BBC Radio Wales was launched 40 years ago this month and to mark the occasion Wales’ solitary English-language national radio station has been blowing its own trumpet even more than usual, which is saying something. Embarrassingly, the anniversary has coincided with the release of the latest Radio Joint Audience Research (RAJAR) stats showing that the Radio Wales audience figures have fallen to an all-time record low. On average a mere 2,750 people out of the 3,000,000 population of Wales are listening per hour, giving the station an infinitesimal 4.4% share of the Welsh market. These pitiful figures make a mockery of its ‘National Broadcaster of Wales’ posturing, in the same way the miniscule circulation of the Western Mail refutes its laughable claim to be the ‘National Newspaper of Wales’. The fact is that hardly anybody in Wales listens to Radio Wales and it doesn’t take a degree in media studies to work out why. The reason is simple: on the whole it’s bloody awful.
I’m Welsh, I’m interested in all things pertaining to Wales, I love radio, I’ve always got the radio on – and yet I hardly ever tune in to Radio Wales. Here, in a nutshell, is the station’s problem. Because if it cannot lure someone like me, so thoroughly Wales-fixated I’d gladly listen to two Trealaw widow women wittering on about the weather, then it has no hope. To dissect the problem I’ve been listening to it so that you don’t have to.
5am: MAL POPE
Radio Wales’ twenty hours a day on air begins as it means to go on with rigid adherence to the BBC template set in the 1940s by the Home Service, Light Programme and Third Programme and subsequently slightly updated in the 1960s with the establishment of Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4. According to this formula the day is chopped up into highly speculative segments and then the audience aimed at is carved out of sweepingly generalised demographics. So, in the case of Mal Pope, this is something called the ‘early breakfast’ slot for a pretend listenership of farmhands, travelling salesmen, lorry drivers, nightwatchmen, shift workers and milkmaids. However the mundane reality is that the only people listening at this time in the morning are pensioners woken by their bladders, depressives who sleep during the day, and radio producers working on the Mal Pope Show.
This ghettoization tendency is written in tablets of stone on the BBC’s ‘British’ radio stations, but at least there are 10 of them to cover a cross-section of the UK population: Radio 1 (docile teenage girls with an Instagram account who know nothing about music); Radio 1Xtra (middle-class teenage boys on the autism spectrum who know nothing about music); Radio 2 (frothing at the mouth Daily Mail readers); Radio 3 (witty, enigmatic writers with odd names such as ‘Dic’); Radio 4 (frothing at the mouth Daily Telegraph readers); Radio 4 Extra (elderly archivists, retired Air Vice-Marshals and defrocked archdeacons); Radio 5 Live (insomniacs, facile lifestyle liberals and thick blokes); Radio 5 Live Sports Extra (very thick blokes); Radio 6 Music (furious, unfathomable writers with jarring names like ‘Mortimer’); Asian Network (people with varying degrees of melanin skin pigmentation).
But Welsh broadcasting doesn’t have 10 channels, so Radio Wales is required to be all things to all Welsh people. This would be a tough task even for top-notch Welsh patriots in possession of serious brains, vision and courage, but a wholly impossible one for the bargain-bin Brits who always wheedle their way into positions of power in Wales. Right from the outset Radio Wales made no attempt to create and build a unique Welsh radio culture. Instead Wales was given a pale version of what the BBC already dished up. All differences had to be glossed over, all dissent smoothed away and all things contradictory, counter-intuitive and controversial marginalised, to leave a tame, anodyne, vacuous gloop. Unable and unwilling to be the passionate, pro-Welsh freedom, flag-waving voice that would have been the only feasible option, Radio Wales became ‘Radio 2 and a half’, a pointless reiteration of Britishness with a daffodil attached. Given a blank sheet of paper to define Wales and Welshness, the station took the lazy, stupid, treacherous option and delivered a patsy Wales as defined by Britain: servile, apologetic, backward and insipid.
Mal Pope is actually fairly appealing compared to the DJs/presenters coming up later in the day, but there’s little he can do with the knackered ‘music and chat’ format when it’s pitched at an ‘across the board’ audience that exists only in the Radio Wales imagination. The playlist tells all: in the hour or so that I endured the other morning Mal played The Corrs, The Four Tops, The Temptations, The Beatles (Long and Winding Road), Simon & Garfunkel (Scarborough Fair), George Benson (ooh! funky! steady on!), Bill Withers, Duane Allman (announced as the Top Gear theme tune), Terry Scott (yeah, honestly), The Hollies, The Three Degrees, Diana Ross, Booker T & The MGs (announced as the BBC’s Test Match cricket theme tune), Norman Greenbaum and Haircut 100 – at which point I switched off and went back to bed. That list confirms the target demographic (sixty-somethings with nothing better to do) and also illustrates the thoroughly wretched defeatism running through the entire Radio Wales schedule which takes it as read that people only want to inhabit an innately reactionary echo-chamber and hear nostalgic reminders of their own youth, nothing before and nothing after.
6.30: GOOD MORNING WALES
Mal Pope’s cosy burblings sound cutting edge when compared to the appalling dross that comes next: the flagship news and current affairs programme helmed, with stultifying compliance to gender stereotypes, by Rachael Garside and Oliver Hides. For 2½ interminable hours the station’s true voice is heard in all its ghastly crippling conservatism, dumbed-down conformity and oleaginous grovelling to the unthinking tenets of the prevalent mainstream. There is no journalism, no reportage, no investigation, no curiosity, no scoops, and no actual news that isn’t delivered straight to the Radio Wales inbox by press releases, advertorials, lobbyists, internet surveys, BBC London, tabloid newspapers, Facebook algorithms and amateurish stringers out in the sticks on the lookout for ‘man bites dog’ trivia.
