Serial Provides Food for Thought for UK Radio Outlets

Radio 4 Extra’s recent decision to dedicate daily airtime to US podcast Serial proves that its long list of impressive radio innovations shows no sign of abating.

For the uninitiated, Serial is the brainchild of US broadcasters WBEZ, in Chicago. Each week, investigative journalist Sarah Koenig reveals another slice of her journey through the 1999 conviction of Adnan Syed for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee – including audio from the original trial, phone calls between Koenig and an incarcerated Syed, as well as the vast majority of the main players in the case.

Its popularity, as is the norm today, bubbled and bubbled then exploded internationally becoming the fastest podcast to hit five million downloads and streams via iTunes. Subjectively, the main summation of Serial’s success is that it doesn’t pander to ‘Judge Judy’ style sensationalism of the courtroom, in fact it doesn’t go over-board at all. In a world of celebrity-obsession, Serial’s understated delivery allows listeners to create their own thought process and develop their own opinions.

It’s that assimilation with Radio 4’s somewhat high-brow audience, if you’ll excuse the generalisation, which proves they’re still ahead of the curve in terms of where the medium should be going next, while not letting go of tradition and not getting too stuffy in the meantime.

UKRD’s Star Radio in Darlington have, intentionally or not, knocked on the door of Radio 4’s illustrious history of backing unnoticed talent from around the country. In their own way, they’re promoting the hidden comedic talents of the North East through their Sunday night show, ‘Hilarity Bites’, even if it is just ‘three blokes d*cking about in a radio studio for an hour’ (their words…).

Stand-up comedian, regular on Hilarity Bites and amazing surname-haver, Andy Fury thinks it’s an idea that needs backing elsewhere: “I think what would be great is if our show was well-received and other commercial radio stations dedicated some of their time to broadcasting original comedy rather than crappy chart music.

“Our show lasts just one hour, tucked away on a Sunday night. It might seem out of the way a bit but how many other commercial music stations are doing something that brave? I’d be perfectly happy if, in a couple of years, there were similar opportunities for comedians on music stations up and down the country. A TV series would be nice too, but it’s certainly not the aim,” he said.

A TV series may not be the aim, but if Radio 4’s ability to provide the relevant talent with the right opportunities is anything to go by, it could be the logical end-point to Hilarity Bites’ start.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Little Britain, Mitchell and Webb, Alan Partridge, Armstrong and Miller, Chewin’ the Fat and The Mighty Boosh are just a few examples of BBC comedy TV shows that, at one point, have set-up residence on the BBC’s 4th station.

The underground British comedy world will be hoping this is the dawn of a new renaissance, where local comedians, writers, actors and the like have ample opportunity in front of them to get noticed and develop the exposure they deserve, within their own local and regional borders.

by Stuart Buchanan


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