Thought for the Day

Since the platitudinous nonsense that is broadcast as ‘Thought for the Day’ on Radio 4 each morning presumably contributes in some small way to the fact that ours is, basically, a secular society, why are the atheists or the humanists (or whatever they want to call themselves) so keen to get in on the act? It’s not as if they’d be allowed to broadcast non-platitudinous non-nonsense, I take it, as the slot’s not supposed to be controversial or partisan, and it’s difficult to do n.-p. n.-n. without running a severe risk of being c. or p.. So it’d be platitudinous nonsense, as before, but coming from the secular rationalists or agnostics (or whatever they want to call themselves), instead of coming from the ranks of the God-squad. And the foreseeable result of that would be that listeners would be put off non-theism then, to just the same extent as ‘TftD’ puts them off theism now. I must be missing something, somewhere along the line, but right now I just can’t see what it is.

Local Radio Advertising

Listening to the radio here in Cambridge, the adverts all seem to be public health announcements of one kind or another, warning us against unprotected sex, too much salt in our soup, and driving our cars into fens. Has the recession meant that no-one’s buying radio spots at all, so government agencies (or whatever) are just block-booking them all on the cheap, or is Cambridgeshire a much, much more dangerous and debauched (and, I suppose, salty) place than I’ve been led to believe hitherto?


So I’m sitting at home dealing with an email backlog, and the Test Match isn’t very good, but I still want it on anyway, because I’m like that, but we don’t seem to be getting Sky Sports through our telly cable thingy anymore, so I have Radio Five Live coming through the telly, and it turns out that if you have the Radio Five Live coverage you don’t get the interruptions for the Shipping Forecast (which is only on Radio Four Longwave), and have to listen to the commentators’ wittering nonsense through the drinks break.

The Shipping Forecast is one of life’s small but real pleasures, and one of the only reasons to stay Home rather than heading off to live Abroad. (Though I dare say you can get the Shipping Forecast on R4 LW in Northern France.) What have we done to be deprived of it here on Radio Five Live?

(Some of us still haven’t forgotten or forgiven about Finisterre.)

Obesity Makes For Very Bad Radio

BBC Radio Four isn’t very good, all things considered, and I only listen to it in the absence of any halfway decent alternative, or the presence of a Test Match (and yes — Test Match Special leaves a lot to be desired, too). But one reason why it’s been particularly annoying over the last day or so is that all three of the news programmes I’ve listened to chunks of have had segments on obesity. This is not good radio. None of the producers and presenters have found a way of making it interesting radio. It’s boring. It’s probably important, true, but you guys talking about it makes me want to switch the radio off altogether (and usually it’s only the words, “And now, Thought For The Day” or the theme tune to John Peel’s Home Truths that can make me do that). Drop it. Leave obesity to the sex columnists, who know how to handle it (if not the GLHs themselves).

UPDATE [27.5.2004]: It’s bloody everywhere. Obesity. I mean, not everywhere, but just on the radio, where it annoys me. Still. It was a leading item on last night’s midnight news, and, as Uninformed Jason points out, the bloody Today programme was still banging away on the subject this morning. Grrr.

Finis Terrae

I’ve just read the very sad news that, as of twelve and a quarter hours ago, the Met Office got rid of Finisterre. There’s a useful page of links over at the Guardian‘s website about this change — apparently now we are supposed to call it FitzRoy.

Non-UK readers of the weblog will not have the slightest idea what this is about, but BBC Radio Four (the worthy, news-heavy, not-terribly-exciting British equivalent of NPR which the educated middle classes listen to fairly religiously) carries the Shipping Forecast a few times a day. The Shipping Forecast gives detailed weather reports for the various chunks of sea off the coast of Britain and Ireland, which, although of no direct relevance to those of us in landlocked university towns, provides a fixed reference point for, a set of shared understandings in, a calming influence on our busy, fragmented, postmodern lives. “Finisterre” was one of the bits of the sea, off the North-Western corner of Spain, and apparently as part of some international coordination exercise, we’ve agreed to get rid of the name, one of the most evocative names in the litany of the Forecast.