Listening for even a few minutes to the avalanche of inane, all’s-well-with-the-world gush is more or less impossible, and I promptly switched off in disgust when I heard Oliver Hides, without a shred of irony, declare that ‘Black Friday’ is “brilliant” because there’s “loads of bargains”. Here we have a supposedly impartial public service broadcaster acting as a pimp for big business and cheerleader for a vulgar, ugly, corrupt Americanisation built around Thanksgiving Day that didn’t exist in the UK until US-owned Amazon and Asda introduced the scam way back in 2013. Hides, despite being paid to be a news man, was seemingly completely unaware of the recent authoritative Which? report that conclusively showed how the screaming ‘discounts’ touted on Black Friday are no such thing, since similar or larger reductions are available throughout the rest of the year. Yes, unsurprisingly to anyone with a functioning brain, it’s all a pack of lies designed to get people to spend and borrow and buy shit they don’t need. The fearless newshound’s enthusiasm for shopping means he’s presumably also completely unaware of the crisis of poverty and indebtedness in Wales, the misery caused by cruel Tory austerity policies and the escalating environmental collapse caused by the mindless consumption he urges, which is now threatening the very existence of life on Earth. This isn’t a news programme, it’s just rightwing propaganda.
Hides and Garside continue in this no-brow vein, unequivocally aimed at yer average Sun reader, and when I tuned in again on another morning they were devoting whole chunks of time to imbecilic prattle analysing bottom-of-the-barrel British telly trash I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here and Strictly Come Dancing, talking in urgent demotic tones as if the contrived ‘celebrity’ obsessed junk was real and mattered. The rest of the time was squandered on featherweight skims across “top stories” – the phrase used to denote serious news – and mind-numbingly dull, faux-matey, over-familiar interchanges with other personality-free BBC drones who turn up on rote to repeat themselves every 10 minutes: the weather girl, the traffic guy and the sport correspondent – always a rugby bore and slavering devotee of English football, on what is supposed to be the flagship national news programme of Wales. It does a deep disservice to Wales by showing total contempt for the listener, making the incredibly insulting assumption that the typical Welsh person is just poor white trash only capable of comprehending gutter-press frippery. The miniscule and rapidly disappearing listenership shows otherwise. If only the BBC in Wales were an accountable, dynamic, progressive organisation those responsible for this abomination of a programme (Radio Wales editor Colin Paterson and head of news across all of BBC Wales Garmon Rhys) would be summarily relieved of their duties and Hides and Garside taken off the air and given a job more fitting for their talents – like counting paper clips in the BBC’s plug-ugly and entirely unnecessary property speculation in the centre of Cardiff. That really would be “Making Your Day Brighter”.
9: JASON MOHAMMAD
Can it get worse? You bet! Enter Jason Mohammad, who has risen without a trace within the BBC in the last decade. Apart from presenting this shockingly wretched ‘phone-in’, he’s the all-purpose garrulous host on a range of BBC England programmes, both radio and TV. In fact he’s so busy being the useful Welsh idiot presenting the BBC’s exhaustive coverage of English football that he fucks off to London for the weekend leaving Dot Davies to do the less important Radio Wales chores on Thursday and Friday. You name it, he’ll do it, from football, rugby, snooker, Olympics, awards ceremonies, current affairs debates, children in need and royal occasions through to after-dinner speaking and corporate events when he wants to top up his basic BBC salary of £270,000 per annum. His ubiquity can’t be because of his personality (oily and wheedling), talent (none discernible except the ability to never shut up), knowledge (every utterance a worn-out cliché) or looks (a rictus smirk in smart casual menswear); so it must be because, handily for Auntie Beeb’s box-ticking quotas, he covers two ignored, persecuted minorities in one fell swoop: Muslim and Welsh…
The subject matter of each day’s phone-in is invariably determined by whatever the Tory press happens to be banging on about that day, with Mohammad the unalert, inadequate ringmaster. Because the topics are always framed by the narrow parameters of lowest-common-denominator rightwing bigotry, no sane person listens to the programme, let alone phones in to try to inject a little intelligence into the tide of vile ignorance. This means the callers tend to be far-right nutters with mental health issues, rather like those who write letters to the South Wales Echo or add their opinions beneath Wales Online articles. Last week, for instance, discussing the homophobic attack on Gareth Thomas in Cardiff city centre and his subsequent principled attempt to settle it through the ‘restorative justice’ process, Mohammad allowed out-and-out homophobes to get away unchallenged with saying things like “he admits he’s gay” and implying Alfie was at fault for not turning the other cheek when abused in the street. A couple of weeks ago I stumbled upon him conducting a phone-in about “petrol prices”, a perennial Tory bugbear but otherwise a non-issue never mentioned by anybody outside the road haulage industry. Without so much as a token nod in the direction of climate change, air pollution, habitat destruction and sustainability “Jason”, as he egotistically calls himself as if he’s so famous his first name is enough, gave uninterrogated airtime to a sequence of dreadful fossil-fuel addicts, bully-boy ‘motorists’ and deranged petrol heads (with toe-curling self-regard he refers to them as “my listeners”).
