Moooove over Mozart as slow radio takes over

Grass is greener: Radio 3 will broadcast the sounds of Irish cows being blessed by a priest.

Are we sick of bite-sized culture? This autumn, Radio 3 will broadcast long hours of clocks ticking, leaves crunching and cows mooing. Some say we should spend more time in idle reflection.

Cows grazing in a field. The murmur of zoo animals at dusk. Autumn leaves crackling underfoot in the Black Forest.

Radio 3 has announced an entire autumn schedule of slow radio, which controller Alan Davey says will offer “a chance for quiet mindfulness and a consideration of the world from another angle”. One programme will feature nothing but the ticking and chiming of a large clock collection.

Slow radio emerged from Norway’s slow TV phenomenon, which took off with the broadcast of a 7-hour train journey in 2009. The state broadcaster NRK suggests its popularity is “a counter-reaction to our stressed everyday life”.

Technology has put increasing demands on our attention. Many of us juggle a constant stream of tweets, Facebook posts and bite-sized videos.

It is even reflected in what we read. Rather than take the time to wrestle with a chunky book, the Very Short Introduction series can sum up everything from fungi to the Roman Empire in just over 100 pages.

And the bombardment could be affecting our brains.

According to Microsoft, attention spans have fallen from 12 to eight seconds since 2000, leaving us with worse focus than a goldfish.

In fact, the term infobesity has been coined to describe when a person is so overloaded with information that they become anxious and cannot make decisions.

We are reluctant to take time out and reflect. In one study, researchers gave people the option to either sit alone with no distractions for up to 15 minutes or receive a mild electric shock. Many chose the shock.

But Davey believes something is changing.

“There is increasingly a longing amongst younger audiences… for longer things… that will take you out of something for a bit,” he says.

Indeed, the average novel is now 25% bigger than it was 15 years ago, and Hollywood films 30 minutes longer. The hit podcast Serial is a time-consuming criminal case study based on a piece of long-form journalism.

Are we sick of bite-sized culture?

Udderly relaxing

Absolutely, say some. Constantly gobbling down chunks of news, stories and opinions with no time to digest is mentally exhausting. We need to rediscover the art of idleness, of spending an afternoon ambling through a long book, or just sitting and thinking. Things like slow radio helps us reconnect with ourselves and our surroundings. Time to tune in.

No way, respond others. One of the great benefits of modern life and technology is that we can spend our time more efficiently than ever before. As Shakespeare said, “brevity is the soul of wit”. Cutting things down makes them snappier and easier to understand. If you need a break from the pace, go for a walk, but listening to hours of cow noises is surely milking it.

You Decide

  1. Do we all need to slow down?
  2. Have we lost the ability to stop and think?

Activities

  1. Write down two reasons why slow radio might appeal to people today and two reasons why it might not. Share your answers with your classmates.
  2. Imagine your perfect relaxing landscape. It could be in the countryside, the mountains, in a house or under the sea. Write a description of the setting, including all you can see, hear and feel.

Some People Say...

“It is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top.”

Virginia Woolf

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
BBC Radio 3 has launched a permanent slot for slow radio that controller Alan Davey describes as “meditative” and “slightly old-fashioned”. The station has broadcast slow radio before, including hours of Horatio Clare rambling in the countryside, but this marks the first time it has a regular spot. Slow TV became popular in Norway in the 2000s, and the associated slow living movement focuses on enjoying life at a leisurely pace and living off the earth independent of consumer culture.
What do we not know?
How much slow radio will appeal to younger audiences. Radio 3, with its regular programme of classical music and opera, generally appeals to older listeners, and it is unclear whether the all-natural sound of slow radio will appeal to the young.

Word Watch

Black Forest
A large, mountainous forest in the south-west of Germany. It is the setting of many of the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales.
Mindfulness
A mental state of being fully present in the moment, similar to meditation, which has become a popular lifestyle trend. It is about taking a pause from everyday life to just be.
Very Short Introduction
Oxford University Press has produced more than 500 books in the Very Short Introduction series, which have been translated into 49 languages.
Infobesity
Also known as information overload or infoxication.
Study
Carried out by psychologists at Virginia and Harvard Universities in 2014.
Serial
Season one focused on the 1999 murder of an 18-year-old student from Baltimore, and theories that the victim’s boyfriend was wrongly convicted. Season three is being released this month.

Subjects