Here in the UK a lot of people feel very lucky to still have the BBC. Though I’m aware that they seem to be caught up in a fresh scandal every week, one really can’t doubt the unmatchable quality of a vast quantity of their output. Which other broadcaster has given us such quality creations as Spooks, Hustle, Life On Mars and Bleak House in recent years? Which other channel pumps out consistently entertaining comedy rivalling the likes of Have I Got News For You, Never Mind The Buzzcocks, and Armstrong And Miller? Certainly not ITV, that’s for sure. I would readily admit that I only watch programmes on the BBC, with the exception of Champions’ League football. Whether it’s drama, comedy or factual, the I’m proud to say that the BBC still maintains intellectual standards in an era when other channels are quite content to devote the entirety of their schedules to dumbed-down reality TV with not an ounce of originality or value. Of course the BBC produces its share of trash, but even their reality TV efforts aren’t always bad – The Apprentice, anyone?
On the radio front, again, the BBC is still willing to sacrifice a degree of populist interest in the hope of maintaining standards. Key to this strategy is the output of BBC 6 Music and Radio 4, which is never less than excellent. Yes, all things considered, we have it pretty good over here.
Which is why I’m always encouraged to hear what’s being broadcast across the pond on NPR, which I believe to be America’s closest equivalent to BBC Radio. More specifically, NPR’s music content is thoroughly worthwhile, none more so than the perennial All Songs Considered arm, which covers everything from music news, through reviews, to live concert broadcasts. The latter in particular was how I first came across NPR, and, several years after I first started tuning in, the quality of output is still very present. In Bob Boilen, All Songs Considered has the perfect host: Boilen is witty, erudite and eloquent, and never fails to display his passion for the music.
What is really incredible is the sheer quantity of concerts that are not only aired live, but are then uploaded onto the internet as a downloadable podcast, of the same name, which I cannot recommend enough. A cursory glance at my iTunes lists entire sets from the likes of Radiohead, Tom Waits, Fleet Foxes, Spoon, Low, Iron & Wine, The National and Arcade Fire. These are some of my favourite artists and bands, at the top of their game. The content available is really spectacular. The audio is usually pristine; the songs are all there; crowd noise doesn’t impede on the on-stage performance. It’s like a bootleg, without all the inconvenient problems of a bootleg. These concert recordings really are the next best thing to actually being there, and I can’t encourage you enough to check them out. The Radiohead gig in particular, recorded at their Santa Barbara Bowl performance over the summer, is a true testament to the transformative power of the live experience. Though we cannot relive the excitement of the moment, just hearing a recording of it is enough to evoke considerable emotion and enjoyment.