John Osborne: Radio Head

I was inspired to read John Osborne’s Radio Head, a disarmingly funny summary of the many British radio stations he made a project of sampling while holding down a dull data entry job, after going to see his show John Peel’s Shed a couple of weeks ago (my write-up of that is here). The format of the book couldn’t be much simpler: each chapter is devoted to a different station, to which the author makes a point of spending an entire day listening, with occasional chapters on broadcasters that have had particular influence on him. Osborne is a major music fan, brought up on the indie and Brit-pop bands of the 80s and 90s, but he’s no snob and he exhibits an all-encompassing curiosity that’s almost childlike – as well as the expected chapters on Radio 1, Virgin Radio, Capital FM and John Peel there are also pithy and incisive analyses of the controversy-mongers of talkSPORT, the deliciously rambling commentators of Test Match Special and the lesser-known hosts of Radio Humberside and Radio Broadland. He also completely nails the laddish George Lamb, who at the time had inexplicably been given a daily slot on BBC 6 Music which was largely given over to winding up the dedicated music fans who made up the station’s audience by putting out shows comprised largely of klaxons, incessant cries of “Shabba!” and largely incomprehensible in-jokes delivered in excruciating cod-patois.

All of this is set within the context of Osborne’s undemanding day-job, his routines and daydreams, and his quiet aspirations of one day becoming a broadcaster himself on a local station. It’s a lovely book which makes one appreciate the value of radio and it’s role in establishing connections between people in an age of ipods and spotify.

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