Podcasts are great, and there are so many of them. It is such convenient fun to listen in on the research and/or thought collection of another person, often some-one specialising in a field I am interested in but haven’t done much delving into of my own. Someone is talking into your ear as if telling you a bedtime (or any-time) story, except they are telling you about the connections drawn between the various sources of information they have found on a particular topic.
That said, not all of the podcasts I listen to are effectively non-fiction; some of my regulars are also artfully composed digests on literature or music. But the thing about podcasts that brings about a kind of fatigue, sometimes, is that they involve choice, specifically the choice to give oneself over to what is effectively another person’s realm, voice, and material. I have to be in the mood for the host’s voice, timbre, diction, and favoured topics.
You could argue that this is just as much the case with radio, but the nice thing about radio is that you tune in and things have just been streaming on without you, you dip into something that’s just going on already, and whatever host is there, whatever piece is playing, you settle in and listen to it: it’s the equivalent of sneaking into a performance room with the lights out, taking a seat at the back, and not having to explain yourself or introduce yourself to anyone. Things just unfold in front of you at their own pace, in their own time, and if you leave, they will continue even if you’re not there to listen to them.
Psychologically, there is something soothing to me in this, and radio, much more so than podcasts, is a medium I love. The fact that I can tune in and tune out and encounter a surprise, is so relaxing. I don’t have to choose whether I’m more in the mood for a podcast on the misuse of apostrophes or an interview with Damien Hirst, whether I’d rather listen to a woman’s take on contemporary slang, or a man’s; I can just tune in and see what’s there.
All this to say the following: my one true love, as far as radio goes, is a station [the Belgian classical station MUSIQ3] that has been in my life since I can remember grasping the concept of radio stations, and being able to differentiate one station from another. It plays in my parents’ house, and now it plays on my laptop whenever I want audio company but don’t want to let one of the usual podcast hosts or Youtubers* into my space. For some reasons, radio hosts (perhaps it’s just this particular station, though) seem less intrusive, simultaneously less rambling and less scripted, and they give more space to what I need: music I didn’t choose, but that someone else (smarter, with better taste, passionate and well-intentioned) chose for ‘me-the-audience’.
Radio is my permission to let someone else decide, to drift along with a programme that isn’t directed specifically towards me and my preferences (inferred from whatever links I may have clicked, or tastes I may have indicated on social media) but exists on its own merit. This all probably sounds too much like I’m asking for permission to like and listen to radio, when a lot of people around me seem to have time only for things that are specifically designed for them, things that will in some way improve them or boost their knowledge, but I like the drifting, leisurely quality of radio, the way it doesn’t want to do anything for me in particular. It lets me listen in, float along with the programme, without pretending to make my life any more productive.
* Don’t get me wrong, the video essay is one of my favourite contemporary forms, and I love watching, and learning from, those – but sometimes I like tuning in to something for any other purpose than listening in on something.