Here’s the press release from the Met Office, issued on 31 January:

At noon on Monday 4 February 2002, listeners to the Shipping Forecast broadcast by the BBC will have a new name to conjure with. The area Finisterre is to be re-named FitzRoy after Admiral Robert FitzRoy, who was the first ever professional weatherman and founded the Met Office in 1853.The change has become necessary following an international agreement that Britain, France, Spain, Portugal and Morocco will use a co-ordinated set of sea areas in forecasts for shipping. In the discussions, Spain requested that the area that they have called Finisterre be retained in the co-ordinated set of areas.

The area Finisterre used by the Met Office is a considerably larger area than that defined by the Spanish Meteorological Service (Instituto Nacional de Meteorologia), and, as the area is not strictly in the United Kingdom’s area of responsibility for the issue of forecasts and warnings, a new name was required.

Some 53 years have passed since the name Finisterre was first heard on the shipping forecasts; the familiar rhythmic pattern will no longer be Portland, Plymouth, Biscay, Finisterre, Sole, Lundy, Fasnet� as FitzRoy replaces Finisterre.

“The Met Office operates on an international scale; by working with the meteorological services in other countries we are making it easier for listeners to interpret shipping forecasts,” explained Martin Stubbs, specialist consultant in marine matters at the Met Office.

“The last major changes in sea area names was in 1984 when the countries bordering the North Sea agreed a co-ordinated set of areas. These changes demonstrate the effectiveness of the World Meteorological Organization in bringing countries together and ensuring the best possible services for the mariner,” added Mr Stubbs

The Shipping Forecast is a British institution broadcast by the BBC four times a day and also disseminated via HM Coastguard Stations and other marine communication services attracting many thousands of listeners.

FitzRoy is set to become a household name both in and outside the sailing fraternity.

This is no good. How will future generations make sense of the splendid poetry of Carol Ann Duffy?


Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

Pray for us now. Grade I piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child’s name as though they named their loss.

Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer —
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.

No-one will be writing poems about bloody FitzRoy in years to come, I can tell you. Please send your protests and reminiscences to the weblog.

Katherine wrote [7.2.2002]: In my A-level Italian oral, I was asked what my favourite radio programme was (this now seems to me to be a suspiciously Radio 4 type question, indeed) and I got into all sorts of difficulties trying to explain the shipping forecast. I now explain to my own language students that it is important to lie in such situations.

Jess wrote [8.2.2002]: As a lover of the shipping forecast for nineteen years, I join you in mourning the passing of Finisterre. The forecast won’t be quite the same without it — though Admiral Fitzroy deserves a sea area named after him if anyone does. (I still regard North Utsire and South Utsire as upstart interlopers…)

I asked Jess to elaborate on this last, slightly worrying thought, and got this reply [8.2.2002]: North Utsire and South Utsire were born on 1 August 1984, at the instigation of the Scandinavian countries. Previously the adjacent sea areas (eg Viking) extended right up to the coast. The list of the coastal stations has changed beyond recognition since I began listening in ’82 – remember Sumburgh, Bell Rock, Goeree Light Tower Automatic Weather Station…?

Save Pacifica!

Is victory in the long-running battle over the future of the progressive Pacifica Radio network in sight? The Save Pacifica! campaigners seem to think so: they’ve just sent round this message —


An agreement was reached today between plaintiffs in four lawsuits against Pacifica and the foundation’s board of directors, whereby official control of the network will return to community radio advocates.

The agreement calls for an interim board, controlled by the current minority, to serve for fifteen months while new, democratic structures are implemented for an elected national
Pacifica board.

The agreement brings to an end two and a half years of legal, political, and community struggle following an illegal change, implemented under former board chair Dr. Mary Frances Berry, in the method of selecting Pacifica’s directors, who had formerly been elected by the local station boards.

During that time, Pacifica has banned and fired dozens of broadcasters, and incurred millions of dollars in expenditures, due to high fees paid to corporate attorneys, public relations companies, and security firms.

Pacifica’s finances have not been disclosed to either board members or donors in over a year, but at the last board meeting in Washington in November it was reported that the foundation has over a million dollars in unpaid current accounts in addition to two million dollars in pending legal fees.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Ronald Sabraw will retain jurisdiction over the settlement, and has promised to quickly rule on all disputes that may result from the agreement’s implementation.

The text of the agreement can be read here.