To give one more example of the way he’s been promoted far beyond his league (hospital radio), this week I suffered a discussion about children “swearing”, in which Mohammad adopted the predictable default position that it was “bad” and proceeded to orchestrate a brain-dead dialogue that would have been considered uptight, fusty and censorious in the 1950s. Some of his formulaic tropes included: “As a parent myself…”, “the f word”, “kids can lip read”, “who’s to blame?”, “keep it clean” and other priggish petit-bourgeoisie strivings for respectability that would cause the most diehard Mrs Grundy to cavil. Of course it’s all flagrant hypocrisy, as a few moments eavesdropping on the ripe language in the BBC canteen would confirm.
While this woeful standard of discussion staggers on it is interspersed with Mohammad repeating ad infinitum the phone number to text or call, to make it seem like there are queues of people pleading to join in, and a scattering of records from the extraordinarily narrow Radio Wales playlist. As happens throughout the day, music is used as a kind of all-purpose wallpaper and self-aggrandising mood statement (we’re fun! we’re sensitive! we’re loving! we’ve got rhythm! we need to use the toilet!), never because of its own intrinsic value. The result is track after track after track of the basest commercial chart pop from the 1970s-1990s – the era that the station bosses insolently presume is all its antediluvian listeners are prepared to tolerate. In one typical hour the other day I wore ear muffs to the verse-chorus-verse-chorus anthems of Boyzone, Nelly Furtado, Jimmy Cliff, Queen, Madness, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Bublé, Dream Academy and Gabrielle. A 400mg ibuprofen and a little lie down in a darkened room sorted me out.
11: WYNNE EVANS
Time for elevenses, time for the benefit sanctioned, the benefit capped, the reassessed deemed fit for work and those waiting in vain for their Universal Credit to haul themselves out of bed (if it’s warm enough to cope without heating) and turn on the telly for the Jeremy Kyle Show on catch-up. In Wales there is another option: a couple of thousand will tune in to Wynne Evans on the radio instead, to cheer them up with “big names, big laughs, big tunes and big company”. Who? Him off the Go Compare commercials; you know, the big one who breaks into Italian opera to annoy people. He’s had his own Radio Wales show since 2012, a gig he snaffled thanks to being known from his ads for the insurance price comparison website. Ooh, he’s been on the telly, the plebs will have heard of him: on such flimsy foundations Radio Wales has built its entire identity.
For someone whose sole aim seems to be to shoehorn himself into the ‘much-loved’ category, Evans is actually rather unpleasant: an employee of the ‘impartial’ BBC who thinks it’s ok to host a fundraising event for the billionaire crooks of Boris Johnson’s far-right (and anti-Welsh) Tory party. On radio the ‘larger-than-life’ personality comes across as shouty belligerence, the ‘man of the people’ common touch as coarse slumming-it with too many dropped aitches, and the ‘fun’ banter as low-grade railroading shot through with his many annoying tics – every other word is “right”, women are “ladies”, “iconic” is his go-to adjective, etc. At every opportunity, he plays the stereotypical jovial fatso to the hilt, constantly referring to his portly corpulence and adopting a forced jollity bordering on orgasmic ecstasy that after a while begins to sound like deranged delirium. It is, of course, a truism of psychology that the face people present to the world is merely a front to conceal the opposing truth lurking below the surface – in which case, Wynne Evans should be on suicide watch because nobody is that happy. The patently fake chirpiness, torrent of infantile drivel and rose-tinted view of the world make it sound like feeble local radio from some godforsaken shire county rather than a station that pretends to be speaking for a nation. After a while listening to Evans’ guffawing glee and wearisome fat man schtick, one realises that Radio Wales has completely given up on rising to the challenge of being the broadcaster this ancient, complex, multi-layered, sophisticated nation deserves. Instead it has become an audio care-home for the lonely, the inadequate, the mentally ill and the intellectually challenged, an outreach branch of social services addressing its sad clients in the patronising baby-talk normally utilised when speaking to small children, senile geriatrics and furry animals. When heard like that, it all begins to make sense.
1pm: ELERI SIÔN
If all Welsh people were like Eleri Siôn then I would promptly convert into a Union Jack-waving British nationalist. Compared to her Jason Mohammad sounds like JB Priestley and Wynne Evans like Groucho Marx. She is excruciating: a cackling, caterwauling vortex of unbearable noise signifying absolutely nothing. Permanently teetering on the edge of hysteria, for three hours that seem like an eternity she serves up a nauseous melange of happy-clappy claptrap, with the moronic positivity of a motivational speaker at a management convention, the snake-oil gibberish of the self-help industry, tooth-dissolving candyfloss platitudes, awe-struck gawping at z-list ‘celebrity’ and soul-destroying musical sludge (Bryan Adams…Billy Joel…Phil Collins…be still, my beating heart!), and topped with her battery of irritating phraseology such as calling 2018 “two thousand and eighteen” instead of “twenty eighteen”. You think that’s harsh? Actually, I’m being kind. From time to time the wafer-thin veneer of ‘niceness’ slips and real Eleri inadvertently emerges: a throwback cheerleader for the status quo and glib, stultifyingly conventional Aunt Jemima incapable of original thought. On BBC Wales there is a sure-fire way to identify Brit stooges: the more over-stressed their Welsh accent, the more pronounced their Britishness (ref: Huw Edwards, Cerys Matthews, etc). In Siôn’s case, her lilt seems to me a parody of the Stage Welshwoman that you would never hear in real life – and I lived for years in Ceredigion, where she originates. She sounds like she’s sitting in the studio in a shawl and stove-pipe hat!
