Sound can be crucial to our experience of screen: it can extend textures and meaning, deepen space, enhance or question the sense of what we see. As a regular radio listener (although it has to be said my consumption of radio is mostly non-broadcast radio: that is downloaded podcasts of radio programmes), it often seems strange to me that the issue of radio aesthetics has not been as prominent as it might be. This is not to say radio has been ignored in, say, academia as there are a number of fine works of scholarship on the topic. It was rather that I wouldn’t be sure where to go in order to find something that might provide a critical model for what I want to say about Peter Oborne’s voice.
Oborne is a British journalist, political commentator and author, as well as a regular presenter of the BBC’s Radio 4 political round up The Week in Westminster (aka Weekly Political Review). It was listening to this last December when I first heard his remarkable voice. Its deep bass is available to a surprising variety of modulation, as if it was tyring to surprise or pattern itself in the most interesting ways for the listener – I say ‘itself’ because the striking character of it is precisely the sense of being unwilled or unbidden. There appears to be – although I cannot quite believe it is true – no striving for its effects. Is this more than just another distinctive broadcasting voice – another Janet Street-Porter, or David Attenborough or (a voice that underwhelms my ears), Richard Dimbleby? It is not great in the sense of its range – this is not Sinatra or Welles – but I suspect because of its inventiveness. What that means I’m not sure.
Here is a clip from one of his TV documentaries.