From driving a desk to creating a jingle, writing a sitcom to mounting an outside broadcast, Guy Starkey’s introduction to radio gallops through an impressively vast territory. Production techniques, genres and formats, audience research and audio technologies are all here, glossed with a commentary that is clearly informed by long experience. The author is stronger in certain areas, especially music radio, where his broad coverage of local and national stations is accompanied by insightful commentary on commercial exploitation and the development of playlist software.
Starkey’s approach to speech radio is less assured. He pays little attention to Radio 4, presumably because his background is in local radio. Worst of all, he completely avoids one of radio’s most vital functions: news. There is no acknowledgement of its importance, let alone how it is gathered and presented. The discussions of packages, interviews and documentaries are equally devoid of a sense of journalism and the news imperative.
The book is intended for first-year media students, but its tone is far too basic. Capturing sound, Starkey tells us, usually involves a microphone. In drama, dialogue contributes to characterisation. Success in comedy depends on an ability to make an audience laugh. Similarly simplistic are the attempts at academic analysis, which amount to cautions about the unreliability of factual accounts, the dangers of stereotyping and token stabs at the semiology of sound.
Although it will be of value to beginners, the book is ultimately limited because it fails to convey the sheer joy of radio, the intimacy and devotion it inspires in listeners. Like a sex manual written by Belgians, it tells you a lot about what you are supposed to do, where and how - but nothing about love, excitement, passion and satisfaction.
Sally Feldman is dean of the School of Media, Arts and Design, Westminster University.
Radio in Context. First edition
Author - Guy Starkey
Publisher - Palgrave Macmillan
Pages - 0
Price - £49.50 and £16.99
ISBN - 1 4039 0022 1 and 0023 X