But…wait a moment…the other day I was meeting someone at the Nye Bevan statue in town fairly early in the morning. I was a bit early so I sat quietly on a bench and people-watched for 10 minutes. Quite soon I realised that I was looking at a parade of deeply disturbed individuals. Each face revealed all: the crazed, the bipolar, the depressed, the lost, the befuddled, the desperate, the damaged, the psychopathic, the broken. 25% of Wales has a diagnosed mental illness at any one time; 55% of Welsh women and 45% of men have had a self-declared mental illness; each year 500 kill themselves and 200,000 contemplate it, there are 6,000 emergency admissions to hospital for self-harm injuries and 15,000 are admitted to mental health facilities. This is the horrendous legacy of 500 years of British rule, exploitation, environmental destruction, impoverishment and dispossession. We are a sick people.
So perhaps Eleri Siôn and Radio Wales have got it spot on in treating their audience like tragic retards and danger-list patients in need of cosy, comforting balm and undemanding, feel-good anaesthetic. Perhaps she is just a version of the defiantly upbeat ward nurses who helped me through my own health crisis earlier this year. Perhaps her placebo ointment and sticking-plaster is just what the doctor ordered.
4: GOOD EVENING WALES
It’s ‘Drivetime’, according to the BBC’s stale, clunky way of chopping up the day (‘Sit-in-a-queue-on-a-dirty-bus-time’ if you live in Cardiff), so the sexist rulebook decrees that Eleri’s bubble-brain girliness makes way for manly news. Good Evening Wales is superior to Good Morning Wales simply because there’s no Hides and Garside being painfully folksy and, for reasons that even the Beeb have probably forgotten, it is assumed that the teatime listener is less gormless and more grown-up than those who’ve just got out of bed. The roster of presenters is of a higher calibre: Mai Davies, ex-ITV, being vivid; Peter Johnson approximating gravitas; Gareth Lewis side-stepping annoyingness; Felicity Evans showboating articulacy; and Nelli Bird for her name alone. Which isn’t to say the programme is any good, since it has all the faults of the entire BBC Wales news operation: timid adherence to London’s rightwing news agenda; secondhand regurgitation of ‘British’ news and reliance on ‘British’ interviewees and correspondents; and pussyfooting reluctance to tackle anything Welsh in depth.
When I tuned in this week there happened to be a lot of interesting Welsh news: the suspension of the vice-chancellor and dean of Swansea University and the long-awaited Carl Sargeant (1968-2017) inquest, for example. But in both cases the programme didn’t do its job. On the Swansea Uni matter listeners were left none the wiser as we were told BBC Wales didn’t know and couldn’t find out why the v-c had been suspended. Has BBC Wales not got contacts in Swansea Uni? Is it not able to root around, press insiders and dig up hidden material? Isn’t finding out difficult to unearth information of public interest precisely the job of a public service news organisation? As for the inquest, Felicity Evans had been dispatched to Denbighshire County Hall in Ruthin to cover it, but her strained and constrained report had obviously been heavily censored and bowdlerised by producers and editors in Cardiff since it contained none of the startling information that emerged about relationships in Welsh government, none of the details about the inappropriate behaviour allegations, none of the, er, robust language that passed between government ministers and none of the revelations about long-term mental health issues among the Welsh Labour leadership. All that stuff had to be discovered later on the internet. The lunatics, it seems, have literally taken over the asylum – but Radio Wales won’t tell us about it because it might cause a maiden aunt in Maesycwmmer to reach for the smelling salts or discombobulate a Coedpoeth curate. What a condescending, pathetic, disrespectful dereliction of duty!
6.30: THE LEAK (Mon) MISCELLANEOUS (Tues) EYE ON WALES (Weds) MISCELLANEOUS (Thurs) ARTS SHOW (Fri)
Here it is: the only slot in the entire week not pre-programmed. For a whole half hour (wow!), the station is permitted a degree of flexibility, topicality and unpredictability. Mind you, these possibilities are usually wasted, with only the rare worthwhile offering giving a hint of what Radio Wales could be were it run and staffed by creative, imaginative Welsh people rather than mendacious gravy-train riders and meretricious timeserving Brits. And whenever there’s an English League midweek football match involving one of the English clubs with a Welsh postcode the whole evening schedule is abandoned to make way for it. Incidentally, by contrast, Welsh pyramid football is not merely never covered, it’s never mentioned in any of the countless sports bulletins throughout the day (reminder: this is Radio Wales).
So this precious half-hour set aside for something other than mindless pop, celebrity tittle-tattle and phone-ins always feels contingent, conditional and tokenistic. On top of that, it’s just not very compelling listening. The Leak features Tom Price and three guests trying too hard to be amusing and satirical about the week’s news. In front of a live audience in BBC Wales’ Llandaf studio (ie: commandeered staff made to stay late at the office), they fall about laughing at each other’s innocuous and timid repartee while signally failing to land even the gentlest punch. If, as the distinguished American humourist and musician Tom Lehrer once said, “satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel peace prize,” then satire became officially extinct when Donald Trump seized the US presidency. In a world beset by the most frightening and severe existential crises in recorded history, satire isn’t just a feeble response, it’s recklessly inappropriate. What’s needed now isn’t one-liners, but resistance. As ever Radio Wales is half a century behind the times.
