners ofWestern broadcasts. Given the widespread listenership and the perceived destabilizing role of Western programming, it is not surprising that the Communist regimes spent considérable time, energy, and resources fighting foreign broadcasts through jamming, censorship, and a renewed propaganda effort of their own national radio broadcasts… »

Introduction, is freely available online. Click Here to link to this article and download it.

‘A hideously difficult country’: British propaganda to France in the early Cold War / Hilary Footitt, pages 153-169
This article examines British propaganda efforts in France in the early Cold War in the light of a developing relationship in which the senders’ own strategies were to be modified and challenged. The article argues that initiatives to broadcast propaganda from Britain into France via the BBC operated within a broader and developing information policy context. Broadcasting from outside the country through the BBC was supplemented with attempts by British personnel stationed in France to embed positive messages directly within the contemporary French media. By 1950 however, the British propaganda initiative seemed inappropriate and outmoded, taken over by the French themselves and by a British desire to prioritise countries outside Western Europe.

Did the RAI buy it? The role and limits of American broadcasting in Italy in the Cold War / Simona Tobia, pages 171-191
With a 20 million dollar budget and 1,900 staff, Voice of America broadcast in 45 different languages and Italy was one of its main targets. By looking into what went on behind the microphone, this article addresses the extent to which cultural change was planned and structured transnationally, the interactions and interdependencies operating between Washington and Rome, and how cooperation was achieved despite the fierce resistance of some of Radio Audizioni Italia’s (RAI) executives. This allowed programmes produced in New York to air, and led to the launch of the most popular character of Italian radio and television: Mike Bongiorno.

Voices, letters, and literature through the Iron Curtain: exiles and the (trans)mission of radio in the Cold War / Friederike Kind-Kovács, pages 193-219
The article investigates the role of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty as a crucial junction of cross-Iron Curtain communication throughout the Cold War. It explores how the radio stations turned into both real as well as imaginary targets of letters, underground literature, and private phone calls from the ‘Other Europe’. After outlining the radios’ mission in the early 1950s, the article concentrates on the practical as well as the symbolic employability of exiles. This will help further the understanding of the central role of exiles in closing gaps between the radio stations’ mission and their actual transmission. By reestablishing means of real cross-border communication, exiles turned into the key players of this ‘Cold War of the ether’.

Cold War radio and the Hungarian Uprising, 1956 / Alban Webb, pages 221-238
Overseas broadcasting during the Hungarian uprising indicated a new phase in the relationship between the media and the international events they report. Mapping the course of the uprising for Hungarian and global audiences alike, the western radios occupied multiple broadcast, diplomatic, and cultural terrains. The anti-communist rhetoric of their output allied to their perceived influence on listeners behind the Iron Curtain made the Hungarian uprising a cause célèbre of international broadcasting: one that revealed both the strategic significance of cold war radio as well as the limits of its use as a tactical weapon.

Captive audience? GDR radio in the mirror of listeners’ mail / Christoph Classen, pages 239-254
According to the rise of totalitarian theories after 1990 research on broadcasting in the former socialist states emphasised its propagandistic character and political overstretch. This cannot be dismissed out of hand, but a closer look to listeners’ mail show, that the praxis of Radio in the GDR didn’t simply merge in political persuasion. In fact it results even in dictatorship in the long run from a dynamic negotiation process between audiences and broadcasters. In particular radio in East Germany was by no means resistant to the influences of popular culture from the West.

Listening behind the curtain: BBC broadcasting to East Germany and its Cold War echo / Patrick Major, pages 255-275
This article examines British propaganda efforts in France in the early Cold War in the light of a developing relationship in which the senders’ own strategies were to be modified and challenged. The article argues that initiatives to broadcast propaganda from Britain into France via the BBC operated within a broader and developing information policy context. Broadcasting from outside the country through the BBC was supplemented with attempts by British personnel stationed in France to embed positive messages directly within the contemporary French media. By 1950 however, the British propaganda initiative seemed inappropriate and outmoded, taken over by the French themselves and by a British desire to prioritise countries outside Western Europe.


The Poetry of Radio, The Colour of Sound – Seán Street


This book explores the idea of the poetic in radio and sound as well as the concept of pure sound as poetry, both historically and within a contemporary perspective, examining examples of makers and works internationally.

