Yet again, it only took a few minutes of driving yesterday to be infuriated by the radio. 5Live was doing football. TalkSport was doing football. The regional channels were doing football. Radio 4 was doing…. drama.
It is early August. The second Ashes Test is coming to a tense conclusion. Britain’s athletes are competing (mostly unsuccessfully) in the World Athletics Chamionships. The Premiership (football) hasn’t started yet. Why must we have wall-to-wall football? The previous football season only ended in May. And we haven’t even had a break during our two months off - what with transfer gossip and reporting from the various warm-up matches and tournaments that our teams compete in during the “off-season”.
Media executives and producers will justify this tunnel-vision by arguing that football is our national and most popular sport.
Even if I accept the concept of a national sport, football is, at most, our winter national sport. Cricket is our summer national sport. August is summer, not winter.
I don’t have any particular love for cricket, but an Ashes Test series is one of the biggest sporting events in the calendar. This one is closer and tenser than any for years. Is it really the right balance (in August) to focus on Hull vs QPR, with round-robin reporting from the other Championship football matches, only allowing occasional interjections by Jonathan Agnew when a wicket falls at Edgbaston?
The cricket is often shunted onto Radio 4 (presumably on the basis that the “Sport” in “5Live - News and Sport” refers, with rare exceptions, only to football). This time, there was something else (a play!) that took priority even on Radio 4, so Test Match Special got to inhabit the digital airwaves on 5Live Sports Extra, where I believe there are also some other non-music channels, such as BBC 7 and, best of all, the World Service. I was so infuriated by the offerings on analogue radio that I went straight off to look for a replacement DAB radio for my perfectly adequate (in fact, pretty expensive and high-quality) car stereo. Thanks to the ever-growing pressures towards homogeneity and conformity, the specialist ICE (In-Car Entertainment) shop where I got the original stereo has closed. The only shop I could find on the High Street (and commercial estates) that offered a range of replacement car stereos was Halfords, and they certainly weren’t offering knowledgeable, impartial advice and a quality fitting service. So there are practical obstacles to increasing my range of options.
With a little perseverance, I will be able to find a suitable DAB car stereo. But I resent that I should have to replace a perfectly serviceable stereo earlier than necessary, because I do not share a common obsession with one particular sport. Are we saying that the minority should conform with the majority (which football lovers, by the way, are not), or pay for the privilege of not conforming? Isn’t it the mark of a functioning society that it respects and protects the interests of minorities?
I am not saying that the BBC should not report on the football. I can accept that football will receive more coverage than other sports. But this is not proportionate. What was served by two of the three national non-music channels covering the same events simultaneously? You could respond that the market dictates it will be thus. I can just about buy that as an excuse for (the commercial) TalkSport covering it, but that does not cut the mustard for the BBC. If they believe they should respond to the market - in other words give people what they want, rather than what they need - then they should lose their charter and licence fee, and we should all be given the choice whether to listen and pay for them.
If they expect people like me to pay taxes towards their running costs, they must provide balanced coverage, regardless of market demand. They haven’t done that for years, and almost certainly won’t in the future. I conclude that the BBC should not have its charter renewed, and that the licence fee arrangements should be revoked.