Journalism is an activity that we primarily associate with newspapers, magazines and television. Indeed, among the many who turn to sound broadcasting as a source of background music, few may be aware that radio journalism exists. Hearing an occasional ‘capsule' of news within the sequence of records, they perhaps assume that compiling it is about as challenging and glamorous as Cinderella's day job. In this book we are going to be making some rather large claims for the importance of radio journalism. But we should begin by pointing out that it requires skills which, even in the preparation of capsule news, are additional to the investigative and literary abilities that every journalist should possess. On radio, the drafting and delivery of news copy is not a simple matter. Like television's, but unlike those of the newspapers, its words are constantly dissolving or evanescent: but unlike television's, they are wholly invisible, as are the people who utter them. Consequently, its listeners seldom give radio their undivided attention. Its news copy needs to be written and presented with these factors constantly in mind - to adopt an easy and intelligible speech idiom even as it strives to do justice to the often complex and detailed character of events. Yet the case for the importance of radio journalism rests on something other than the fact that it is more demanding and skilful than might be supposed. Most of us accept that journalism - the reporting and analysis not simply of ‘the news' but of current affairs in their broadest sense - is at the heart of the BBC's public service endeavour, and since television commands much larger audiences than radio, this is often taken to be ‘television' journalism. However, we will suggest in this book that it is often on radio, with its ability to handle facts, issues and ideas without visual distraction, that this endeavour is most effectively performed. 1 01-Starkey-Ch-01:Starkey-Ch-01.qxp 8/18/2008 11:46 AM Page 1 The origins of journalism A career in radio journalism is thus highly worthwhile, but to make the case for its current and future importance we need to know something of its past. Its origins lie in the natural human desire to know more about what is going on in the world that lies beyond the compass of our horizons and our own experience. Even that information, which the early travellers brought to a community, recounting what they had seen or been told by someone else, could not wholly satisfy this desire. So the development of the printing press by Johann Gutenburg around 1450, with its ability to disseminate news, information and comment on a mass scale, first demonstrated the potential of humankind to produce and consume something that would become recognisable as journalism. The print medium firmly established itself as a conduit through which a discourse could elaborate the results of journalistic activity. On the audience's behalf, someone could find, collate and digest a considerable amount of information and then synthesise from it an account which was presented in such a way as to satisfy the audience's natural curiosity, amuse, entertain it and even call it to action. Today, print still performs this important role, but because technological advance tends to be exponential, the last century produced increasingly rapid developments in distribution technology. This resulted in new mass media that would provide other popular platforms for the practice of journalism. The cinema newsreel, pioneered in 1910 by Pathe's Animated Gazette, offered audiences new experiences in the form of moving images to accompany text and eventually a spoken narrative. Yet because newspapers and newsreels required both mechanical processing and distribution over land, even today print and film lack a compelling advantage possessed by the news-bearing travellers of old: immediacy (Starkey 2007: 115-16). The development of radio The invention of the first of the electronic media, the telegraph, provided that immediacy. It allowed point-to-point communication over long distances in real time, although a direct connection by wire was required, and rather than being a medium of mass communication it, like the telephone a little later, offered only person-to-person transmission. It was the development of radio (initially known as ‘the wireless') that brought the benefits of mass distribution which were previously confined to the printing press. Radio broadcast over wide areas by sending electromagnetic waves into the air. Its messages were available to anyone within range who had a suitable receiver, to large, real-time audiences who could hear of events quite literally within milliseconds of their occurrence. 2 RADIO JOURNALISM 01-Starkey-Ch-01:Starkey-Ch-01.qxp 8/18/2008 11:46 AM Page 2 Among the early pioneers were Guglielmo Marconi, who first demonstrated transmission and reception but was slow to spot radio's potential as a mass medium, and Reginald Fessenden, who in 1906 broadcast the first programme of voice and music, but who failed to capitalise on his idea, so is merely a footnote in the history of broadcasting. These early delays in the exploitation of the medium tempt one to the conclusion that new media technologies are introduced into society only in so far as their potential for disrupting the status quo is limited (Winston 1998). Certainly, in various hands radio could be a powerful force in a number of different ways, a point we shall return to later. However, it was destined to become as important a medium as print - durable, as its hundred-year history attests, and, as the popularity of podcasts demonstrates, capable of exploitation through twenty-first-century distribution technologies. By today's standards it took a remarkably long time for Fessenden's pioneering broadcast to be imitated on any grand scale, but over the following two decades sporadic experimental broadcasting gradually gave way to regular services - in Britain under Marconi, in the United States under Fessenden's successors, and even in communist Russia, where in 1917 revolutionaries had used wireless telegraphy rather than speech transmissions to proclaim their victory and try to foment a worldwide uprising. The power of radio as a means of entertainment and propaganda was swiftly demonstrated, yet it did not immediately produce radio journalism. In compiling his first programme, Fessenden omitted all news, even though the concept of news reporting was well established in the press. He played recordings of music and read a passage from the Bible, but had he thought of it he could have included the world's first news bulletin and quite legitimately led on the historic significance of his own actions. Alas, radio's great potential as a platform for journalistic activity was yet to be perceived: this great inventor of dozens of patented devices missed a golden opportunity, and as we shall see, it fell to others to perceive and exploit radio's potential to bring immediacy to the task of reporting the world to mass audiences. The distinctiveness of radio journalism What, though, is radio journalism, and how does it differ from other types of journalism? What do they have in common, and what are the reasons for the differences and similarities? How do these different traditions in presenting factual narratives coexist, and where radio journalism is distinct, why is it so? Just as print journalism is more than the front and back pages and includes reviews, in-depth analyses and comment, which also solicit the attention of the reader, so radio journalism is much more than ‘the news'. It is to be found in factual output of many kinds: in programming as much as A SHORT HISTORY OF RADIO JOURNALISM 3 01-Starkey-Ch-01:Starkey-Ch-01.qxp 8/18/2008 11:46 AM Page 3 in bulletins. It is also expensive to produce, requiring more effort to source and to evidence, to illustrate and to communicate, than does the playing of pre-recorded music or the relaying of spontaneous conversation. The many forms in which radio journalism exists today could no more be invented overnight than Fessenden could conceive of a news bulletin for in his first broadcast. They developed slowly, often beginning as the spark of an idea, always a product of the institutional context from which they emerged, and, once established, mimicked and extended by rival radio stations. Some institutional contexts were more conducive to the development of radio journalism than others, and in different countries radio industries developed in different ways. The Marconi Company was a private business (Crisell 1994: 18), but in the United Kingdom the private ownership of radio stations was short-lived.This was because the governmental Crawford Committee of Inquiry - the second of many - recommended that broadcasting should be publicly owned (Crawford Committee 1926). In the United States, radio remained largely in the hands of commercial operators and these two sharply contrasting models of institutional ownership influenced the development of radio journalism in different ways in different countries. This distinction between the public and private sectors of the radio industry, one larger or smaller than the other depending on the country one cares to examine, is an important one. We consider it important enough to provide a framework for our analysis, and it is a theme that will run through this book.