Most weeks a couple of these slots are used for miscellaneous features and documentaries. But again, if the week I suffered is anything to go by, the quality is just not good enough. First we got BBC favourite Iolo Williams looking at the problem of decommissioning Trawsfynydd nuclear power station with spittle-flecked enthusiasm for the technological fix, zero appreciation of the appalling pollution issues, no criticism of London’s diabolical control of Welsh energy policy and not even a proper examination of the future of the actual building, a 1968 modernist masterpiece by Basil Spence (1907-1976). At least, being radio, we were spared the customary sight of his
fat muscular legs. Then there was Wales for Women, in which comedy writer Sian Harries padded out 30 minutes I’ll never get back examining the non-issue of whether women in Wales have had it better than women in England. Yes, she tentatively concluded with trademark BBC dithering, unable to quite bring herself to say that governance by London is always going to make things worse for all people except the very rich. Surely BBC Wales ought by now to have ceased the toe-curling habit of measuring everything from hip-replacement waiting-lists to school exam results against the situation in England – it’s not comparing like with like so is just a completely uninformative acting out of the old Welsh inferiority complex.
When permitted by English football fixtures, Eye on Wales is Radio Wales’ flagship news analysis programme. This week the wooden and stilted Stephen Fairclough dealt with recent floods in Carmarthenshire in an instantly forgettable blend of throwaway statements of the obvious, vox pop interviews with dull jobsworths and posh English incomers and innumerable clips from old Radio Wales weather forecasts, all cut together to give the impression of drama and urgency while ultimately achieving nothing more than pissing into the wind of man-made climate change while letting the capitalist bastards responsible completely off the hook.
The Radio Wales Arts Show appears most Fridays attempting the impossible: to cover the complete spectrum of the week’s cultural news, events and criticism across Wales in 30 minutes flat. If anyone can give it a bash, then the redoubtable Nicola Heywood Thomas is that woman. The Doyenne of Welsh broadcasting has been around so long she goes back to HTV days, when her minions laughingly dubbed her ‘Ms HTV Positive’ (behind her back). Given the time constraints she can just about squeeze in three eight-minute items if she and her guests speak super-quickly and restrict themselves to a superficial breeze through whatever the subject matter is (usually archly trad ‘high art’). I’m a culture vulture and let me tell you: this is completely inessential listening.
7: JANICE LONG
Confirming Radio Wales’ humiliating status as an elephant’s graveyard for has-beens, one of the first things station boss Colin Paterson from Scotland did when appointed in 2017 was to hire Janice Long to fill the three long hours going begging in the evening schedule. Liverpudlian Long is 63 and has the classic career trajectory of a true BBC insider: pushy young music fan on Radio Liverpool in the 1970s; sassy pop chick on Radio 1 and Top of the Pops in the 1980s; overreaching independent radio entrepreneur in the 1990s; complacently mainstream Radio 2 institution in the 2000s; put out to grass in the 2010s; reincarnated on Radio Wales in 2017 for no better reason than she’s a ‘name’ that prospective listeners might have heard of. Her connection to Wales amounts to a few summer holidays, her knowledge of the healthy, multifaceted Welsh music scene is minimal, and her appreciation of and sympathy for the particular, specific, unique past, present and future of Wales in general is non-existent. The other evening, for instance, she spent an inordinate amount of time plugging the Barclaycard-sponsored ‘British Summer Time’ gigs in Hyde Park in 2019. I have news for the throaty-voiced siren: this is Wales love, Hyde Park’s in London, our capital is Cardiff. Mind you, she keeps referring to “the nation” and by that she always means Britain. So which is it, Radio Wales? Are you the ‘national’ station of Wales that you incessantly assert, or just another British local radio operation? I know the answer, and the employing of Janice Long confirms it. Here was a golden opportunity for the station to really be Welsh and begin to reveal and relish the vast treasures of Welsh music, and it was tossed away to give airtime to a superannuated Echo & the Bunnymen fangirl. What an insult!
10: CHRIS NEEDS
The last three hours of the weekday schedule are taken up, as they have been for the past 16 years, by Chris Needs’ mix of motheaten golden oldies and chewing the cud with callers, all of whom he seems to know personally. He reminds me of how all Welsh gay men on ‘the scene’ and out of the closet used to be 40 years ago: camp, undemanding, neurotic and talkative. It was one of the main reasons I fled to London at age 18. Nowadays, when the average Welsh gay man is a rightwing tattooed prop forward with a husband and a turkey-basted child in an Ikea-kitted Bay townhouse, I have turned full circle and wish more were like cosy, unpretentious, natural, tender-hearted Chris. This doesn’t mean I can withstand three hours of his show, in which the Radio Wales inclination to be a therapeutic agony aunt and open-door mental health facility moves from being an undercurrent into an overt Samaritans emergency helpline. But hey, this is now like shooting fish in a barrel; time for bed.
5am: VICKI BLIGHT
Blight is an Englishwoman who started on student radio at Cardiff Uni, worked at just about every commercial radio station all around England and the really dreadful Red Dragon in Cardiff and then landed the crack-of-dawn weekend slot on Radio Wales. With that CV it’s little wonder her show is so very bland.
7.30: GOOD MORNING WALES
Like weekdays except even more frivolous and even more English sport. On the plus side though, there’s only 1½ hours of it on a Saturday.
9: MONEY FOR NOTHING
Nobody is ever sacked or retired on Radio Wales, they only disappear from the schedule when they move on to something better, get sectioned, enter residential care or drop dead. 71-year-old ‘comedian’ Owen Money has been at it for over 30 years and counting and could do the job in his sleep. After two hours of his heads-of-the-valleys hilarity plus cobwebbed rock’n’roll on a Saturday morning, I was Googling ‘painless suicide methods’. Laugh? I thought I’d never start…
11.30: RHOD GILBERT
I struggle to understand the appeal of this ‘comedian’ too. BBC Wales has flogged his poker-faced ineptitude thing to death and a lengthy period of silence to recalibrate his direction in life is surely overdue.
