So, how good is the BBC’s new ‘goldmine of ear pleasure’?

Date published: Friday 2nd November 2018 1:51

This week Johnny goes all modern and reviews a new app which will allow you to access all your favourite BBC radio shows and podcasts in one place, even though he doesn’t know what an app is and thinks vinyl records are the apotheosis of all human achievement. That’ll be BBC Sounds, then.

 

WHAT IS IT THEN?
The iPlayer used to have a radio tab and basically, the BBC have replaced that with the word ‘Sounds‘. It’s also an app for those of you with smart phones and other devices.

And, err…that’s pretty much it.

Naturally they spaffed a load of cash on telling the world about this on Thursday by ‘taking over’ the big wheely thing in London and broadcasting some radio shows from a pod. Oh and they’ve ‘turned’ the wheel orange because orange is the official colour of ‘Sounds’. Well, the word is written in orange, and the progress bar is orange too. This doubtless passed you by.

One can only imagine the heinous slurry of management jargon at the meetings that resulted in this promo effort. Listening to Radio 2’s Ken Bruce show being broadcast from the wheel instantly betrayed what a risible publicity idea it was. The embarrassment on the airways was tangible and a sense of ‘why are we doing this, again, boss?’ pervaded throughout.

Fortunately, the people who create radio and podcasts are more talented than those who hold meetings and nod at each other in an ostensibly inclusive but somehow passive-aggressive way. And because the iPlayer is such a huge and popular tool and the BBC are equally massive, this ‘Sounds’ business is actually an important new development because it defines listening to output more broadly, not just radio.

The new app allows you to bookmark things as well as listen to radio stations live, and you can pick up a show where you left off too.

Obviously, the advantage of the podcast is that it can be downloaded and listened to when you don’t have wifi. It also doesn’t have an expiry date, so you can binge listen to several episodes of something if you so wish. All good.

The problem the BBC have got is navigating listeners around the sheer volume of material and it has to be said, it isn’t yet perfect in this regard, or at least not on my laptop. There are apparently random old shows going back six years in some places, such as Ian Stone’s 2012 show Football’s Home Fans, which “investigates the rapidly changing world of children’s football”. Well if it is rapidly changing, it will have, well, rapidly changed in the last six years. Clive Anderson’s documentary about football in China dates to 2015 but is still available. This looks more like an admin error than deliberate archiving.

There are also links to shows which have yet to be broadcast too, which is a bit messy. Pages for long since unavailable shows are everywhere if you mine around a bit. Sometimes you can end up on a page which looks like it’s been filed away in the internet equivalent of that inaccessible corner cupboard of everyone’s fitted kitchen. Oh and this part of the website still has ‘Radio’ on the navigation bar.

I suppose this is inevitable when you’ve spent a lot of budget on making a big wheel look orange for a day rather than employing more people to keep the house clean.

Another issue is some programmes are podcasts and others are only ‘listen’ and yet others are replays of the actual broadcast without any editing.

Some shows such as Football Daily can now be downloaded and listened to via the ‘Sounds’ website, or you can listen again to the original broadcast that it was pulled from. Is this too much choice? It confuses me.

It should also be said that they have become fixated on podcasts being 30-45 minutes long and have pushed the idea that you listen to them on your morning commute, which they presumably think is typically that long (and they must assume we can’t just pause it and pick it up again later if it was 90 minutes long, even though they have built that option into the app, which is somewhat contradictory). But this constriction means a lot of shows are not getting enough breathing space and good content is being lost for this arbitrary choice of duration.

The BBC are keen to encourage us to let the app suggest things you might like, and then put these into a ‘favourites’ page. You just know that someone in a linen suit called this “self-curating” don’t you? I suspect this is partly because the iPlayer is so sprawling and messy they know it makes finding shows, if you don’t know what they’re called or are new, a bit tricky.

I just wanted to see one definitive list of podcasts and broadcasts sorted chronologically. So I went to categories>sport>football. I think this is comprehensive, yet for some reason the Peter Crouch podcast isn’t included on it but does get an ad elsewhere. So who knows what else is missing?

Can’t there just be a big button which says ‘All Football Podcasts’? Maybe there is and I’m just being rubbish at finding it.

 

SO WHAT’S ON?
If you are a football fan with a taste for life beyond your own club and have a cultural hinterland there are all manner of goodies on BBC Sounds. They are the same goodies that were under the iPlayer Radio button but hey ho, suits gotta suit, huh?

Here’s my selection for your delectation.

The Football Daily
A podcast from 5 live which is an edit of the best bits of the previous evening’s show. It’s very useful if you miss the full version being broadcast live as it’ll pull together the strongest stuff to keep you up to speed. It’s also now home to the podcast of Monday Night Club and the Euro Leagues Show which, in truth, is all a bit confusing. You can’t download the whole of the MNC as a podcast but you can listen to the broadcast again.

