I love BBC Radio 4. For a long time it’s been the background noise of my life. Waking up and commuting (when I used to do that) to Today, relaxing after work with the 6.30 comedy slot, falling asleep to Today in Parliament or just driving around at the weekend to GQT. It kept me both informed and entertained (if not sometimes also a little angry after listening to Today).
When I came to Africa I was certain my beloved R4 would be lost to me but to keep in touch with the motherland I brought a shortwave radio for the world service (thanks mum).
Of course it turned out that Opuwo was pretty much in a world service blackspot – equally poorly served by the transmitters on Ascension Island and in Lesotho.
As you tune through the various bands past bursts of Swahili and random bantu languages it is sometimes possible (if the ionosphere is with you, your Heath-Robinson aerial extension is correctly aligned and, most critically, you are yourself touching the aerial in the right place) to hear Blighty through the static:
“her Majesty the Queen today…” [pop] “… dissolution of parliament …” [whistle] “… martial law in place …” [phut] [screech] “… new commissar Sir Jimmy Saville …” [whine] “… army retreats from Liverpool …”.
And then it will fade out totally.
But, glorious wonders of wonders, it turns out I have pretty amazing internet access here which means that, in addition to the critical duty of writing this ‘ere blog, I can download radio 4 podcasts.
Magic. With a capital M. In fact capital A, G, I and C as well: MAGIC.
So not only can I now download hours and hours of quality BBC R4 to fill the tedium of journeys here (everything is very far apart) but sometimes this adds a degree of surrealism to the exercise. A few weeks back I was listening to the Archers when I had to stop for an elephant in the road. It is very odd to be listening to Eddy Grundy talk about sheep shearing while a big bull elephant wanders around in front of you.
It’s also given me the opportunity to introduce my local colleagues to the wonders of the BBC. Generally they like FOOC, Excess Baggage and sometimes the R4 Choice. I only torture them with the Archers on rare occasions.
Recently, bringing up a Canadian fellow VSO, I had the opportunity to listen to some choice CBC podcasts. Rather than, as I would expect, being all about Elk or Moose they seemed to consist of some guy pronouncing everything in an overly thespian way telling a story about some guy called Dave (no relation) and his shoelaces (sorry Jo but you know it’s true). This reinforced how good BBC R4 was and even she had to admit, grudgingly, that More or Less was pretty cool.
Sadly though, owing no doubt to production agreements, actually only a small selection of Radio 4 programs are available for podcast. Friday night comedy is (which is of course the best night) but not the other four nights. Only the highlights of Today (8 minutes of a 3 hour slot) are available.
Come on BBC, bite the bullet, pay the cash and make everything available for download. If necessary use threats of violence against production companies, I give you permission.
I’ve also started to try and get into streaming audio when my home WiFi is working. The World Service is available (on my phone no less) and works pretty well. Unfortunately BBC R4 is now only available from the BBC via the iPlayer which, even in so-called “low bandwidth”, is not low bandwidth enough for my wet-string based internet connection and keeps breaking up (also you can’t manually set a bigger buffer anywhere I can find which usually helps on other services – again take note BBC).
However I’ve now also found a service called YourMuze which, no doubt with questionable legality, encode the BBC stream into a few different quality real media streams. With them I can now listen to Radio 4 at will, albeit sounding tinny and as if it’s transmitted by yak. Given that I’m several thousand miles away and using an internet connection made of wet string it’s pretty good.