1.30pm: THE LEAK (repeat)
From now on it’s that BBC Wales obsession, a proxy to fill the vast empty space nationhood should occupy: ball games. Specifically, Welsh rugby and English football. No Welsh football is permitted, because to even acknowledge its existence would be to call into question the Welsh credentials of the traitorous clubs that betray and damage Wales and ply their trade in England. So, in breach of the BBC’s legal obligation to be impartial and non-discriminatory, BBC Wales refuses to cover the hundreds of intriguing clubs and many leagues in the Welsh pyramid and, to attempt to conceal this disgraceful, deliberate policy, overcompensates like mad with hyped-up Cardiff City, Newport County, Swansea City and Wrexham micro-coverage, duplicating what is already covered superbly and in depth by a multitude of English/British radio and TV stations. Meanwhile BBC in England fully covers the English leagues, BBC Scotland the Scottish leagues and BBC Northern Ireland the NI leagues. And BBC Wales, Wales’ one and only national station? The English leagues, of course! To make this seem normal, Radio Wales is obliged to extend this perverse Anglophilia and self-loathing into every sports bulletin so, for instance, this week there were Champions League matches across Europe and the Radio Wales coverage consisted solely of how England’s four clubs, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, were doing, completely ignoring the matches involving the other 28 clubs from around Europe still in the competition – the better to imply that Wales is just an annexe of England where our natural loyalties automatically lie. I’ve got news for them: I’m into Ajax Amsterdam and Napoli.
A giant portion of Radio Wales’ chicken-feed budget allocated by London goes into paying the salaries of platoons of anti-Welsh commentators and pundits on this Saturday afternoon orgy of odious bootlicking. I won’t list their names because they all say the same dull clichés over and over again and reek of the same stinking stupidity and duplicity. What a turn-off!
5.30: CALL ROB PHILLIPS
You think it’s all over? Wrong. Now follows 1½ hours of unenlightening, witless post-match wittering presented by BBC Wales’ grating, ploddingly pedestrian English football correspondent.
7: BETHAN ELFYN
I’ve got time for Bethan Elfyn. She champions Welsh music, supports new Welsh bands, knows her stuff and doesn’t feel the need to brandish her Welsh identity like an exhibit at a freak show or a flag of convenience – she just is.
10: ADAM WALTON
I’ve got time for Adam Walton. He champions Welsh music, supports new Welsh bands, knows his stuff and doesn’t feel the need to brandish his Welsh identity like an exhibit at a freak show or a flag of convenience – he just is. Note to Colin Paterson: see, it’s not that difficult to provide Wales with the quality national radio station we deserve.
5am: VICKI BLIGHT
You know a music programme will be rubbish when the records are referred to as “tunes”.
6.30: MISCELLANEOUS (repeat from midweek)
7: COUNTRY FOCUS
Rachael Garside presents a programme pitched at farmers who have popped back to the ranch from a gang bang in the lambing shed in order to count their EU subsidies and rue their support for Brexit. In the edition I squirmed through, Garside conducted a hopeless interview with a despicable ‘Country Sports’ advocate from Pembrokeshire, Wales’ most rightwing county. The posh Englishwoman was given uncritical airtime to portray herself as an oppressed victim and moan at length about being ‘intimidated’ by those who object to the murder of sentient mammals for sick pleasure. How considerate of Radio Wales to provide a programme for the Wales of Tory gentry, landlordism and stirrup-cup brutality.
How considerate of Radio Wales to provide a programme for the ever-shrinking minority in Wales who believe in a supreme being, life after death, heaven and hell and the existence of, ahh, souls.
8: SUNDAY SUPPLEMENT
Political analysis, news and debate refereed with lucid fluidity by Vaughan Roderick, that rarity on Radio Wales: an intelligent, learned man with pro-Wales sympathies. Believe it or not, the producer of the programme emailed me a few years ago asking if I’d consider being one of the people they have on each week to review the Sunday papers. I declined, telling her that someone with my volatile temperament was unsuited to live radio. I’m unlikely to ever be asked again, particularly after this blog, and now I wish I’d said yes. It’s not as if I’m a live broadcast virgin: in the 1980s I was interviewed live on both TV (Thames) and radio (LBC) to explain why my trade union branch was on strike, causing the shut down of all west London’s social security offices. I acquitted myself ok, not swearing and managing to insert an homage to Llanelli girl Mandy Rice-Davies (1944-2014), like myself also trying to topple a Tory government, by reprising her immortal line “Well they would say that, wouldn’t they?” I wonder if it’s on YouTube somewhere…
9: ALL THINGS CONSIDERED
Baptist minister Roy Jenkins has been presenting this sweetly ecumenical religious affairs programme since 1992. Fat good it’s done: he must get so dispirited now that Wales is the least theistic country in Europe.
9.30: SUNDAY MORNING WITH BEHNAZ AKHGAR
You know a broadcaster’s in trouble when it’s reduced to making a ‘personality’ out of the weather girl. Pure mush.
11: OWEN MONEY’S SOLID GOLD SUNDAY
He’s back, with classic hits from the 60s and 70s – my peak record-buying era really, so I quite like it. To show my appreciation I’ve got a joke which I give Owen permission to use. A bloke comes home from work on Monday and asks his wife “what’s for tea?” and she replies “sausage, egg and chips.” He comes home from work on Tuesday and asks his wife “what’s for tea?” and she replies “sausage and mash.” He comes home from work on Wednesday and asks his wife “what’s for tea?” and she replies “sausage in batter.” He comes home from work on Thursday and asks his wife “what’s for tea?” and she replies “sausage casserole”. He comes home from work on Friday and says “I hope we’re not having sausage again – I’ve eaten so many they’re coming out of my arse!”