The work examines the development of poetic forms in sound broadcasting historically and geographically through chapters taking narrative themes. It includes primary source material gathered through interviews conducted by the author with distinguished producers and poets. Among these are producers Piers Plowright, Matt Thompson, Alan Hall, Simon Elmes and Julian May (UK) Edwin Brys, (Belgium) Hildegard Westerkamp (Germany/Canada) Chris Brookes (Canada) Robyn Ravlitch, Michael Ladd and Kaye Mortley (Australia) as well as poets, including Michael Symmons Roberts and Jeremy Hooker. There is a chapter on the poetic sound in the natural world, which focuses in particular on the work of the renowned UK sound recordist, Chris Watson.

Alongside audio poetry, the book discusses the spoken word including documentaries and public announcements, the radio feature, soundscapes, sonic art with contributions from key figures such as Colin Black (Australia) and Marcus Leadley (UK)and the poetry of the vernacular in speech and sound. It considers new platforms for listening including podcasts and developments in mobile technologies, examining the work of current practitioners including Francesca Panetta, who is responsible for The Guardian’s podcasts as well as the award-winning Hackney Podcast, and Tim Wright.

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge (31 Jan 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415604109 – ISBN-13: 978-0415604109

Click to look inside the book


Janvier-Mars 2013, n° 115

SOMMAIRE : « LA RADIO NUMERIQUE EN FRANCE » dossier coordonné par René Duval

Jacques Van den Driessche : L’émergence de la technologie numérique, en France, dans le domaine de la production radiophonique

Collectif : La RNT : 27 ans d’hésitations et d’atermoiements pour nous isoler du reste du monde

Pierre Braillard : Note sur la Radio Numérique Terrestre

La position des syndicats de radios locales et des autres acteurs de la RNT

Onde numérique, sorte de « Canal+ » de la RNT, déjà autorisée

Le CSA autorise les candidatures pour Paris, Marseille et Nice

Rachid Arhab : L’avenir de la RNT

Positions de François Hollande et de Michel Boyon

Fin des droits d’auteurs sur les normes DAB et gamme des récepteurs déjà sur le marché en Europe

René Duval : La RNT en France en 2013, pas si sûr !


Stéphane Hessel – Stefan Kudelski – Gilles Marquet – Alexandre Fronty



Sont publiés avec le soutien Radio France et de la SACEM

Directeur de la Publication : René DUVAL

La Rédaction en chef est assurée par chaque coordinateur du numéro

Conseillers à la rédaction : Monique VAYSSE, Tony LEGENDRE

Prix au numéro : 9 €

Abonnement (4 numéros par an) : 30 €

RÉDACTION ET ABONNEMENTS : Comité d’Histoire de la Radiodiffusion 19, rue Auguste Chabrières – 75015 PARIS

Web : – Mel :   –  ISNN 0752-0174


Les Cahiers d’Histoire de la Radiodiffusion, n° 114, octobre-Décembre 2012

img019 La dernière livraison des Cahiers d’Histoire de la Radiodiffusion, n° 114, octobre-Décembre 2012

Il s’agit, cette fois, d’un numéro panaché, établi par Jocelyne TOURNET-LAMMER

Sommaire  :

Michel Amoudry : La TSF et le naufrage du Titanic ;  Jean-Jacques Ledos : Les Débuts de la TSF ; Christophe Bennet : L‘Opéra et la désaffection des compositeurs français au profit de genres émergeants : le cas de la radio des années trente ; Entretien avec Elvina Fesneau : Le Poste à transistors à la conquête de la France ; Jocelyne Tournet-Lammer : Une radio communautaire pour les marins : Antelim II ; Guy Robert et Dave Wilson : 1983 : quelques réflexions sur la radio et « l’éducation de base » ;  Joëlle Girard : Freedom, radio Ladi Lafé.

Rubrique « Ils ont fait la Radio » : Jacques Antoine (1924-2012) ; Jacques Rigaud ( 1932-2012) ; Jean Garretto (1932-2012)

Les Cahiers d’Histoire de la Radiodiffusion sont une publication du Comité d’Histoire de la Radiodiffusion (CRH)

N°93 : L’année radiophonique 1957
N° 94 : L’année radiophonique 1977
N° 95 : 1925-1975 : Cinquante ans de musique classique à la radio
N° 96 : L’année radiophonique 1938
N° 97 : L’année radiophonique 1958
N°98 : L’année radiophonique 1978
N° 99 : Éléments pour une histoire de la radio en Algérie (1922-1962)
N° 100 : L’année radiophonique 1939
N° 101 : L’année radiophonique 1959
N° 102 : L’année radiophonique 1979
N° 103 : Grands Hommes – Grandes dates de la Radio – Tableau Synchronique
N° 104 : Premier numéro « Panaché »
N° 105 : L’année radiophonique 1980
N° 106 : Numéro panaché
N° 107 : Pierre Schaeffer 1910-1995 – la traversée d’un siècle
N° 108 : Numéro panaché
N° 109 : L’année radiophonique 1981
N° 110 : Numéro panaché
N° 111 : Histoire de la radio en Belgique francophone
N° 112 : Numéro panaché
N° 113 : L’année radiophonique 1982
Prix unitaire du numéro 9 €