This applies to all the 7.00pm 5 live Sport output, all of which gets poured into the Football Daily. This means that great discussion programmes like The Friday Football Social with Darren Fletcher and Jermaine Jenas get chopped down to 40 minutes from often up to 150 minutes originally and you lose so much good stuff by doing that. What’s wrong with each programme being its own full-length podcast? We don’t need you to edit it for us.

 

BBC Local Stations
Every region has podcasts and programmes about local football and they’re an absolute treasure trove of entertainment.

There are shows about Norwich City, West Brom and Lincolnshire’s teams, to name but a few. Am I odd in wanting to hear discussions about teams I don’t support? Possibly. But accessing these gives you a window into different worlds, and also inadvertently celebrates the rainbow of regional voices in these lands.

I especially enjoy Geoff Twentyman’s Sound of the City about Bristol City from Radio Bristol and Three Counties Radio’s Non-League Show presented by Ollie Bayliss and Luke Ashmead. And of course, BBC Tees’ coverage of Teesside football is exemplary; their documentary in September about how the club left Ayresome Park is excellent and can still be downloaded or played. It’s well worth dipping into the regional programmes every now and then. There are so many, just try a new one each week would be my tip.

 

Euro Leagues Football Show
They’ve messed this around over the last two years. Sometimes it’s been podcast-only, sometimes a weekly broadcast. Other times it has just disappeared. Now, they seem to have settled on an 8.30pm Thursday slot on 5 live (though it was pushed out by a League Cup game this week).

This season it’s been hosted by the lovely Guillem Balagué rather than the excellent Mina Rzouki and it’s been shortened. The G man is good, obviously, but a vibe has been lost that was there with Mina and all of us who were fans of the show feel this change. I know I am not alone in feeling this is a classic case of having a brilliant show and the management not having a clue that it’s any good and thus messing with it.

Here’s the thing, right: if you’re the executive who makes a decision to change, drop or add a show – own up to it. In a press release put your name on the line so we know who you are. You want the big money to make the big decisions, then you shouldn’t hide. You are a public service broadcaster, paid for out of our pockets, so you owe us that honesty. We’re your boss. Never forget that.

 

That Peter Crouch Podcast
Peter is always enjoyable to listen to because he’s self-aware and funny and they are two attractive qualities. He does this pod with Tom Fordyce and Chris Stark and they dig into some detailed aspects of the footballer’s life, which is always interesting. Crouch manages to demystify the whole culture of the game and give real insight. He’s often incredibly honest and revealing. You have to listen to all of these. It’s a really great peer behind the curtain and has made me glad I was never a footballer as it sounds like a nightmare workplace.

 

World Football
Broadcast on the World Service in the middle of the night, it is a half-hour show of top quality discussion and can now be downloaded as a podcast. This is the sort of interesting and varied content that many of us have always craved to become the norm. If you don’t believe me, this is the latest episode synopsis:

‘World Cup winner Heather O’Reilly, former Premier League striker Peter Odemwingie and Pat Nevin, once of Chelsea, Everton and Scotland, swap stories about football’s biggest rivalries. And presenter Mani Djazmi takes a trip to the Soweto Derby, where he meets the South African George Best.’

 

5 Live World Football Phone-In
The most interesting phone-in on the BBC because it covers so much ground and it’s always a pleasure to hear voices from all over the world. Am I allowed to say the callers seem brighter than on many UK shows? No? OK, I won’t then. It’s also a regular place to hear the brilliant Tim Vickery who presents with Paul Sarahs. There are few more pleasurable listening moments than hearing Mr V talking in his clever, funny and detailed way about South American football.

 

Off The Ball
I reviewed this recently in detail, so just a reminder to get with the programme presented by Stuart Cosgrove and Tam Cowan twice on Saturdays. It can be serious, hilarious, very eccentric and uber Scottish. You will not regret dipping an ear in their brilliance wherever you hail from.

 

Flintoff, Savage and the Ping Pong Guy
Forty-seven episodes of this are now available. Yes, as you might imagine, it can be boisterous and broad in its humour and approach, but is at its best, possibly exactly because it is sometimes boisterous and broad, when dealing with serious issues. Listening to Freddie Flintoff talking about his depression, how he understands it and lives with it and Robbie talking movingly about his father’s Pick’s Disease and his passing was extraordinary broadcasting which goes against what many might think these two sportsmen could produce. I urge you to dig out the Walking In Fresh Air episode – it was important broadcasting.

The show can do this quite regularly, veering from noisy banter but then dropping into quite serious discussions delivered in a very down to earth, accessible way. It’s a winning mixture that is hard to get right every single time, but when it does get it right, as I say, it is important broadcasting. It has also shown a very vulnerable side of both men which is both appealing and an example to alpha males everywhere.

 

Robbie Savage’s Premier League Breakfast
If you want some more Robbie, his half-hour show on Friday morning has been attracting a lot of fans for its ‘up’ vibe and primary colours approach. At just 30 minutes, it’s obviously meant to be an appetiser for the weekend’s football. There’s no time available for anything in-depth but it’s fun live radio which I think works best when listened to as a live broadcast. If you listen to the podcast after Friday, the games have been played and the relevance is somewhat lost.