1pm: ALED JONES
Nobody does archetypal Radio Wales bowing and scraping to minor English celebrities better than Aled Jones. Under no circumstances mention those ‘inappropriate behaviour’ allegations – he’s a changed choirboy.
2: LYNN BOWLES
She did traffic reports and twee banter with Terry Wogan (1938-2016) on Radio 2 and she’s from Wales: give her two hours of easy listening to front!
4: ROY NOBLE
The rather magical bard of Brynamman, a Radio Wales stalwart for 33 years, is currently off sick, so station workhorse Mal Pope is standing in. Let’s hope Noble recovers; he’s a radio natural and not for nothing is he dubbed ‘the voice of Wales’.
6: MISCELLANEOUS (repeat from midweek)
6.30: EYE ON WALES (repeat)
7: CELTIC HEARTBEAT
The only programme in Radio Wales’ entire output that I try to never miss. Folk, roots and acoustic music from the six Celtic countries, old and new, obscure and familiar, presented by the superbly knowledgeable and engaging Frank Hennessy, proud Welshman of Irish stock and possessor of the most authentic and ungentrified Cardiff accent in broadcasting. Diolch yn fawr Frank.
9: BEVERLEY’S WORLD OF MUSIC
When I’m in the melancholic mood, which these days I am more and more frequently, I pour myself a large scotch and wallow in Beverley Humphreys’ super-relaxing musical melodies and soothing, purring intonation.
11: LISA GWILYM
The week ends with a pleasant couple of hours of varied music from many periods and genres in the company of the only person with a regular show on both Radio Wales and Welsh-language station Radio Cymru.
Conclusion? If you’re going to target low populism you’d better make sure you’re popular, if you’re aiming for nothing more than inoffensiveness you’d better not be deeply offensive, and if you claim to be the national broadcaster of Wales you’d better not be a regional broadcaster of Britain – and yet these are the fundamental mistakes Radio Wales makes daily. Responsibility partly rests with editor Colin Paterson, but chiefly with BBC Wales director Rhodri Talfan Davies, he of the Talfan Davies dynasty that has had a vice-like grip over Welsh broadcasting for decades. Rhodri has presided over a massive 33% cut in English-language broadcasting in Wales in 10 years without a murmur of dissatisfaction or dissent, and has overseen a cut in the BBC Wales budget to £150million a year despite the fact that Wales raises £185million a year from the TV licence. Father Geraint was BBC Wales controller from 1990 to 2000, great grandfather Aneirin (1909-1980) was the BBC’s head of Welsh programming in pre BBC Wales days, great uncle Alun (1913-2000) was vice-chair of ITV Wales. Between them they’ve ensured that Welsh broadcasting is a chicken-feed operation thoroughly steeped in Britishness, a completely counterproductive policy that renders most of BBC Wales’ productions, on TV as well as radio, meaningless, superfluous and valueless. Therefore, unsurprisingly since we Welsh are not the simpletons Radio Wales treats us as, but people of taste and discernment who know a dud when we hear it, nobody is listening.
Where is the investigative journalism? Where are the probing documentaries? Where is the reporting of the terrible scandals and corruption that rack our much-abused nation? Where is the coverage of the tragic despoilment and rape of our environment? Where are the dramas, the literature, the poetry and the the new writing? Where is the history? Where is the serious music, from live performances, jazz, classical, contemporary and Welsh language through to hip-hop and urban? Where are the left-wing voices in a country that hasn’t returned a Tory majority since the dawn of universal suffrage? Where are the nationalist and republican voices that are never heard but represent 20% of our nation? Where are the young voices? Where are the critical voices? Where are the subversive voices? Where are your balls Talfan Davies? If you can’t locate them pronto, do us all a favour and resign.
If you think Radio Wales is bad you should try Radio Cornwall.
Do Radio Wales presenters ever play the game of saying “principality” as many times as possible during the weather forecast in the same way certain Radio Cornwall presenters say the word “county” as many times as they can. I bet somewhere in the studio there’s a high-scores table…
Dic, your perspicacious comments had me laughing out loud, but of course the tragedy is that you’re right. Putting on Janice Long on RW is the final straw.
I’m prepared to bet that the Springsteen track played was ‘Dancing in the Dark’ instead of the hundreds of rarely heard album tracks. All those hours of the day given over to the same musical mush, even 6 music is now cluttered with inane, infantile chat between presenter and weather girl/banal texter.
Will the Welsh population ever wake-up?
An excellent synopsis Dic
Whoever thought of putting a Scotsman in charge of Radio Wales needs their head examined. He started his stint by axing Wrexham FC coverage telling those who wanted it to listen online. However he managed to find the money to fund Liverpudlian Janice Long who’s sole connection with Wales is a few holidays many moons ago.
They should rename it Radio South Wales as anywhere north of Merthyr is ignored hence the dire listening figures.
The whole station is an amateur shambles despite a budget of £18 million.
Sadly I fear it is too late to rescue this once excellent station that produced a live three hour sequence from a different town in Wales each Friday for the first several years.
Alun Williams must be turning in his grave.
How right you are.
I stopped listening over 10 years ago. Living in Prestatyn we have a wide choice of local radio stations and Radio Wales is not connected with this part of the world.
The problem with Welsh telly and radio is that they think the world revolves around Cardiff,Swansea and the old coal mining towns.
They seem to have created this radio parody of Gavin and Stacey.