Public Issue Radio: Talks, News and Current Affairs in the Twentieth Century, Hugh Chignell

chignellh_0« Public Issue Radio: Talks, News and Current Affairs in the Twentieth Century« , Hugh Chignell, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, ISBN: 9780230247390; 264pp.

Hugh Chignell’s well-researched volume tells the story of the development of current affairs programming on British radio, which, we learn, is inextricably tied to the ‘painfully slow development of news’ programming on the BBC. To explain the significance of the separation and elaboration of these two forms of broadcasting, Chignell begins with the Victorian ‘rigid class hierarchies’(p. 16) separating mere reporters (who dutifully wired the raw facts of unfolding events on the front lines) from highly educated correspondents (who sent their reflective and more subjective pieces by post) (p. 16). This sharp distinction between news and current affairs was unique to the British system and, Chignell argues, it influenced ‘the shape and nature of public issue radio for the rest of the century’ (p. 20).

But, like many distinctions and hierarchies of the Victorian era, the ones that shaped the origins of the BBC’s approach to news and commentary were in for a series of shocks and ironic challenges throughout the 20th century. Under John Reith, the BBC’s first and iconic leader, the Victorian disdain for journalism (and for the newspapers’ tendency towards scandal, hyperbole, and excess) meant that what would become one of the foremost journalistic organizations of the century began with a rather anemic news operation.

Another irony, Chignell calls it an ‘unintended consequence’, was that the early Reithian imperative to air ‘the best that has been thought and said’ on the network gave a soapbox to members of Britain’s cultural elite, many of whom held – and expressed – ’dangerously radical views’. Prominent figures like H. G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw and Leonard Woolf, ‘who were variously socialist, communist, pacifist, atheist, and who held views almost completely at odds with Reith’s own beliefs’, took to the air in the early days of the BBC ‘Talks’ (p. 28). The tug-of-war between conflicting imperatives is inevitable in any institution as large, as consequential, and as closely identified with both a government and a people as the BBC became. For ‘the most famous cultural institution in the world’ these struggles comprise a significant chapter of the history of the 20th century (p. 7).

The splitting of Talks and News into distinct departments began in 1935, and led to the creation of ‘separate cultures and identities’ whose impact can still be felt. In 1935, this separation came during a shift to conservative rule in the government and thus in the possibilities of BBC’s programming. American readers of this book will perhaps be surprised to learn that the NPR (National Public Radio)’s 40 year history of fending off (and also caving in to) charges of ‘left-wing bias’ from conservative elements in the government and the press has a precedent at the BBC starting as early as the 1930s (p. 17). ‘The BBC was under constant pressure from the government … and the right wing press’ (p. 26). Despite the very real pressure exerted from these quarters, and despite his own conservatism, Reith’s refusal to back down from airing controversial broadcasts during the Great Depression provides for some dramatic scenes and challenges the stereotype of him and his network as stuffy and cautious. When summoned by Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald and ordered by him to stop airing broadcasts featuring the voices and experiences of the unemployed:

Reith responded by acknowledging that the government had the power to do this but that if they did he would, ‘at that time in the schedule when the talks should be given, instruct the announcer to declare that the next twenty minutes would be silent because the Government had refused to allow the unemployed to express their views’. The series continued (p. 23).

The Talks department, chivvied by political pressure and by an institutional ‘anxiety’ regarding the airing of controversial matters, shied away from covering some of the most urgent matters in foreign affairs and domestic affairs in the 1930s. Thus the British listening public had little exposure to the brewing calamities in Spain and Germany and, after 1935, to the voices and experiences of those at home suffering the most from the Depression. This problem was most urgent, of course, in the case of the rise of Nazi Germany. ‘The tension between the growing German threat on the one hand, and the peace-making, official policy of appeasement on the other, placed the BBC in an almost impossible position’ (p. 27). Remarkably, as late as early 1939, the network was fending off charges of being ‘alarmist, sensational, and rumour-mongering’, as regards the threat from Germany. Like so many conventions and traditions, the BBC’s Arnoldian notions of culture and its reluctance to develop a full complement of news-gathering reporters, were confronted by the unprecedented urgency of the Second World War.

