Weekend sounds on BBC Radio 3

· life ·

At some point during the pandemic, Mr. Bsag and I switched from waking to BBC Radio 4 on the radio alarm to Radio 3. If you’re not based in the UK (or not a radio listener), that’s a switch from news/current affairs programmes at breakfast to (mostly) classical music. We still listen to Radio 4 at other times of day, and to news and current affairs, but first thing in the morning it just got too… much. Apart from the odd decidedly unnerving piece of programming, it has been a lovely way to start the day, particularly at the weekends when we get to hear the breakfast programmes presented by Elizabeth Alker (Saturday) and Martin Handley (Sunday). Both feature segments of what you might call ‘field recordings’. There’s Found Sounds on Saturday, then Sounds of the Earth (Slow Radio) on Sunday, and we have come to look forward to hearing both.

We’ve heard some amazing sounds over the time we’ve been listening. Both presenters weave the sounds with either sonically complementary music, or music which goes with the theme or location of the sounds, often to magical effect. Sometimes the sounds are familiar but welcome because they are soothing or particularly well recorded (the birdsong of British birds, for example). Others would be impossible to place if you hadn’t been told what it was. Sometimes it is positively spine-tingling, and you feel privileged to have got to hear it, especially while lying cosy in bed!

A couple of recordings stick in my mind. The first was a recording made by a listener back in the 1970s, if my memory is correct, in a pub somewhere in Wales. Some members of a Welsh male voice choir were in the pub, and spontaneously broke into song. One of the singers had a fabulously clear tenor voice, and there was something about these incredible, strong voices singing amid the background hubbub of a pub which was very moving. Elizabeth Alker actually played two recordings from this listener: the second she saved for Christmas, and captured the choir singing ‘O Holy Night’. It was stunningly beautiful, and when the lead tenor’s voice soared (seemingly effortlessly) up to the high note, I have to admit that I had a tear in my eye. I just wish I could find a recording of it online so that I could properly credit the people involved (both choir and the person recording it), but so far my searches haven’t turned it up.

The second sound was one of the Sounds of the Earth segments. Again, it was recorded by a listener, this time from inside a honeybee hive rather than a pub. It captured the sounds of an emerging, unmated queen bee ‘piping’ to announce that she is starting to emerge, and to encourage the workers to help her out of the cell. In response, other queens still in their cells responded with a kind of ‘quacking’ noise. The slightly gruesome upshot of all this calling is that the emerged queen uses the calls of the other queens still in their cells to find and kill them. Honeybees follow the ‘Highlander’ rule of succession: there can be only one. It was an incredibly otherworldly sound. The piping sounded like a tiny, distant hunting horn, while the responding ‘quacks’ sounded like yapping hunting hounds, all underscored by the deep buzzing thrum of the hive. It’s not every Sunday morning that you get to wake up to a sound like that!