 

Elis James’ Feast of Football
Welsh comedian and actor Elis is joined each time by Danny Gabbidon and Iwan Roberts for football discussion with a Welsh flavour. It’s not groundbreaking stuff but has a warm feel to it and is at its best when it goes off-piste. The sort of half-hour show that’s good to have on in the background while you’re doing the washing-up.

 

The Danny Baker Show
The BBC have archived Danny’s show into their football thread which is amusing because rarely does football get much of a mention in between references to obscure prog rock of the ’70s and Cat Stevens impersonations. But regardless it remains one of the finest expressions of the broadcasting art which, like anything worth its salt, either fits the shape of your consciousness or it doesn’t. The recent Bernard Cribbins programme was a shimmering haze of gold in a dark universe that was one long autonomous sensory meridian response.

 

WHAT THE PEOPLE SAY
Lots of interesting responses came in for this, proving that listening to football content one way or another has become a big thing in many people’s lives.

‘Really enjoyed the Euro Leagues podcast last season but not as much now they have messed around with it. Feel like maybe they are overdoing the ‘banter’ on the football daily pods. Would be great to have a weekly nostalgia pod, like Golazzo – could bring back Mike Ingham to host.’

‘Euro Leagues podcast was superb last season. Focused, engaging, informative, fun and with the occasional gem from one of @honigstein @LaurensJulien @JamesHorncastle @Minarzouki. Bit of a shame the format has changed this year as it was brilliant as it was.’

‘Fighting Talk – if presented by Colin Murray – has been my favourite regular thing on the radio for over a decade. All the old guard still hold their own, but also great to hear how funny people like Tanni Grey-Thompson or Martin Bashir can be when getting riled up about sport.’

Monday Night Club. Constantly engaging and interesting debate.’

‘BBC have gone with a policy this season to limit all their footy podcasts to 40-45 mins to “fit your commute”. Sounds like a good idea but in reality it just means loads gets cut out. Monday Night Club in particular. Need to change that.’

‘Monday Night Club by far is the best – but generally anything with Kelly Cates or Mark Chapman is very listenable.’

‘@petercrouch insights are unique and the humour flows throughout. I think it’s the irreverence that allows it to be so successful and it is genuinely inclusive of everyone regardless of what level they’ve played the game.’

‘Elis James’ Feast of Football. There’s good insight into the game from the ex-pros. It also provides a great round-up on the Welsh clubs.’

‘I’m really enjoying That Peter Crouch podcast.’

‘There’s also the World Football Phone-in which is an absolute treasure but is at times only tangentially about football and isn’t a podcast either.’

‘Euro Leagues podcast last season was exceptional – Mina Rzouki and her boys was brilliant casting. Informative, high quality analysis and real chemistry between the participants. Why on earth change it?’

‘MNC is just the aural equivalent of a luscious scone with jam and tea. I’m enjoying the Peter Crouch podcast too for the insights of a man that knows there are other things in life than football.’

‘I remember trying to stay up til 3 on Fridays to catch the World Football Phone-in (before I discovered you could get it as a podcast). Tim Vickery and Andy Brassell (as was) played no small part in my decision to study Portuguese at uni. Dotun’s music knowledge a plus too.’

‘Quite keen on the World Football Phone In.’

‘Monday Night Club, by far. The European Football one last season was great, but this year they’ve cut it down & changed the format & it’s not so good anymore.’

 

IS THERE ANY FUTURE IN IT?
As an avid consumer of all things aural, the BBC is a goldmine of ear pleasure. The ‘Sounds’ concept is an understandable development, but the website really needs work. It’s cluttered and hard to navigate. They’re just trying to do too much on every page and there are too many routes to the same information. Maybe it works better as an app on a phone or an iPad, but for us people who have Chromebooks, it is too much like hard work. That being said, I totally understand the problems they have to overcome in terms of volume of content.

Also, although I see the point of signing up to the ‘Sounds’ app so it can push stuff under your eyes that it looks like you might like, I find that quite annoying. Humans enjoy autonomy, even if it is merely illusory. I want to make my own choices and I’m not stupid, so I’d rather find something than have it put on a plate and served to me by the BBC autobot. I find myself ignoring ‘recommended’ suggestions just to piss off the bio-metric or whatever it is that thinks because I like ‘A’ I will also like ‘Q’. It is dehumanising and the lingering suspicion that you are undergoing some sort of cultural endoscopy is irresistible.

All of which being said, there is so much excellent broadcasting to listen to that complaining about this and that seems little more than churlish.

Call it ‘Sounds’, call it Radio and waste our money on broadcasting from a wheel if you want, but the really important thing is that hundreds of hours of excellent football entertainment is available at the click of a mouse or tap of an insanitary index finger. If you’re a TV addict, please come over to the world of the ear; it sees better than the eye.

John Nicholson

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