Chignell tracks News and Talks through the next several decades, measuring the effect of ‘personal, institutional and cultural’ forces on their separate, but linked, evolution into the modern versions we know today. Chignell’s attention to the personal forces that shaped the news and commentary of the BBC – and later, of local, independent, and commercial broadcasters – is deftly woven into the larger institutional and cultural context. In this way, we come to know the people behind the programming as actors working within the constraints and opportunities of their place and time.

Readers unfamiliar with the dramatis personae of the BBC will be struck by the remarkable number of women, starting with Hilda Matheson, in critically important roles both in front of and behind the microphones of the BBC’s public affairs programming. Matheson, chosen by Reith to be the first Director of Talks in the 1920s, epitomized the tension between cultural elitism and political radicalism that characterized the early years of the network’s news and commentary. ‘A political radical, a lesbian and a feminist’, Matheson was also spectacularly well connected to Britain’s literary elite, including Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster, and Wells, and brought them before the BBC’s microphones. It was Matheson who brought the ‘intimate mode of address’ to the BBC airwaves, supplanting the previous formal, declamatory style.

As the book moves chronologically through the 20th century, other key figures appear. Sir Richard Maconachie, who ran the Talks Department after the split of talks and news in 1936, was another key figure in the evolution of the network’s coverage of important public affairs. His horror of controversy and of the appearance of bias, along with his disdain for journalism, (all of which put him in the mainstream of the network at the time), led him to the novel solution of broadcasting interviews with newsmakers. The interview provided a way of handling potentially controversial subjects, while shaping the future direction of the BBC’s coverage of news and public affairs for decades to come (p. 19).

J. B. Priestley, the popular novelist, playwright, and Second World War broadcaster also makes an appearance in these pages, though it is the import of his radio talks ‘as radio’ that draws Chignell’s attention (p. 43). Priestly is to be remembered above all for ‘the sound of his voice’, the intimacy of his tone, and his ‘soft Yorkshire accent, unusual of course in a BBC still dominated by southern middle-class accents’ (p. 45). To an American historian of radio, the description of Priestley’s contributions to wartime British radio on Postscripts in 1940 and 1941 evokes nothing so much as the short-lived wartime broadcasts of Eleanor Roosevelt. In particular, Priestley’s political priorities evoke the 1940–1, Pan-American Coffee Hour broadcasts of Mrs. Roosevelt, with their emphasis on the importance of ‘the people’ in national life, the looking forward to a more just post-war society, and the linking of the struggle against the Germans to the larger struggle ‘to bring into existence an order of society in which nobody will have far too many rooms in a house and nobody have far too few’ (p. 47). There are some striking stylistic similarities as well, including the use of personal pronouns, (‘I wonder how many of you feel as I do’) and the easy movement back and forth from descriptions of war (‘a sky belching death’) to the quotidian pleasures of the home front (‘the red japonica or the cherry and almond blossom’). Eleanor Roosevelt’s wartime radio career was cut short too, a victim of political foes in Congress, parallel to Priestley, who saw his regular gig on Postscripts cut short in 1941 by Churchill, or so he believed(46–7).

The account of Priestly’s unique contribution to the sound of the BBC serves as an excellent introduction to the remarkable transformation of the network during the war. Despite a rocky start, the BBC’s reputation for news coverage was, by the end of the war, ‘covered in glory.’ The close identification between the network and Great Britain intensified during the conflict, as wartime censorship narrowed the gap between the national interest and the BBC’s understanding of the public interest. During the worst of the crisis, the fortunes of the network seemed inextricable from those of the nation itself. Its coverage of D-Day, for instance, presented a challenge as daunting, in radio terms, as the invasion was in military terms. By the final year of the conflict, the BBC was the medium by which Britons came to understand the war.

Massive growth in the news staff and structural changes to the network were instrumental in this transformation. From just two reporters before the war to the 19 who covered the D-Day landing, to the new recording technology, including portable disc recorders, the BBC invested heavily in the infrastructure of news. Under A. P. Ryan, a News Division was created that merged the older Talks and News and reflected the new urgency of informing the public rather than the older Reithian imperatives of ‘mixed programming’, and ‘uplift’ (p. 49). Chignell identifies other changes, including the rise of ‘radio magazine’ formats, which would come to dominate the daytime schedule for many years. Also, the ‘personalization’ of the news, starting with Priestly’s commentaries, expanded to news presenters, in the name of national security:

In the pre-war BBC, it was an article of faith that news announcers should all sound the same and remain anonymous. But anxiety over the risk of enemy impersonators taking over the airwaves led to news announces identifying themselves … This identification allowed for greater intimacy between listener and the announcer although it was of course true that they all sounded the same (p. 53).

