The British Broadcasting Corporation has added yet another network to its selection of radio entertainments. BBC7 spotlights the spoken word with drama, children's programming, and best of all, seven hours of classic British comedy every day. Welcome to one of the Web's best arguments for streaming audio.
Available in RealAudio and Windows Media formats, BBC7 broadcasts for 18 hours a day, with programming arranged into a "stripped" schedule - which means that the same type of content (comedy, drama, or children's) will be broadcast in the same time slots every day. Many programs are also repeated, so if one broadcast of a favorite show is at an absolutely impossible time, there's a good chance that the repeat will be at a more practical hour. (If neither broadcast time is convenient, you might want to look into freeware and shareware streaming audio recorders that can be scheduled to "tape" a show while you're away. Here are links to PC options and a discussion of Macintosh alternatives.)
The comedy lineup offers recent content as well as that staple of American comedy networks, stand-up - but more interesting are such rarities as a recreation of the Marx Brothers' 1930s serial, "Flywheel, Shyster, and Flywheel," and treasures that have been seldom heard on the east side of the Atlantic, which include:
The Goon Show: Broadcast from 1952 to 1960, and presenting a new, gripping adventure every week, the Goon Show had the same influence on the Monty Python generation of comedians that Python has had on today's artists. Written by Spike Milligan, and starring Milligan, Peter Sellers, and Harry Secombe (sharing an impressive number of recurring characters between them), The Goon Show might take some getting used to for those not used to full-blown audio anarchy, but it's well worth the effort. Just don't try to make any sense of it.
I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again: A sketch show (the cast includes a pre-Python John Cleese) which began an eight-year run in 1964. One of the distinctive features of ISIRTA was the show's encouragement of vocal audience disapproval (ranging from groans to outright jeering) as they performed. Sketches featured a steady stream of deliberately bad puns, such as this dramatic wartime exchange.
"Look outside. See anything?"
"Don't mention it."
I'm Sorry, I Haven't A Clue: A panel game show and "antidote" to other panel game shows. Created by some of the same perpetrators as, I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again, ISIHAC broadcast its first episode in 1972. It has just finished its 30th season, and is frankly funnier than many sketch comedy programs.
Just A Minute: In this show, various comedic luminaries must ad-lib a one-minute speech about an assigned subject - without repetition, hesitation, or deviation - while other members of the panel mercilessly look for flaws in the delivery.
Other programs include radio versions of concepts that later moved to television, and which you may have seen on PBS or BBC America schedules, such as "Knowing Me, Knowing You" (with broadcasting's most self-centered interviewer, Alan Partridge) and "Goodness Gracious Me" (a brilliant sketch show dealing with British and Asian stereotypes).
BBC7 also offers dramas and children's programming. Dramatic content ranges from Charles Dickens to Stephen King, while children's programs (the "Big Toe" and "Little Toe" shows) offer quizzes, interviews, games, music, and continuing stories, which include the likes of Sir John Gielgud reading "Thomas The Tank Engine." Lineups change as episodic dramas and short-run comedy classics reach their finales, but regular visitors are kept up to date through a seven-day schedule and individual home pages for the comedy, drama, and children's departments.
Once upon a time, comedy and drama made up the bulk of a radio station's schedule. Now, airtime is likely to be dedicated to high-rotation Top 20, or call-in shows broadcast for the benefit of people who like the sound of their own voices. One guess as to which of these two periods is called the "Golden Age" of radio? BBC7's lineup illustrates why the Golden Age <i>was<i> golden.
BBC7 can be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbc7/.
Jim Regan is a graphics artist and humorist.