SERIAL and how I came to love the radio. 6 January 2015 Everybody's talking about Serial, and now I know why.

Do you remember that scene in Educating Rita where Julie Walters turns in her essay about overcoming the potential staging challenges for a production of Peer Gynt? Her single sentence essay read:  ‘Do it on the radio.’ 

I have never been a true fan of radio. I used to listen to the top 40 and my dad had radio two on Sundays for  standard ballads sung by crooners and croonettes, but talk on the radio never held my attention. Fast forward a lot of years and I began to acquire a taste for a small selection of programmes on radio 4 but that didn’t mean I ever deliberately turned them on, and definitely not in the car. The car was the one place I could force my other half to listen to music I like. My iPod on shuffle is a little unpredictable, so I would be considerate enough to skip tracks he would absolutely abhor and stick for the most part to ones he could just about tolerate. Most of all I love having music on when I am doing the driving (and Ben is not there to take control of the music / radio situation) and am particularly fond of a good sing-along on the road, however on the journey to and from Suffolk, where we spent new year, this all changed. After multiple recommendations, much hype and latent avoidance of spoilers, we gave Serial a listen.

At the time of writing, we are just over half way through it but I cannot contain my excitement. Not previously being a radio person, podcasts were to me a completely alien concept; I had literally never listened to one. However we have quite recently become huge fans of feature documentaries and binged on them over the Christmas period. Now I know I am probably being naive in suggesting that Serial is a brand new concept, but it’s brand new to me. A serialised crime drama, it works better than anything else ever has in the car environment. It requires concentration – you can absolutely drive whilst listening to it, you can be a passenger in a car, but there is no other activity, however passive that I believe you could do at the same time as listening to it. The idea of sitting stationary on the sofa doing 3 or 4 episodes back to back seems ridiculous to me and multi-tasking of any kind would be too distracting. At times the sound quality is not great so you really need to listen carefully. It’s an unbelievable true story with so many twists and turns that you feel as if you are participating in the investigation by keeping up. It’s brilliantly produced and scripted, has a whole noir theme going on musically and the narrator’s voice is 1000% made for radio.

I’m not keen on the sound of my own voice, when I hear it on tape I always think, ‘God – is that what I sound like?’, but Sarah Koenig  (super-American) has SUCH a great voice, I could listen to it for hours – and that’s exactly what I have been doing. The people in the story are cast in audio like it’s a physical visual state you can recognise. You properly hear voices as well as words – which sounds obvious, but those voices paint their own pictures and combined with Koenig’s scene setting skills and extremely personable style, they suck you in until you are lost. The plot doesn’t just thicken, it envelops.

At this point I have no idea how it’s going to pan out and no intention of ruining it for anyone (so PLEASE do the same!), but, for me at least, Serial is a game-changing listening experience and whilst I want nothing more than to mainline the final 5 episodes right now, I’m going to wait until we have a car journey that merits it, so the conditions are perfect.


Clair Chamberlain

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