An Uncomfortable Encounter for David Cameron in the ‘Auditory Space’ of Radio 1

By Ashley Crowson, King’s College London.

The UK election campaign has, so far, been a rather dull, stage-managed affair, with political leaders tending to opt for speeches to the party faithful and heavily choreographed photo opportunities over grillings from well informed, forthright and inquisitorial journalists.

In this context, it was incredibly exciting to hear David Cameron subjected to a ‘mauling’ at the hands of a panel of young people during a Q&A for BBC Radio 1’s ‘live lounge’.

In what was arguably the toughest media appearance the Prime Minister has faced during this campaign, Radio 1’s young audience quizzed Cameron on, among other subjects, his record on homelessness, his refusal to rule out a coalition with homophobic political parties, and whether he would like to see the introduction of a living wage.

The PM’s handling of these questions does not make for comfortable listening.

The public service remit of Radio 1 is to “engage a broad range of young listeners with a distinctive mix of contemporary music and speech” and to “reflect the lives and interests of 15-29 year olds”. In the March edition of Geography Compass, Catherine Wilkinson explores radio that fulfils a broadly similar role, arguing that it offers “crucial spaces of development for young people’s identities, and a space of creative learning outside of a more formal environment of school.” (p. 127)

Wilkinson’s focus is youth engagement with ‘community’ radio, i.e. radio with a public function serving geographic, ethnic, cultural or social communities. Reviewing literature dealing with community radio, Wilkinson contends that programming created both by and for young people in an urban context allows them to “listen to discussions by their peers about how they resist the social restraints erected for them by their families and the wider society. In this scenario, radio functions as an alternative space for those young urbanites who have limited public spaces to meet and share stories about their social and cultural interests” (p.131).

Such broadcasting creates “genuine potential for community radio stations to provide young people with a space for the exploration and exhibition of voice, and a space that has inclusionary potential.” As such, “community radio… is a means of agency for young people and of negotiating marginalisation, and… is affectively central to disenfranchised urban young people in attaining civic participation.” (p.135)

The Radio 1 Live Lounge encounter with David Cameron does appear to be an example of meaningful civic participation fostered by youth-centred radio. The panel of young people articulated a political vision attentive to LGBTQ rights, and the rights of migrants and society’s most vulnerable; priorities that have not always been so prominent in less youth-centric election coverage. This encounter, then, raises some interesting questions about the capacity of youth radio’s auditory space, in the absence of the availability of traditional public spaces for young people, to act as a catalyst in the formulation and projection of a distinctive ‘youth voice’.

More broadly, Wilkinson’s paper represents a small shift within geographical research from the visual to the aural. As Alasdair Pinkerton (2014) notes, “it is important to recall that prior to the development of textual communication, human experiences of space was largely conditioned through shared oral traditions.” (p.64)

 Catherine Wilkinson, 2015, Young People, Community Radio and Urban LifeGeography Compass, DOI: 10.1111/gec3.12197.

 Alasdair Pinkerton, 2014, ‘Radio‘ In: Paul Adams, Jim Craine and Jason Dittmer, eds. The Ashgate Research Companion to Media Geography. Ashgate, pp. 53-68.

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