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charlie, computer cat

November 2017

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Listening habits

I realised yesterday that the Unbelievable Truth has been back on Radio 4 and I still haven't listened to any of it. That probably doesn't sound very interesting as a realisation, but it's because my listening habits have completely changed over the past five years. Five years ago, I listened almost exclusively to Radio 4 and things that I had bought or downloaded which were mostly older Radio 4 comedies. Most of my Radio 4 listening was live so I heard most of the 6:30 comedies while I was cooking whether they were any good or not. I can't imagine why I listened to so many episodes of Clare in the Community now that I look back on it. Three years ago, the sources hadn't changed, but I'd started time-shifting more, picking out shows I knew I liked when something I knew I didn't like was on. Even so, we almost always fell asleep to Yesterday in Parliament or the midnight news and woke up to the Today programme. My weekend alarm had a special time set for Sunday so that I could avoid the Archers.

The huge shift between then and now happened in two phases. The first was when I decided that I wanted to give gym membership a try as a way of getting some exercise. At the same time, I decided that I might find the American political scene interesting as a spectator sport: the US presidential primaries were underway and Alex, who had been following the US scene for a while because he found it less rage inducing (because it's in another country, not because the policies are less dreadful), seemed to know all the players who were getting mentioned. I gave up on finding a free podcast app which suited my tastes and picked up PocketCasts on my brother's recommendation. Their discovery section suggested the FiveThirtyEight elections podcasts and the Pollsters as things I might find interesting on the US election and I supplemented that with a few of my Radio 4 standbys which had podcasts, like More or Less and From Our Own Correspondent.

I quickly got very into my selection of shows, and over the next few months, I added more and gradually shifted over to listening to more and more podcasts and less and less live radio. We started listening to podcasts to go to sleep to, which was the beginning of the end for my radio listening, but the second phase really happened a couple of months ago when something John Humphries said (I can't remember what it was now, but there have been plenty of candidates) finally used my my last bit of patience with him and I decided that I was no longer going to listen to the Today programme on the way into work or to PM on my way home: I'd been losing patience with the inanity of the interviewing and the poor quality and predictable of the commentary for a while. I feel like the "news magazine" format has kind of lost it's way - Today has been going down hill since Evan Davis left to do Newsnight - but also that my expectations for punditry have been raised by what I've been listening to in podcasts. Still, I didn't want to lose touch with the UK news so I added the 6 o'clock news feed to my subscription list and now listen to that on my commute in and whatever I've got a good new episode of on the way home.

The only regular dose of live radio I now get is the 10-15 minutes that my alarm clock gives me in the mornings because I haven't found one that I can tell to play the latest podcast in a feed rather than giving it a specific file and a little blast of whatever's on when I'm on my way home from Brownies and don't want to wait even long enough to get my phone out before getting home to dinner. And that's mostly great, but I do miss the discovery element of Radio 4 - last week there was a fascinating programme on marketing that I only discovered because it fell into the "coming home from Brownies" window. I guess what I really want is a podcast feed that would give me just a random interesting thing each week that I could then follow up if I wanted to, but it would have to be pretty well curated. There isn't really a conclusion to this, but it's really surprised me to realise how far away from radio I've moved in quite a short time, given what a central role it used to play in my day to day experience, especially given that it wasn't prompted by any change in the technology - podcasting's been around for ages. What next, I wonder.

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