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Bossy wireless bombards with homework demands

Perhaps I'm misremembering. Perhaps I'm selectively filtering the past and engaging in rose-tinted revisionism. But wasn't there a time, not so very long ago, when radio was less bossy, less demanding of our time and energies than it is now? I mean, you can't flick on the wireless these days without being assigned homework.

"Text us stuff!" these hectoring radio voices cry. "Tweet us stuff! Call us! Email us!" Radio, I'm worn out from trying to please and appease you. There are only so many mildly amusing anecdotes, or videos of sleepy kittens, I can fire your way each day.

Take the new(ish) Drive By with Colm Hayes, which continues to hound us, relentlessly, for free content. On Tuesday, we were not only asked to check if our pets looked like celebrities (I checked, my cats look really like . . . cats), but we were also ordered to send in samples of DNA.


Our own DNA. So Hayes could tell when we were likely to die, or something. Where will all this end? With calls for blood? Sweat? Or tears, stool samples and first-born chiddlers?

Composer Karen Power hadn't requested anything this radical or intrusive, she'd just asked us for sounds.

On Sunday's Nova, Power treated us to the world premiere of hearSpace, a "new interactive piece of radio art" that she performed/created live on the show (using, presenter Bernard Clarke told us, an "army of computers").

Through Nova, Power had previously asked listeners to, well, listen. To really listen to the sounds of their everyday spaces – particularly the spaces and places where they'd usually listen to radio – and to send her recordings of the sounds they'd captured.

"We were all astonished by the response to this," said Power, telling Clarke about some of the "bizarre coincidences" she'd experienced while compiling the material.

Like how she'd been recalling her childhood in Tipperary, one day, and regretting that she'd never recorded the sounds of her local mart, only for "somebody from Tuam" to serendipitously send her "a sheep mart recording".

By the end of Power's live, half-hour long, performance of hearSpace, we'd not only heard snippets of audio from said sheep mart (I think), but much more besides.

Bird sounds, sounds of water, a chunk of an uilleann pipe tune, fragments of conversation etc, etc. All skilfully mashed together into a sonically dense and absorbing whole. "Sometimes," concluded Clarke, radio is "just a background interference."

But, at its best, it "can beckon, it can beguile, it can enchant us – the listeners". On Sunday, as it often does, Nova ticked all those boxes, and proved that interactions between radio and its listeners can, very occasionally, be creative and collaborative.

When I first heard Back to Mine – the weekly slot where Tom Dunne sort of pretends he's out having a few pints with a guest before going back to their house to rummage through their record collection – I didn't find it all that beguiling or enchanting. The guests were good, but the laboured concept seemed to be adding an unnecessary layer of awkwardness to otherwise promising interviews.

Happily, the show has now largely ditched the conceit, so what we're left with are straightforward enough (and usually enjoyable) chats about the lives, careers and musical loves of Dunne's guests.


In the studio with Dunne on Tuesday was the ever-entertaining Pat McCabe, who shared his enthusiasm for (among other things) Skid Row and Thin Lizzy, while citing the likes of The Dandy and The Pan Book of Horror Stories as early influences on his writerly imagination.

He talked about quitting his teaching position ("I couldn't wait to get out of it . . . it's a very conservative profession"), about the formative importance of one's teenage years, and wittily described his new play, The Bridge Below the Town, as "kind of a metaphysical version of The Riordans".

Cracking stuff, that demanded nothing much of us apart from a willingness to listen.