The chronological structure of the book affords Chignell an opportunity to characterize the big changes in radio formats, BBC departmental organization, and historical events that compel changes in coverage. But it also tends toward oversimplification, especially in the later chapters, which are organized around a single decade and single theme: decline in the post-war era, reinvention in the 60s, uncertainty in the 90s, and so forth. While these themes are often borne out in the excellent close readings of specific programs and presenters, they also have a tendency to narrow the complexity of influences – personal, institutional, and cultural – bearing on the changes being wrought in radio news and current affairs. In fact, the chapters themselves often speak to this complexity, even at the cost of staying true to the theme and time period of the chapter title.

This ‘schematic account’, as Chignell calls it, does usefully provide signal moments or historical ‘examinations’ for the utility of various formats and approaches to the news and current affairs.

The radio talk had its greatest examination, and its moment of glory, in the wartime radio talks of J. B. Priestly. Much later in the century, Radio Four’s Analysis was tested by the rise of neoliberalism, and for At Home and Abroad there was the greatest debacle of British foreign policy of the twentieth Century, Suez (p. 72).

The crisis over the Suez Canal helped to bring about the end of the ‘notorious Fourteen Day Rule, which prohibited the coverage of issues due to be debated in parliament in the following fortnight’ (p. 60). It took real historical crises, and the imperative to cover them, to jettison the decades-old traditions and hesitancy that hampered the BBC’s development into a first-rate news broadcasting organization. The return of the old division between News and Talks post-war, and the exceeding caution and aversion to controversy of the Tahu Hole era, is characterized as a period of ‘decline’, which gives way, by the 1960s, to an era of ‘reinvention’.

The 1970s, dubbed here ‘The critical decade’, bring us another key figure, and another of the powerful women who shaped the BBC during key moments of transformation in the network and in Britain at large. Mary Goldring, the Thatcheresque – and perhaps Thatcherite – presenter, then lead presenter, of the current affairs program Analysis, epitomizes the seriousness of this era in current affairs programming. Goldring, who Chignell calls ‘arguably the finest public affairs presenter of her generation,’ helped to bring ‘rigour’ to the BBC airwaves in the late 1970s and early 1980s, along with a didactic tone and a hostility toward unions, that seemed to evoke the Iron Lady herself. As with her predecessor at Analysis, Ian McIntyre, Goldring was granted latitude for her editorializing in part because of the high regard in which her intellect was held, a ironic echo of the latitude granted to Matheson’s left-leaning commentators of an earlier era, itself an echo of the Victorian hierarchy, which granted the privilege of ‘subjectivity’ to the elite correspondent but not to the workaday journalist.

The last decades of the 20th century gave rise to a whole welter of precedent-shattering experimentation and fragmentation, as commercial stations, and Independent Local Radio, in particular, would introduce new sounds to the news and current affairs airwaves in Britain, even as it put pressure on the BBC to innovate and reorganize in order to remain relevant. While these more recent changes will be more familiar to Britons than the earlier history, Chignell still manages to provide some provocative challenges to received wisdom: ‘Almost every significant change in the practice of radio news gathering in the final quarter of the last century was pioneered at LBC’. Such changes include ‘radio phone-ins, vox pops, rolling news, the radio telephone reportage, airborne traffic reports and parliamentary broadcasting’. Here, the influence on British broadcasting from overseas, the US in particular, might have been given more than the few mentions it receives.

Public Issue Radio: Talks, News and Current Affairs in the Twentieth Century tells an important story about the development of the world’s most famous cultural institution. And it tells it in a highly readable way, linking the institution’s transformations to the turbulence of the century in which it developed and which it was obliged to understand and explain to Britons and, to some extent, the rest of the world. It is a worthy addition to the growing shelf of recent work on the cultural import of the BBC, including David Hendy’s Life on Air: A History of Radio Four, and Michele Hilmes’ Network Nations: A Transnational History of British and American Broadcasting.


David Hendy, Life on Air: A History of Radio Four (Oxford, 2007); Michele Hilmes, Network Nations: A Transnational History of British and American Broadcasting (London, 2011).

Reviewer: Professor Jason Loviglio, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Citation:Professor Jason Loviglio, review of Public Issue Radio: Talks, News and Current Affairs in the Twentieth Century, (review no. 1219)