Radio head: A love letter

Let me transport you back to my childhood briefly. I had a fairly long journey into school every morning, which often meant a good 40 minute car ride with my mother. She wasn't into pop music and, at the time, neither was I (it took me a while before I became the kid who'd obsessively record every new entry off the Top 40), so the usual choice is listening was Radio 4's Today programme. This wasn't my choice, per se, but if I had to pick a starting point of my long love affair with radio, this would probably be it. I suspect I may well have been the most politically informed kid in my class at the age of nine. To me, the Today programme was my morning. I used to delight in the likes of Brian Redhead sparring with politicians, and getting the better of them. Looking back, my career choice was clearly never in doubt.

Despite discovering all manner of visual entertainment - starting with a BBC Master System and progressing through the Nintendo consoles - and diving headfirst into the world of film in a big way, I still returned to the radio time and time again as I was growing up.

As mentioned, I would sit religiously by my stereo, finger hovering over the record button, to ensure I didn't miss a moment of the Top 40. I laughed at assorted radio comedy, from I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue to Lee and Herring's Fist Of Fun. One of my favourite shows was Collins and Maconie's Hit Parade, where a bunch of people sitting round a table discussing music was turned into an art form. I appear to be the only one of my friends to remember this show though.

I was a Radio 1 devotee, for sure, but over time my tastes have changed somewhat, as I've grown up with the station. My favourite DJs were always Mark and Lard - their sense of the surreal and their bluff Mancunian humour was completely at odds with most other mainstream DJs on the station. When they (and Steve Lamacq) moved on, I think I did too.

Hell, I spent a fair bit of time listening to Jonathan Ross of Radio 2 (much much better than his chat show), while I now find Chris Evans a much easier listen on the same station, whereas I found him too much to stomach on Radio 1.

It'd be remiss not to mention two of my favourite ever broadcasters here. John Peel is obviously one. He could come in off the back of a practically unlistenable Bulgarian hardcore techno act with a voice that sounded as if he was offering you a cup of tea, before moving onto Half Man Half Biscuit. I once recall him broadcasting from a festival and refusing to go to the main act because he was enjoying an Eastern European choir. In a completely different way, Home Truths was also brilliant.

The other favourite is Danny Baker, a man who commands like English language like few others. Whether it was Baker and Kelly's football phone-ins that had little to do with any actual football action, or the genius of Fraser Digby's washbag, Baker is a true radio legend and one who is currently much missed while he undergoes treatment for cancer. Chris Lines at Narrow The Angle has a longer tribute to the man, which says it far better than ever I could.

It's why podcasting brings a whole new level of joy to my life, especially that there's a whole new world of discovery waiting out there. It also enables me to catch up during my daily commute on programmes I'd otherwise have missed.

Fighting Talk still makes me laugh on a regular basis, and 5 Live as a station as a whole is great for dipping in and out of. I'd much rather have radio commentary on while watching football. BBC London's Non-League Show is another weekly favourite, as are a whole host of other pods.

And every now and then, scouring the Radio Four listings, you find an absolute delight of a documentary, such as this (sadly no longer available) half hour programme from Phil Jupitus on Calvin and Hobbes (the cartoon, not the philosophers).

I love the way audio allows you to be creative in a way that TV can't. Four blokes sitting round a table discussing a topic can be dull on the box, but on radio it can be transformed into something totally different and much more alive.

Yes, you have no pictures. But that's the joy of radio - you paint your own pictures using creativity. One of my earliest radio memories, other than the today programme, was a version of Under Milk Wood, which had me enchanted.

I guess what this love letter is also saying is that radio can be a forgotten and sometimes neglected medium, but offers an experience that's much more personal and fun (at times) than TV.

Several years ago, when still a student, I took part in a focus group about the BBC. A lot of those in the group were complaining about the TV programmes, the licence fee, and the rest. I then mentioned radio, and, somewhat hesitantly, suggested this alone was worth the licence fee (hell, Test Match Special alone is worth the licence fee).

The mood in the room changed, and before long we were all comparing our favourite radio programmes. This isn't to belittle TV - I'm a sucker for a good documentary or drama (I'm currently enjoying State Of Play, which I missed first time around. It is superb). But there's just something about radio that makes it more friendly, more familiar.

I'll end this love letter by attempting to share the love. Next time you're watching sport, try turning the commentary down and switching the radio on. It'll enhance your viewing. And next time you're flicking through the channels, wondering what to watch, why not try flicking through the radio channels. You might be pleasantly surprised.