The Unspeakable Horror of Radio Wales


This photograph captures a remarkable moment in Welsh broadcasting history.

Here we see BBC Radio Wales presenter, Roy Noble OBE, as he watches his colleague, Owen Money MBE, performing at a charity concert.

What you’re seeing is the very moment that Noble finally confronts the existential horror of his 27-year-long BBC Wales existence.

We are given a precious glimpse behind the jovial mask, as he stares at Owen Money on stage – and he sees himself. And he’s overcome with an intense feeling of sickness and revulsion, his mind racing back through a broadcasting career of infinite chunter.

Week after week. Year after year. Decade after decade. Thousands and thousands of hours – on radio and on telly. And it makes him want to wretch.

It’s Wales reduced to a burbling noise; a pleasant and comforting valleys friendly chunter.

Because here he stands, in a place he doesn’t want to be; surrounded by people he doesn’t really like and he’s consumed by an overwhelming blackness and despair.

He’s heard these Owen Money jokes a thousand times before. They’re not even jokes; they’re just things Owen says with a ‘funny’ inflection. He stopped hearing the actual words years ago – sometime around 1992. It’s all just a noise now – a stupefying ritual.

He knows when to smile and when to laugh and when to nod his head in grim appreciation. He knows what to say afterwards – ‘Marvellous show. Absolutely marvellous.’ He knows, if he was on stage, others would say the same: ‘Marvellous show, Roy. Marvellous.’ And it would mean just as much.

Because they’re both trundling along on the same BBC Wales tractor – one which has been merrily spraying slurry out over Welsh culture for decades.

It’s Wales reduced to a burbling noise; a pleasant and comforting valleys friendly warble. It’s a form of vocal muzak which BBC Wales has developed to help pacify the nation. It was a clever solution to the problem of how to produce content for such a complex, fragmented and spiky country as Wales. So instead, they chose to ignore the problems and start making this burbling noise.

Like an ambient CD of birdsong, it has been playing on loop for as long as Welsh people have had ears. It’s the sound you heard chuntering away in the house as a child. It’s the sound which greets you on the car radio whenever you return to Wales.

And for a dwindling group of Welsh listeners – it is indeed, absolutely marvellous. They don’t need words or ideas or anything that could upset or agitate them. They’re quite happy to bathe themselves in this tepid bath.

They love Roy and Owen. They admire them for having absolutely nothing to say – on such a profound level. It’s a perfect match. No ideas. No real emotions. Just a mawkish, sentimental and cartoony version of Wales. It’s the whole nation reduced to one big Gren cartoon – including the north.

We’re all simple minded folk. We loves our rugby and football. We love to talk about the weather. We don’t like cancer or rapists. We’re proud of our brave taffy boys in the military. We won’t let being Welsh stand in the way of our flag waving devotion to the royals.

This is how we do things in Wales. We want to be left alone, rocking back and forth to the sound of our Welsh burble.

Everything’s marvellous. Because we love to simper and gush about things – even if we don’t really like them. And we love Roy Noble and Owen Money. And when they’ve finally been shuffled off the airwaves, we’ve still got Mal and Chris and Alan and Aled and anyone else they can find with nothing to say – who can burble for Wales.

It’s not these presenters’ fault. There’s nothing wrong with being aggressively bland. We don’t always need to be challenged and stimulated. But BBC Wales has never tried. It has allowed this burble to become a default setting which smothers everything else. They have replaced their commitment to ‘inform, educate and entertain’ with a commitment to make a noise.

It has been piped into the nation’s earlobes for so long that it seems bizarre to think that a Welsh national radio station could be any different. That it could ever treat Wales as an actual real-life country, and not just a mountainous region of England. That it could deal intelligently with complex issues such as culture, history, identity and language.

But it’s all too difficult.  So instead, we have a national channel which lovingly mimics the kind of Alan Partridge style regional stations you’ll find in any part of the United Kingdom – the only difference being the occasional Welsh accent.

It’s time checks, sports banter, Daily Mail phone-ins about ‘our country’ (that being Britain). It’s Elkie Brooks, Travis and the Lighthouse family. It’s Aled Jones OBE interviewing Lorraine Kelly about her incredible weight loss.

But if you’re part of the vast swathe of Welsh people who don’t enjoy or appreciate this particular noise. If you find it almost physically painful to listen to. If it sucks the life out of your soul. If it doesn’t reflect a single aspect of Wales that you recognise or value – then tough.

Move. Go and listen elsewhere. There’s nothing here for you.

There’s no escape from this cloying, stifling, airless version of Wales. There’s no place to gasp a lungful of something intelligent or challenging or just…different. Not in Wales. Not on our watch. Not if you don’t speak Welsh.

So well done Radio Wales. You’re doing a marvellous job. Marvellous.