I meet uncomprehending stares from the download-everything generation, then get the kind of nods and smiles that mean I'm being indulged.
Don't get me wrong, I think catchup services are brilliant and I'm convinced podcasts (despite the awful name) offer the best potential for radio to reach new audiences in future. But they're not the same as live radio, happening now and being shared by a disparate audience .. in real time. It's a concept the brains behind BBC Five Live understood when they named the station.
Then, just this week, an example presented itself. An example involving one of radio's finest practitioners.
Jeremy Vine was involved in an unpleasant road rage incident with a motorist on a narrow street in central London. He caught events on helmet cameras and posted the footage online:
Cyclists and cars rarely co-exist peacefully, so the incident brought out the usual extreme opinions on both sides of the argument. Then another national treasure stepped into the debate in the ample form of another Jeremy, who wrote a typically forthright piece in a newspaper column.
Now I've never been convinced by Clarkson's act. There's something in the delicate wordplay in his writing that suggests strongly to me he's extracting the Michael oh so subtly from an audience that laps up the jaw-dropping opinions he claims to hold. Punching a producer gave pause for thought, admittedly, but I've known plenty of ego in far less accomplished telly types.Always good to hear from @JeremyClarkson on the subject of… oh— Jeremy Vine (@theJeremyVine) September 3, 2016
(via @ACEFACE67) pic.twitter.com/DCeBWPaJYD
Vine is the consumate radio interviewer, knowing how to give precisely enough rope so a single step is all that's required to drop a guest through the trap to oblivion. Clarkson is the master of articulately provocative performance. Put the two together and that would make amazing radio .. as I suggested ...
And others agreed .... @theJeremyVine Get @JeremyClarkson on the show for a proper discussion then, @timoncheese. I'd plan my day round listening to it 😁.— Richard Horsman (@leedsjourno) September 3, 2016
The simple fact is a live on-air encounter between Vine and Clarkson would be captivating radio. The kind of radio that would bring workplaces to a halt, would tie drivers spellbound to their car radios and would be talked about in other media for weeks.@leedsjourno @theJeremyVine @JeremyClarkson @timoncheese I'd cancel anything I'm doing that day to listen to that one.— Scott Reid ⚡️ (@scottreid1980) September 3, 2016
Radio is normally a background, hands-free activity that goes well with baking or wallpapering; and of course it remains the only mass medium that can be enjoyed whilst driving. When it becomes a foreground activity it means something significant - like war being declared (via David Lloyd's Radio Moments):
Or in my own working lifetime, when Peter Milburn and Christa Ackroyd gave their first hand account of the trial of Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe on his first appearance at the Old Bailey.
In happier circumstances Real Radio breakfast host Terry Underhill held audiences spellbound as he teased contestants with the competition "Risk it for a Biscuit", where the prize could be a car or a custard cream. All of it radio, in the foreground. And radio in the now.
Listening to a podcast or iPlayer recording of Jezza v Jezza, or how the cookie crumbled, would not be the same, because it's not shared.
The outcome is probably known by the latecomer, and will have been discussed in social media. Unlike the old football results, there's little chance in the connected world to avoid spoilers by "looking away now".
But even if, somehow, an individual listener doesn't know what happens it's not the same because there's no risk ... no chance of a four-letter expletive, no chance of a walkout, because the recording would be sanitised. And even if something unexpected remains, the impact is lessened because it isn't shared in real time by an audience of thousands, all experiencing the moment together.
There is something deeply human, deeply affecting in that which can never be replicated by a sound file downloaded and played in isolation.
It's part of the magic of the medium that is radio, and we must never let that be forgotten.