|Oxford University Press|
the guardian Fri 19 September 2008
When the BBC reorganised its radio services in 1967, the future of the last of the quartet looked unpromising. The output of the others were clearly defined - pop for kids on Radio 1, light music for older listeners on 2, classical for highbrows on 3 - but Radio 4 was stuck with trying to please everyone with a mishmash of speech programmes, and had a stuffy image inherited from the old Home Service. Life on Air adroitly traces how successive controllers developed its identity, finding a third way between warring internal forces (populists v intellectuals, news carnivores v fiction and features herbivores) and seeing off plans that threatened the network's viability: to merge it with local radio, for example, or reallocate Today and other key shows to a rolling news station. Equally deft is the way Hendy moves between overall strategy and the work of particular production departments. And, as on Radio 4 itself, there's a measured allowance of fun, mostly derived from disasters such as Up to the Hour, Rollercoaster and Anderson Country.