A prime example is Owen Money who would be a joke deejay in a Welsh comedy if not for the fact he is real
The truth is most of Wales cannot relate to a life where everyone lives in a terraced house in the Rhondda speaking like a Little Britain caricature.
Here on the North Wales coast we are more connected with Chester and Manchester than we will ever be with Cardiff.The final straw for me was when they pulled coverage of Wrexham football.
Congratulations on a very good article and I agree with your take on all the programmes I have some knowledge of. I have now largely given up on Radio Wales but still listen to the incomparable Frank Hennessy. It often feels as if much of the output is specifically aimed at incomers. For most of the time Radio Wales is a British regional rather than a Welsh national channel. Given the now almost complete English take-over of UK network broadcasting, the BBC as a whole appears to have an unacknowledged but increasingly political remit.
In 2012 Radio Wales gave massive enthusiastic coverage to the Diamond Jubilee, the Olympics and Paralympics, despite all three receiving more than sufficient attention by UK wide media, but ‘the nation’s broadcaster’ gave in comparison miniscule coverage of our own Urdd and National Eisteddfodau. In spring 2013 I wrote ‘Cultural Apartheid on the Airways’ for the IWA’s Agenda (https://www.iwa.wales/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/agenda-49-spring2013.pdf) and also wrote to Rhodri Talfan Davies:
I was very interested to read your speech at the Celtic Media Festival in Swansea. I agree entirely with your suggestion that BBC1 television in Wales should reflect more the bilingual reality – it does indeed seem somewhat unreal that the language is barely ever heard on the nation’s favourite TV channel.
You said also that Radio Wales and Radio Cymru shouldn’t give the impression that they inhabit parallel universes – that they should occupy the same ground even if they see the world through rather different lenses. But while anything more than the occasional word or phrase of spoken Welsh is not an option for Radio Wales, I think the channel could do much more to make its audience aware of the country’s linguistic and cultural entirety. It is indeed very easy for the listener to Radio Wales to avoid any encounter with Welsh language media.
I take the liberty of enclosing an article from the current issue of The Welsh Agenda. My opening words of appreciation about the wonderful support given by BBC Cymru Wales to Welsh learners were unfortunately edited out. Given that BBC Cymru Wales as a whole does so much good work in relation to the language I find the slant of Radio Wales surprising and contrary to what I understand to be the channel’s remit. Mispronunciation is still seemingly tolerated to an extent which would be unthinkable for English names in Portland Place, and year after year I am disappointed at the coverage given to the National Eisteddfod.
Despite spending several hours listening to Radio Wales during Eisteddfod week last August I heard no good attempt to convey, discuss or explain at any length, let alone with any Olympics-like enthusiasm, the immense variety of performances, competitions, ceremonies, activities, exhibitions, stands and stalls on offer, or to tell the many stories surrounding the festival that could have been told. The web-site provided no help for the monolingual English-speaking majority…….
I had no reply.
Sounds almost it’s like “English Local Radio” but in Wales.
There’s a very peculiar thing that happens on the BBC local radio stations where most evenings they stop broadcasting the local station and have a generic evening show, which features a presenter, who according to the BBC was born in Reading in the 1880s: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p015yy0l
The effect is having “local radio” about nowhere in particular, which is a rather strange idea.
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I’ve drifted away from Radio Wales over a period of years, but the straw that broke the camel’s back was their reporting of the guy who went on a rampage with a van in Ely a few years ago.
I heard the news breaking on 5 Live, who quickly had someone on the scene getting some vox pops etc. I switched over to Radio Wales a few times and was amazed to note that they took some time to even acknowledge it was happening.
How friggin’ difficult would it have been for a “reporter” to nip over from Llandaff to Ely?
I thought “If they can’t be arsed to report adequately on a national breaking news story on their doorstep, why should I be arsed to listen?”
Let’s face it: Radio Wales has NEVER been cool. Perhaps that’s impossible, given the wide remit, but they don’t even appear to be trying. Their traditional audience is dying off through natural causes, contempt and boredom in equal measure.
They could at least try and spruce up the music policy. Leave the MOR to the Global stations.
I remember childhood visits to both sets of Grandparents and Radio Wales was always playing.
Today we take our children to our parents all in their 60s.Its Absolute Radio and Smooth in one house and Planet Rock and Heart in the other.
How times have changed.
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Great article about Radio Wales, not that I ever listen to it. In fact in don’t listen to anything BBC. Excruciating!. I liked the Tom Lehrer quote about satire. Thanks for confirming the media nightmare we are subjected to, daily. Can you do an article about the London BBC. It would make me feel better to hear my worst suspicions confirmed. Gratefully yours!
A piece about BBC (and ITV) Wales television is in the works, meanwhile there is this blog about UK BBC1 I did a few years ago, see https://tinyurl.com/y77bb466k/.
Erthygl bedigedig; triste ond gwir. Fantastic article, sad but true.
Radio Wales is clearly Brit-Nat propaganda, but, at a time when more and more Welsh people are concerned about the very future of their country, the station is increasingly becoming an irrelevance.
We need Welsh control over Welsh broadcasting, otherwise we’ll be stuck with this pap forever, because believe me – dwindling audiences or not – if the budgets get cut they’ll get rid of Radio Cymru before they get rid of this mindless and insulting drivel.
What the other gogs have said about its regular ignoring of the North of Wales is true, but personally I don’t want Owen Money coming anywhere near my house. The Valleys and Cardiff may get nearly all the coverage, but they’re good people, and they deserve a lot better than this.
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